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This is as much of the history of Dawn Tools Australia (Dawn Manufacturing previously) that I can find. It's largely focused on vices, as that's my area of interest - though I welcome any additional information regarding their other product lines, which have been many and varied across the company's history to date.
Dawn's website says that they started in 1917 by four brothers by the name of Blake. The earliest reference I can find to them is in Melbourne's The Age on the 6th May 1920, as a note in the Finance section regarding registrations - "Dawn Manufacturing Co. Pty. Ltd., capital £20,000, office 33 Service-street, Coburg". One of the brothers appears to be Ernest Edward Blake (b. 1876), who married Rachel Lloyd on 3rd September 1896. Ernest had a number of siblings as far as I can tell - Herbert, Maud, Agnes, Gertrude, Edith Emily (second oldest daughter), Francis (son apparently), Florence, Albert, Ida, William and Eva. I believe that the other brothers who started it were most likely Herbert, Francis and Albert.
The Age reported only five days later that engineering vices were unable to be made in Australia prior to Dawn's inception. The company at that point was said to have 21 people employed there, all of whom had an interest in the company (shareholders?), and that it worked on the co-operative principle. The paper goes on to suggset that tariff protection will allow small businesses like Dawn to grow, where otherwise large offshore companies would undercut the market and prevent them from flourishing.
There is a note in the Melbourne paper The Herald on the 12th March 1921 that the court saw Handley v. Dawn Manufacturing Co. on that day. Wonder what that was about.
The Herald, The Argus, The Age and The Riverine Herald all reported on the 18th October 1921 that there was a fatal workplace accident at the Dawn manufacturing premises. James Rowsell (variously reported as 45 or 48), one of Dawn's engineers, was attempting to place a belt on a wheel when his shirt was caught by the belting and "whirled around the shaft", suffering from a fractured arms, knee and skull. He later succumbed to his injuries in Melbourne Hospital, and the Coroner (Dr. Cole) found that his injuries were caused by misadventure. He lived nearby in Frank Street, Coburg.
Sydney's Daily Commercial News and Shipping List reported on the 19th July 1922 that Dawn had recently applied for patents relating to vices but that they were not yet approved.
Ernest Edward Blake put his seal on a patent application on the 23rd Feb 1923 (No. 7553/22), where Norman Leslie Martin was listed as the inventor. Both men were listed as Directors of Dawn, and Norman had assigned the invention to the company. Patent is here.
12th March 1924 saw Ernest's eldest daughter Ivy Pearl (born 1897) marry John Hurnall. September of that year saw Dawn exhibiting their goods at the Chamber of Manufacturer's Great All-Australian Exhibition, at exhibit 151. The Argus ran a supplemental on the event and Dawn were described as showcasing engineer's vices, volume blowers and exhausters operated by "skilled workmen". Another exhibitor is a name you may be familiar with - Sutton Tool and Gauge Manufacturing Co. - though the name is a bit shorter nowadays. October of the same year saw them tendering to supply £809/12/0 of iron castings to Melbourne City Council.
The Age reported on 30th Jan 1925 that Edward Blake was the name of Dawn's general manager - presumably one of the founding brothers. He appeared before the Tariff board to provide evidence that increased protection for Australian businesses was a good idea. He said that Dawn was the only company left of 14 originally in the trade, and that their total protection was 46.5 percent - and if it were to be increased by 25 percent Dawn would retain the present price, which was a little lower than the landed cost of overseas equivalent goods.
Competition from the UK and USA seemed to be the main topic of discussion - with the cost of materials being substantially higher in Australia and the wage being double what it was in the UK, the local manufacturers felt that they needed tariff protection to have any hope of retaining Australian manufacturing.
22nd Feb 1926 saw The Herald reporting that amongst many other businesses Dawn contributed £4/3/4 to the Lord Mayor's Fund for the relief of sufferers of bushfires.
24th Feb 1927 saw a fellow called Daniel Latham of 157 Queen Street, Melbourne, submit an application for a patent (6125/27) which was accepted on the 8th Sept of that year. The patent? "An improved vyce" - the offset type. View the patent here. I can't find any references that suggest that Latham was directly involved with Dawn, which leads me to presume that Dawn licensed the design. Later sources seem to support that theory.
