Hat blocking machine, for two hats, spare pan and production example, metal, maker unknown, 1900-1930, used by A L Lindsay & Co Pty Ltd, Leichhardt, New South Wales, Australia, 1950-2007
This hat blocking machine was used for some 60 years in the factories of the well-known Sydney toy manufacturers, A.L. Lindsay & Co. Pty Ltd of Leichhardt, to shape cowboy and cowgirl hats, space helmets and other dress-up costume hats. At the time of acquisition the Lindsay firm is the longest continually-operating toy manufacturer in New South Wales and has produced a wide range of dress-up costumes and accessories, tents, and other toys largely based on television and film characters since 1930. Generations of Australian children entered a world of make believe wearing their Lindsay costumes and became characters from the Wild West, super heroes and other occupations. Sold through the major department stores, Lindsay cowboy and Indian outfits and toy guns played a significance role in making the Wild West part of an Australian childhood. The Museum already holds a collection of Lindsay costumes as well as catalogues and original artwork for some of the designs. The hat blocking machine now adds a technological dimension to the social and costume manufacturing history of A.L. Lindsay & Co. Pty Ltd, now considered to be an icon of the Australian toy making industry.
Curator, Transport and Toys
It is not known who made the hat blocking machine. Other similar machines at the Lindsay factory were made by the English firm, Hatters Engineers, of Luton. Stylistically it appears the machine was made between about 1900 and 1930. Mechanical hat making machines first appeared in America then in Britain by 1858.
This hat blocking machine was probably used at the Lindsay factory from about the 1950s. Early cowboy hats made by the firm were of four panels of coloured leather set into a circular brim. It was called the 'scallywag' cowboy hat. During the early 1950s the Lindsay firm devised a way of making cowboy hats from dyed straw. It went into production and became an instant success and was soon copied.
Initially, hand-woven pandanas straw for the hats was sourced by the Lindsay firm from Indonesia. It was dyed at the factory then the hood was blocked into hats. In the late 1960s and early 1970s pre-dyed wheat straw was used from China.
The cowboy hats made by the hat blocking machine came in a number of styles and types, including high and low crown, and made of felt or straw. In 1958 the most expensive cost 21 shillings and was a large felt hat with a leather sweat band, horse's head badge, fancy hat band, chin strap and toggle. It came in black, white or assorted colours complete with a silk lining. The hat blocking machine not only produced cowboy and cowgirls hats, but sheriff hats, Mickey Mouse Club hats, Canadian Mountie style hats, Annie Oakley hats, Robin Hood caps, James Bond 007 Secret Agent hats, Roy Rogers hats, Rawhide hats, Park Ranger hats, Tarzan Big Game Hunters' hats, swagman hats with corks, Zorro hats, combat slouch hats, space helmets and men's and women's sun hats. By the late 1960s the Lindsay factory was making thousands of hats each week.
At their peak the Lindsay firm had two factory buildings, one for production and sales at 5 Foster Street, Leichhardt, and the other for packing and dispatch at 23 Upward Street, Leichhardt. During the 1960s the Lindsay firm employed 80 people at the Foster St premises alone. In 1968 they moved out of the two factories and into the one establishment, a two-storey factory at 19-25 Beeson Street, Leichhardt. Production and sales was upstairs and the packing and dispatch downstairs. Women and girls were employed as packers, riveters, book-keeping machine operators, sewing machinists and binders. Men and boys were cloth cutters, clicking press operators, hat blockers, spot welders and sewing machine mechanics.
This hat blocking machine was probably used at the Lindsay factory from about the 1950s.
The firm of A.L. Lindsay & Co Pty Ltd was established by Albert Leslie Lindsay (1882-1957). During the 1920s, Lindsay owned a warehouse and two shoe shops at Kurri Kurri in the New South Wales Hunter Valley but a series of strikes and lock-outs in the coal industry there forced him to sell up and move to Sydney. From a rented house in Annandale he made and sold 'White Cloud' shoe cleaner. He soon diversified into making ladies' basil-leather aprons used to protect clothes on washing day and feather-dusters made from turkey feathers. Next came Indian head dresses from left-over turkey feathers and children's leather cowboy suits cut out on Albert's kitchen table and sewn by the neighbourhood women on treadle sewing machines. A factory was then set up at 90-94 Parramatta Road, Stanmore, and by 1936 Albert's 'Big Chief' range included Indian suits and head dresses, cowboy and cowgirls hats and play suits as well as calico play tents. The firm continued during the Second World War with special dispensation to employ staff not covered by the Manpower regulations, comprising war widows, the disabled and those over 65, too old to work in essential industries. Albert considered he was doing his War service by providing toys for the children of men and women who were involved in the War. Children's toys were so scarce during the War that some buyers collected the outfits on bicycles.
The Lindsay factory did produce gas mask covers as apart of the War effort, but unfortunately a gas explosion and fire in the factory saw it burn down. The company moved to two separate Leichhardt factories, one for production and sales at 5 Foster Street, and the other for packing and dispatch at 23 Upward Street.
A.L. Lindsay has always been a family firm, and after the War two of Albert's sons, Philip (Phil) Lindsay (1918-2005) and Robert Lindsay took a more active part in the business. Robert worked in production, Phil in sales, and Albert undertook the interstate selling trips. After Albert became ill, Phil took over the firm and they appointed interstate agents. In 1948 Albert turned his operation into a proprietory company and his two sons bought the business, with Phil as the major share holder. After Albert Lindsay's death in 1957 the firm was taken over by Phil and his wife Hilarie (nee Dyson), who had become instrumental in the firm after her marriage in 1944. It was Phil who was the astute businessman and keenly aware of the latest fashions in popular culture. When the Davy Crocket character was popularised in film and television in the 1950s, Phil sourced hundreds of fox tails to make the famous 'racoon skin' hats.
