Engine, petrol stationary, Cooper 'Little Wonder', iron/steel/ brass/ glass/ paint, made by Chicago Flexible Shaft Co, Chicago, USA, sold by Cooper Engineering Co Ltd, Mascot, New South Wales, Australia, c1925
This 'Little Wonder' engine, made in the USA for sale in Australia, was designed to power a small shearing plant. The low cost of the engine and shearing plant made it possible for farmers with small flocks to purchase their own power-shearing system and shear their own sheep, rather than being dependent on contractors. At the end of the shearing season, the farmer could dismantle the shearing stand and use the engine to run other equipment.
This water-cooled engine was made in the USA by the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company and sold in Australia under the brand name Cooper. Little Wonder engines sold in the USA were branded Stewart after one of the company's founders. The company also made an air-cooled Little Wonder and a half horsepower engine, the Little Major, which was advertised as being suitable to power machines and household appliances that had traditionally been powered by hand. Little Wonder engines sold well in the USA, Australia and other countries that had substantial wool industries.
The engine represents a complex story of technology transfer between Australia and the USA. Inventor Frederick Wolseley made the world's first commercially successful power-shearing system in Australia in 1888. US company Cooper, which had been founded in 1843 as a maker of sheep dip, began selling Wolseley equipment in the USA in 1895.
The Chicago Flexible Shaft Company successfully entered the power-shearing market a few years later and entered into a joint venture with Cooper. It set up a branch in Sydney and sold shearing sets, and engines to power them, into the Australian market. In 1921 the US parent company, realising it needed to make products whose sales were not as seasonal as those of shearing equipment, made its first household appliances and branded them Sunbeam.
In 1933, changes in exchange rates and taxes led the company to manufacture engines and shearing equipment in Australia via subsidiary Cooper Engineering, which changed its name to Sunbeam in 1946. Although most Australians know of this company as a major manufacturer of household appliances, its rural division flourished and retained the Sunbeam name for shearing equipment even after it was taken over by New Zealand company Tru-Test in 2001.
Debbie Rudder, Curator, September 2009
Stewart advertisement, Popular Mechanics Magazine, March 1915, p181.
This Cooper engine was made by the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company in Chicago, USA.
In 1843, the Cooper company was formed in the USA to make sheep dip, which it began to export in the 1880s. In 1888 Frederick Wolseley successfully introduced the world's first mechanical sheep shearing system, which he had developed in Australia; the first customer was Dunlop sheep station in NSW. In 1895, Cooper became the US agent for Wolseley sheep shears.
In 1890 John Stewart and Thomas Clark had begun making barbers' clippers, horse clippers and flexible shafts (spiral wire shafts to transmit power and motion) in Chicago. In 1896 they formed the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company to make sheep shearing equipment and formed a joint venture with Cooper to sell their products. In 1902 they set up the Cooper Sheep Shearing Machinery company in Sydney to sell Stewart shearing equipment in Australia. This company was wound up in 1909 and replaced by Cooper Engineering, still under the control of the Cooper family.
The company's name was changed to Sunbeam in 1946, and to Sunbeam Victa in 1970, when it took over Victa Mowers. It was purchased by GUD Holdings in 1996. The Sunbeam Rural division of GUD was sold to New Zealand company Tru-Test in 2001.