The Sunshine Advocate (Victoria) reported on 7th July 1928 that Dawn had presented to Sunshine Technical School a carpenter's vice and an engineer's vice for competition between the students. The school was keen to hear from other local manufacturers to provide second prizes! December 7th of the same year had The Register (Adelaide) reporting that Dawn was also contributing prizes to the Norwood Central School's metal department students following an exhibition.
3rd May 1929 - The West Australian ran an interesting ad for Boans where they advertised "Boans Australian-made carpenters' VYCES (sic), Dawn manufacture". I wonder if those (3 1/2" units) were actually badged as Boans. The Age listed an ad on the 25th May that year for Dawn's blowers, exhausts and fans where they used the tagline, "The Vice People", still at 33 Service-street, Coburg.
The Argus reported on the 9th Jan 1930 that an engineer called Daniel Latham of Fellowes-street, Kew had been fined £10 for assaulting (choking into unconsciousness whilst drunk) a garage proprietor to whom he owed money for over two years. Same fellow as that who registered the patent? He had apparently changed address three times in the two years due to domestic matters, and not because he had been avoiding his debts.
The Herald (Melbourne) reported on the 22nd Jul 1930 that Dawn Manufacturing Co. Pty. Ltd. of Service Street, Coburg were at that time the sole remaining manufacturer of vices in the Southern Hemisphere. As an aside, that would leave Dawn as likely the sole company in Australia who would have been interested in licensing Latham's invention. The article goes on to state that in 1918 there were eighteen such companies, and that Dawn was the sole survivor of "the competition of overseas makers of vises". It also shows the first non-offset or quick release picture I have seen in advertising:
The same article also says that Dawn was in the business of manufacturing industrial fans, lifting jacks, tyre rim tools and various other specialty tools. Their methods of making the vices were described as involving machine moulding from half pattern plates which were pneumatically driven, which was apparently the modern style of the times. The compression and vibratory motion of such a method was claimed to consolidate the moulds more easily and quickly but also "achieved a striking uniformity of texture, directly due to the firm, even pressure, which could probably be obtained in no other way".
The article also mentions the Dawn offset vices as being the company's latest type produced - which makes sense, given that many of the earlier offset vices had a patent date of 1927 cast into them.
18th Jan 1932, The Age reports that Dawn installed a tobacco curing plant on the premises of a Mr. E. Kneebone, who had 140 acres under crop. A Mr. E. Blake was present, reported as being a director of the company. Not long later - Nov 15th of that year - The Horsham Times ran an ad for a Dawn product for tobacco curing:
For a lighter pic with more detail in the drawings, click here. That paper ran the same ad for quite a few months - of note, the address given is now 31-37 Service Street, Coburg - not just 33. Their post office box was PO Box No. 1, Coburg, and the phone number was Brunswick 899.
20th Feb 1933 saw a break-in, as reported in The Herald, where £25 of equipment was stolen. That equipment included an acetylene oxy-welding plant, comprising eight nozzles, two pressure gauges and associated tubing.
1936 saw The Herald reporting on 29th Feb that a new engineering works was being constructed for Dawn which would employ "500 male hands" when in full swing.
13th May 1936 the same paper reported that the Mayor of Coburg - one Norman Leslie Martin, who it seems served in WWI as far as I can tell from the war reords - was the managing director of Dawn. He was saying that his factory had been broken into five times so far that year, despite the fact that it was a mere 100 yards away from a police station. A photo of Norman Martin in the Dawn factory - unknown year:
The Herald reported later that year on the 1st September that one of Dawn's store rooms on Geake Street, Coburg, had burned almost to the ground at around 2am that day. Mr. E. Blake - one of the proprietors - said he believed that the fire had begun by a thief who had broken into the villa (being used as a storeroom) and was searching the building using matches for light. The front rooms - apparently used as offices for the factory - only suffered minor damage, but one of the destroyed storerooms contained many woodern patterns. The loss was expected to be about £100, which is according to the Reserve Bank of Australia approximately $10,000 in 2019 Australian currency.
The 1937 McPherson's catalogue shows a number of Dawn vices available;
If anyone has any catalogue pictures from other years please drop me a line.
Mr. Martin had a night of excitement sometime prior to the 28th Jan 1938, where it was reported that a 17 year old Dawn employee by the name of Raymond David Gordon Ford was sentenced to three months imprisonment for being found in Dawn's storerooms at night without a lawful excuse. Mr. Martin had apparently been informed that there would be a break-in that night and he was present in the factory that night with another member of his staff keeping watch, whereupon they discovered and apprehended Ford, who had apparently been an excellent worker.