However, it was Hilarie who made sure that girls were equally catered for when devising outfits and introduced the sharp shooter, Annie Oakley, to the Lindsay costume range. Annie Oakley's hat came complete with plaits and became the firm's biggest seller. There were outfits for cowboys and cowgirls, Indian braves and Indian squaws, Batman and Batgirl, Tarzan and Jane, doctors and nurses, Robin Hood and Maid Marian, and Superman and Wonder Woman. In 1969 Hilarie Lindsay was elected president of the Toy & Games Manufacturers Association (TAGMA) established in New South Wales in 1949, later called the Australian Toy Manufacturers' Association. She was to become the first woman to serve as president of any division of the Chamber of Manufactures.
During the 1940s the Lindsays began using Buffalo Bill as their trade mark and traded as Buffalo Bill Products, exploiting the boom in film and later television westerns such as 'Rawhide', 'Wyatt Earp', 'Gunsmoke', 'Bonanza' and 'Have Gun Will Travel'. They produced a series of chaps in calf skin, leather, and suede, as well as beautifully embossed holsters. Many of the western costumes were manufactured under licence from the large motion picture companies including Walt Disney and Warner Brothers in the United States. Lindsays pioneered these licensing agreements in Australia. The firm was well placed to reap the benefits of the commercialisation of childhood after the advent of television in Australia in 1956. This brought mainly American programmes, especially Westerns, and Lindsay costumes enabled children to become their favourite super hero or character from 'Spiderman' to 'Mickey Mouse', and 'Zorro' to the 'The Flying Nun'. Children could be Roy Rogers, Smokey Dawson or even Elly May from 'The Beverly Hillbillies'. There were also accessories such as tents, archery sets, paddling pools and footballs.
The firm advertised widely on ATN Channel 7's children's television programme 'Town of Make Believe' hosted by Uncle Reggie (the late Reg Quartley). Lindsays had a segment in the show featuring their Wild West clothes and their Lechhardt factory was referred to as the Lindsay Ranch. The Lindsay advertising slogan was 'Dress Up and Play the Lindsay Way'. Also, a regular fancy dress parade for children in Lindsay costumes was held at Smoky Dawson's Ranch at Ingleside.
Some Lindsay costumes were based on Australian characters, including Ned Kelly and an Australian stockman, but they did not do as well commercially. Later, those associated with local television shows such as 'Skippy', 'Romper Room' and 'Humphrey Bear' were more popular.
Lindsays also produced a range of exotic costumes including Hawaiian outfits, 'Jolly Roger' pirates, and witches, as well as a 'Samurai master swordsman outfit' and a ninja suit based on 'The Samuri' a popular children's Japanese television series in the 1960s played by Ose Koichi.
Lindsays always had to be aware of the latest films or television shows and even produced outfits for 'The Planet of the Apes' and 'The Bionic Woman'. The firm also made occupational and aspirational dress-up costumes including bridal gowns, ballerina tutus, park ranger uniforms, army fatigues for would-be soldiers, racing car driver's outfits, police uniforms and tram and bus conductors' uniforms.
The fascination with space exploration and travel, which began with the first Russian Sputnik satellite orbiting earth in October 1957, heralded the space race. This enthusiasm for space was captured by the Lindsays with their Space Invader, Space Explorer and Moon Walk Suit costumes as well as the 'Buck Rogers in the 25th Century' outfit. Despite being very topical, these outfits did not sell particularly well as space offered little play value compared to cowboys and Indians.
The Lindsay toy factory was a family affair with every member of the Lindsay family working in it at some stage. Philip and Hilarie's children, Christine, Philippa and Andrew, also played a part. They dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls for toy fairs, parades and on television, and were pictured on the header cards for the costume packaging. Later they worked in the factory office or on the cutting room floor during university holidays.
By the 1960s many of the fifty Sydney toy manufacturers had gone out of business or moved away from toy production. This was in line with the gradual decline of the Australian manufacturing industry caused by cheaper imports and lowering import duties. Lindsays survived by diversifying into plasticine-type modelling clay and finger paints developed by Phil and Hilarie's son-in-law, Colin Rijks. In 1973 the firm also went into children's book publishing with their own imprint, Ansay, and Hilarie wrote 31 books. In the 1980s Hilarie also opened the Children's Treasure House Museum at the Beeson Street factory, comprising a collection of toys and books which was auctioned in 1993.
Character merchandising was abandoned by the firm in 1985 and by this decade they were trading under the name Lindsay's Leichhardt Pty Ltd and later Lindsay's Toy Factory Ltd. Phil Lindsay died in 2005 and Hilarie became the Managing Director. The factory's products are still in demand and sold around Australia though the staff is greatly reduced. In November 2007 the Lindsay firm moved back to their earlier factory at 5 Foster Street, Leichhardt.
Lindsay, Hilarie, 'The A.L. Lindsay Story 1930-' (unpublished article).
Lindsay company catalogues and archives in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum
Kennedy, Alan, This Life : A wardrobe man to every young star' in "The Sydney Morning Herald", 4 August, 2005.