Archive, Cooper Engineering / Sunbeam Corporation / Victa Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia, 1915-1990
Sunbeam Victa Corporation Limited is an Australian manufacturing company comprising three divisions whose brand names have become synonymous with quality, innovation, and reliability.
Sunbeam Corporation had the reputation of being the largest manufacturer in Australia of portable electrical appliances and sheep-shearing equipment. The firm also owns Victa Limited, the manufacturer of the largest selling brand of lawnmowers in Australia.
This archive's principal significance is that it provides design and historical documentation for the development of some of the leading products (domestic and rural), which were developed by Sunbeam Corporation and its precursor companies during much of the twentieth century.
COLLECTED ARCHIVES ADMINISTRATIVE HISTORY
Registration Number: 2002/90/1
Creator: Victa/Sunbeam/Cooper Engineering
The collection was developed and collected by several generations of employees at the Sunbeam/Victa Corporation. This archive¬?s principal significance is that it provides design and historical documentation for the development of some of the leading products (domestic and rural), which were developed by Sunbeam Corporation and its precursor companies during much of the twentieth century. It spans the years 1915-1990.
In 1902 the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company established a subsidiary in Australia. The company sold imported sheep shearing equipment and operated from the rear of premises at 82 Pitt Street, Sydney. The company moved to 16 Young Street in 1908.
In 1909 Chicago Flexible Shaft Company was sold to another American company, William Cooper and Nephews, which had been operating in Australia since 1880s. Due to the seasonal demand for clipping and shearing equipment, the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company diversified into the domestic market and produced the Princess Electric Flat Iron which was exported to Australia along with Cooper sheep shearing equipment.
In 1915 Cooper Engineering registered as a limited company, the company was importing and servicing sheep shearing equipment in Australia. It changed its name to Cooper Engineering Company in 1933, manufacturing sheep shearing equipment at Elizabeth Street, Waterloo until 1942 when the company moved to a new factory in Coward Street, Mascot. On 8 February 1937 corporate name was changed to Cooper Engineering Company Proprietary Limited, changing from Proprietary Company to a Public Company. With an increasing involvement in the home appliance market, Chicago Flexible Shaft Company was renamed Sunbeam Corporation Limited in 1945; however until 1952 it was generally referred to as the Cooper Engineering Company.
During World War II both the Mascot and Waterloo plants contributed to the war effort by manufacturing jigs and gauges, shells, battery chargers, aircraft and vehicle refuelers and mosquito sprayers.
The slogan ¬?The Best Electric appliances Made¬? was adopted at the time of the name change to Sunbeam Corporation in 1946. Electrical appliances were branded Sunbeam, whilst the sheep shearing equipment was branded Cooper and later Sunbeam.
The Sunbeam Mixmaster food mixer was the first small electric appliance to be manufactured in Australia in 1948. The Shavemaster electric razor was manufactured in Australia in 1951. The range of new electrical appliances grew throughout the 1950s with a pop-up toaster, electronic frypan, and ironmaster dry iron. In 1952 Sunbeam became a public company.
Innovative electrical appliances and continued evolution were a mark of Sunbeam over the decades including the first steam iron in Australia in 1956 and the safety auto off switch iron Selectronic in 1984. Sunbeam embraced local industrial designers from 1970s to deliver innovative products, delivering on quality, form and function. This was recognised by industry design awards over the subsequent decades.
Sunbeam Corp expanded into lawn mowing via the purchase of Victa in 1970. Innovation continued with the Caf√© series in 2001 and with product range extensions into room heaters, electric blankets, fan heaters and barbeques.
In 1952 Mervyn Richardson designed and prototyped the first engine powered rotary lawn mower. He commercialised this product with its popularity growing through marketing and also because it offered an efficient and affordable product. The concept was timely with the rapid urban development of the time. The mower was named, it is claimed, Victa because of Richardson¬?s middle name, Victor.
The unique features of the lawn mower from previous developments were the move from cylinder fixed cutter blades to rotary horizontal blades. This gave efficient function for all grass lengths. It also featured other light weight design features for what had previously been a heavy piece of equipment.
Richardson formed Victa Mowers Pty Ltd, a family company, in 1953, it opened for business in a shed Mortlake, Sydney. Initial production was 60 Victas per week, produced by a staff of six. The business rapidly expanded due to demand and the business moved to new facilities at Silverwater in 1955. These were destroyed by fire in the same year however production was rapidly restored. In 1958 production moved to premises in Milperra and branches were opened interstate. In the same year the company expanded into plastics and engineering.
Exporting commenced 1956. 1960 saw continued growth and expansion, including aviation, housing, factory design and construction during this decade. Mervyn's son Garry succeeded him as Chairman in 1965. In 1970 following its sale Victa became a Division of Sunbeam Corporation.
In 1981 Alleheny acquired Sunbeam US which then undertook a debt reduction programme in 1986. Late 1986 saw the beginning of sales of all associated companies outside the USA. The sale included Sunbeam in Australia and New Zealand to Reil Corporation in March 1987. The following year Byvest organised Management buy out, which followed Reil Corps need to sell after 1988 stock market crash.
Sunbeam Victa directors initiated a management buy out of Sunbeam & Victa in 1988. The directors were; John Killer, David Amer ( Finance), Graeme Rennie
(Manufacturing), Tim Burkett (Appliances), Col Fitzpatrick (Victa) and Tom McAfree (Rural).
1990-1992 Sunbeam experienced major difficulties. Sunbeam went public/ floated in November, 1993. Victa Sunbeam was acquired by the GUD Holdings Limited group in 1996.
In 2008 GUD who owned Victa Lawn Care Business sold it to American based Briggs & Stratton. Briggs & Stratton world leader in small engine manufacture & major supplier of engines to Victa. Mowers continue to be made at Moorebank NSW Head Office.
Current company status
Sunbeam is a Division of GUD Holdings Ltd, publicly listed Australian Company; Cooper is also part of GUD. GUD manager of products and services companies. Victa is part of Briggs & Stratton Australia.