The Age reported on 16th September 1940 that Dawn was one of many companies from Victoria who joined forces to contribute £50,000 to England to aid victims of Nazi bombs. That's the equivalent of about $4,300,000 in Australian money as of 2019.
The Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 11th June 1942 ran the following relating to Patent 6125/27: Notice is hereby given that it is the intention of Daniel Latham, formerly of 157 Queen-street, Melbourne, but now of 41 Burwood-road, Hawthorn, near Melbourne, [...] Enginer, to present a Petition to the High Court of Australia in the Principal Registry or such Court on the third day of August, 1942, praying that the term of said Letters Patent may be extended. The petitioner's address for service is care of Angus A. Sinclair, of 465 Collins-street, Melbourne [...], solicitor.
11th Nov of that year saw The Argus report that Mr. Justice Starke reviewed the Matter of Letters Patent No 6125-27, which had been granted to Daniel Latham. The Herald reported on that matter on the same day, and though the scan of the paper is pretty poor the auto text recognition reads it as, "Letters patent for an Australian invention which is speeding-up prodiciton in munition factories were extended for three years by Mr. Justice Starke in the High Court today. The inventino is known as an offset vice and the inventor is Mr. Daniel Latham, a Melbourne engineer. The normal life of an invention is 1G[sic] years. Mr. Starke said: Mr. Latham was not a man of means. Having regard to the merits and utility of the invention in relation to the public, profits had been small. [...] The extension was granted, subject to licenses being granted by Mr. Latham to manufacturers [illegible] reasonable terms.". I can't find reference to the patent being extended any further.
In 1944 the Australasian Manufacturer Annual had this ad on page 186 - "Australian from Pig Iron to Paint":
As you can see it lists their address as being Sheppard St, Coburg.
On Sunday the 9th June 1945 The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Dawn had a contract for 2-ton plain bearing winches for the army for use with recovery kits on jeeps, with an anticipated further order of 1,500 units on the way.
V-P day (Victory in the Pacific day, 15th August 1945) saw a lot of celebration, and the first man to be injured was a Dawn employee according to The Argus. Henry Bibby, 48, of Brunswick, was a Dawn employee who went to blow the factory whistle to announce the V-P declaration when he overbalanced and fell onto machinery which was in motion. He suffered fractures to the leg and arm and was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
The Argus reported on 11th April 1946 that Dawn was increasing it's nominal capital from £20,000 to £50,000 by an additional £30,000 ordinary shares of £1 each.
There is a book which supposedly catalogues some information about Dawn from 1917 to 1946 - if I ever manage to get to one of the two locations to borrow it I'll update this article. In the meantime, if anyone has access to it I'm all ears...
By 1947 there were still regular reports in newspapers that Dawn was contributing engineer's vices and carpenter's vices to schools as prizes for top students.
21st Feb 1949 The Age ran an advertisement from Dawn seeking six men for constant work in a modern mechanised production foundry. Pay was £8 per week and the working hours were 7.30am to 4.15pm, and the address given was Sheppard Street, North Coburg. Was this a second premises or did they move? On the 8th Feb the following year the same paper ran an ad from Dawn seeking accomodation in Brunswick or Coburg for British migrant workers involved in the engineering industry. The address was given as PO Box 1, Coburg, and the phone number FL1231.
I can find little about this time period!
Daniel John Latham of "Chester", Ranelagh Estate, Mount Eliza (VIC) - engineer - presumably the same one who patented the offset vice - died on the 12th Sept 1957.
In 1959 the company was purchased by the GNR group (G.N.Raymond).
The plans for the Dawn Manufacturing factory in 1959 are still extant and are available through Public Record Office Victoria - here and there's an amenities layout here from 1957. If anyone is able to get copies of those physical records, please let me know!
The 50th anniversary product catalogue in 1967 gave their factory and sales office address as 14 Norris Street, North Coburg. The product line at this point was still measured in inches and consisted of both semi-steel and cast steel units. This second copy gives the GNR engineering division's address as 1 Norris Street, North Coburg, and this catalogue states that there are over 50 variants of vices offered by Dawn at the time. Dawn overseas agents are listed in all of the states of Australia (not the Territories), Canada & USA, Malaya, New Zealand, Peru, Phillipines, Singapore, Thailand and Lebanon.
