Remembering the Hallstrom fridge
For much of the 20th century, the inner suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide were home to factories of varying sizes making all manner of goods from biscuits to bicycles.
The commercial buildings that survive in these places are likely to be repurposed as apartments, galleries or studios.
Some brand names still resonate with people who grew up in the post-war years. Cyclops bikes, Allens Sweets, and Westons biscuits are just three. Another is the Hallstrom ‘Silent Knight’ refrigerators.
Edward Hallstrom began selling his kerosene-powered refrigerator in rural Australia – where electricity was not readily available – in 1923, a decade or so after the mass production of domestic refrigerators was pioneered in the United States.
That machine was developed in Dee Why, and in 1934, Hallstrom opened a factory in the lower North Shore suburb of Willoughby to produce gas and electric-powered ‘Silent Knight’ refrigerators.
Many people were still receiving horse-drawn deliveries of ice to chill ‘ice boxes’ or ‘ice chests’. But in 1934, the worst years of the depression were past and there was a market for the machines despite their cost.
The company reached its peak in the 1950s after war-time constraints were lifted and affluence returned.
Like the Holden car, the Hallstrom fridge was a symbol of suburban wellbeing.
‘East, west, north or south… no matter where you live you can choose the cold that is exactly right for your locality’, was the boast that came with each new fridge. More than 1,000 units per week were being produced by the end of the decade.
Edward Hallstrom used his wealth for philanthropy and personal interests. He was a trustee and president of Taronga Zoo and personally funded some of the institution’s activities.
It has been suggested that these interests distracted from the challenge of technological adaptation and change. Production of the Silent Knight ended in the 1960s and the Willoughby factory was closed in 1974, to be replaced by home units.
With the end of protective tariffs in the 1980s, and the opening up of China as the ‘world’s factory’ in the early 2000s, competition from overseas grew. Australian consumers increasingly chose to buy imported models. The last Australian refrigerator, an Electrolux, was built in 2016.
Historical Services, Stanton Library/North Sydney Council