The 1969 catalogue has a handwritten note on the front cover that the 4" filer's vice has been dropped from the line and there is now a Thai distributor listed, while the Peruvian distributor is no longer shown. There are a large number of products crossed out in the catalogue - possibly removed product lines? The manufacturer of the winches, jacks, crane crabs, pulley blocks, travelling trolleys and lifting platforms is given as Stella, while the toggle clamps are apparently manufactured by P.T. - both companies I presume are divisions of GNR.
The 1969 catalogue is also the first I have found to list the Garage Special 4 ¼" vice - which is the only Dawn vice I have seen with a mild offset to one side. Anthony sent in some pictures of his copy:
The 1972 catalogue has a number of the products crossed out in the 1969 catalogue missing, though not all. The vices are still showing imperial sizes cast into the bodies but the catalogue gives both metric and imperial measurements. The vices were variously available in either cast semi-steel or cast steel, and this is the first catalogue I can find which lists a fabricated Dawn vice as opposed to just the cast range. There's also a semi-offset fabricated vice that I have not seen in the flesh, which was offered with or without pipe jaws. They also offered a folding vice stand for pipe vices. Overseas agents now included a distributor in Hong Kong, T.P.N.G. and the USA and Canadian distribution seems to have separated into two entities.
A 1970s-era McPhersons catalogue - no precise year, unfortunately, best guess is early 70s - lists a variety of Dawn vices, including the OM1/OM2 open mouth pipe vices, H2 hinge type pipe vice, C2 chain vice, semi-steel engineer's vices from 2 1/2" to 8", quick action vices, offset vices, swivel base vices, universal vices, the Dawnette vice, steel guide vices, cast steel plain and quick action vices and offset cast steel vices. Oh, and semi-steel machine vices.
In 1973 Dawn was acquired by Siddons Ramset Limited.
I have found some interesting data from the latter half of the decade. The 1976-1977 vice output from Siddons declined substantially compared to 1974-1975, and employment for Australian production fell from 143 (30 June 1974) to 61 people (30 June 1977), though it did rise somewhat to 74 people by 31 March 1978. Employees for all other vice manufacturers in the country - seven other manufacturers - was estimated to be about fifteen people. Shows the scale of Siddons/Dawn/Joplin at that time vs. the competition. It should be noted that in 1973 Siddons not only bought Dawn but also Joplin's vice interests.
A government investigation into the industry stated that since 1973-1974 imported of vices increased substantially in number, up until tariff quotas were introduced in July 1977. These imported vices were largely of sizes and types typically purchased by handyman type owners, which turned out to be not as relevant to Australian manufacturing as you might think. It was estimated that local production of Handyman vices (presumably at the start of the 70s) was about 5% of the market, where the local production of industrial vices was more like 50%.
What did they classify as handyman type vices? Engineer's vices up to 90mm (3 ½") or less, and woodworkers vices with jaw widths of 155mm (6") or less. Industrial vices were classified as anything other than those. Dawn predominantly making vices of 4" and larger makes sense when you consider how common those sizes are in the vintage used market today (2020 at the time of writing this article), compared to the less frequently seen smaller sizes (at least around here!).
So what was the main competition for Siddons/Dawn during this period? Apparently imported British-made industrial vices, which were generally regarded to be of a similar quality to the Australian made products. The number of vices imported from Britain had not increased through the 70s, though, even prior to the tariff introduction in 1977. Vice imports from developing countries (India is given as an example) were considered to be largely non relevant due to the "substantial differences in quality and finish". The Commission recommended increasing the tariff level for industrial vices, whilst noting that "...market demand for Australian made vices will not necessarily be sustained by the operation of the tariff quota".
As a side note - Coles (G.J. Coles & Company Limited), Fuller (Fuller Tool Company (Aust.) Pty Ltd and Paul's (Merchants) Pty Ltd), Tallerman, Healey and Suburban (H.K. Porter Australia Pty Ltd) were all named as companies which imported vices. ABTA (Australian British Trade Association) appeared on behalf of Record Ridgeway Tools Limited, and IAS was stated to import vices from India.
Local manufacturs in 1977 of vices were given as:
A further point of interest - the local production of vices for the following years was estimated at:
Siddons stated that their production from 1976-1977 was 17% lower than the previous year, and in the following six months to Dec 1977 they sold 19,000 vices - compared to 24,000 vices during the same period the previous year. Siddons partially attributed the reduced output level to a power strike in Victoria during that period, and given that for the first quarter of 1978 production had been restored to that of the first quarter of 1977 that seems likely.
So how does that compare to imported vices during that period?
Total numbers on the left, imports from Britain in brackets. Pretty good growth in sheer numbers if you're an importer. Interestingly, the NSW Education Department had chosen to buy some Indian industrial-sized (5" or 6") vices over Australian-made vices, which Siddons conceded were an acceptable vice for part of the industrial market. It was also observed that the quality of those vices was expected to dramatically improve.
Despite their vices being tradesman-oriented, Siddons perceived a demand for a quality product in the handyman market. Given that, Siddons felt that a withdrawl from that market would hurt overall profitability (likely through loss of brand awareness, amongst other things). Siddons stated that they would continue to make products for the handyman market, even at a lower profit, as they were essential to overall plant utilisation at that point in time and hence to productivity. It was later stated that Siddons was in the process of ceasing production of some small sized vices, though - it looks as though the 2½" vice was dropped after this point, though the other sub-4" vices still appear in the catalogues through the 80s.
Local vice manufacturing was protected in the ~1977 period by import tariffs of 19%, 11% and 10% for General, Preferential and Developing Country sources respectively.
1977 saw the PNG Post-Courier publish on the 8th March that Dawn and Sidchrome tools were to be exhibited on behalf of the manufacturer Siddons Industries, at the Australian Woodworking Tradesmen's Tools Display.
The 1978 catalogue reflects the move to the metric system and there are no inch measurements listed, and the vice range is offered in cast semi-steel, cast steel and fabricated steel. The slightly oddball fabricated semi-offset has vanished, and the factory address is given as 1 Norris Street, North Coburg.
George William Patton was the managing director of Siddons in 1978.
Here's a snapshot of the imported vices for the eight months to Feb 1978:
|Country of Origin||Engineering Vices||Other Vices||Handyman Vices||Industrial Vices||Total|
Both Siddons and Record forecast a marginal increase in the market for industrial vices moving into the end of the seventies with the expectation that the economic climate would improve. At this point Siddons had a price disadvantage vs. the Indian- and Taiwanese-made vices ranging from 60 to almost 300%, though it seemed generally agreed upon that the Asian imports were not of the same quality.
I can find little on this time period. Anyone got some non-Dawn catalogues showing their range through this time?
The 1980 winch brochure gives Dawn as the manufacturer of the all-steel winch, as opposed to Stella. Were they rolled into one - perhaps as part of the acquisition from GNR - or is this a new design?
The 1982 catalogue lists cast semi-steel, fabricated and cast steel vices - but at the back of the catalogue explains what SG iron (spheroidal graphite iron) is and how useful it is in a vice. No SG vices are listed and a quick skim of the rest of the catalogue shows no other products of that nature. I would presume that any Dawn SG vices found now or in the future are no older than approx. 1982.
In 1991 (December) Dawn became a unit of the Stanley Works Pty. Ltd. (USA).
In 1998, Dawn regained 100% Australian ownership. Who bought them?
A catalogue - apparently from 2006 - lists Gobal Subramaniam as the managing director of the company. Dawn tell me that he was also the owner.
In 2009 (and probably other years also) - Dawn (via Gobal Subramaniam) was one of the sponsors of the Bendigo Pioneers (AFL). Gobal Subramaniam appears to be or has been a managing director of Aerotech Fans Pty. Ltd., a Victorian based company which was founded in the 1940s.
On Feburary 1st 2017 Dawn Tools was sold again and in August of that year Dawn appointed a new General Manager, a Mr. Evan Thompson. He apparently replaced Jurek Witkowski.
As of 2020 Dawn have expanded their product lines to include vices made in China in addition to their Australian-made units. They are also the Australian agents for Carver Clamps (UK) and Mayhew Tools (USA), the latter of whom manufactures pry bars, punches, chisels, scrapers and automotive products. All up their current product line boasts over 1,000 products.
Dawn's general manager Evan got in touch with me in May 2020 to advise me that Dawn have expanded their product line beyond just what they make in Australia - they have added in some less expensive vices that are made overseas to Dawn's specs. Dawn's Australian-made products are cast in three locations within Australia - Ajax Foundry in Silverwater, Trigg Brothers in Adelaide, and Whites in Dalby QLD. Dawn did for a long time run their own foundry in Coburg, and once it became uneconomic to continue to run it they found Australian businesses to carry on the work.
If you have some more information or can flesh out any of the decades with further information please send it through!
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