Lithgow Small Arms Factory

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Introduction

Lithgow, NSW

The site was chosen by the Department of Defence in 1909. Commenced operations producing arms in 1912, officially opened 8 June 1913.


From 1924 parts for Vickers .303 machine guns were produced. Expansion in 1928 enabled various products for the civilian market to be produced. During the 1930s staff were reduced to 250 (from 1,300 in 1915/16) and the factory concentrated solely on goods for the commercial market.


Production of arms at Lithgow ceased around 1927 after WWI, then recommenced late in 1940 after the outbreak of WWII. Production continued after WWII, making sewing machines from November 1949 until 1957/58, so it is most likely the factory turned to sewing machine production in the 1927 to 1940 period when arms were not being produced.


Machines were produced and badged under the names of Dobbie, Gladiola, Hallmark, Kennedy, Mercury, New Century, Pinnock and Thomson.


Cases, hand cranks, treadles and electric sewing machines were made.


A Full History of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory

(by Les Godfrey)


Acknowledgements:

Information on Pinnock production and photographs generously supplied by John Wray Secretary/Custodian, Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum Inc.

Lithgow Tourism. Lithgow & District Historical Society. Australian Government Heritage Site.

Tony Griffiths Author “Lithgow’s Small Arms Factory and its People.”


Lithgow SAF c1924.JPG
Lithgow Small Arms Factory c1924

Early History

The need for a small arms factory was first discussed in 1895 but it wasn’t until 1906 that the Australian Federal Government came to the realisation that given their isolation Australia could no longer rely on Britain for her defence and that every effort should be made to ensure that Australia be self reliant in this regard.


In 1908 after two years of debate, plans were announced to build a small arms factory in Lithgow NSW.


The site originally 68 hectares was selected because of existing services such as power, transport and existing steel works. Lithgow also offered a certain amount of security because of the surrounding mountains. It is however likely that Joseph Cook, formerly a Lithgow coal miner, and at that time, the Federal Minister of Defense, was influential in lobbying for the positioning of the factory in his home town.


Tenders were invited and the successful firm was Pratt & Whitney from Hartford, Connecticut USA. The tender price was £68,000, which was less than half the most expensive quote, from the Birmingham Small Arms Company in the United Kingdom.


In 1909 following negotiations six men were sent to the works of Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut to train in the latest gun shop methods and practices. Later in December 1909 Mr. F.R. Ratcliffe arrived in Australia to assist in the planning of the new factory.


On the 10th January 1910, the site for the factory was inspected by Lord Kitchener. The contract with Jones and Allman to build the plant was approved on 20 January 1910 and the first main building, Building 60, was completed one year later. The layout of the original factory was relatively simple; Building 60 with its 60 foot wide main room comprised the centre of the production areas with four fifty foot wide wings on its south side. The first three wings contained the forge and heat treatment, the power plant and press and the wood and polishing room. The rifle barrels were made at the east end of the main room.


The machinery was imported from America with Pratt & Whitney experts visiting Lithgow in 1911, this equipment produced its very first rifle in January 1912. The number employed in the Lithgow factory grew rapidly, from 25 in March 1912 to 300 in August 1913. The Factory's first sale took place in October 1912, with the first batch of 40 rifles completed in May 1913. By December 1913 1500 rifles with bayonets had been manufactured. A decision was made in late 1913 to expand the production from 15,000 rifles annually to 20,000.


The Small Arms Factory was officially opened on 8 June 1912, with Mr. A. C. Wright from Pratt & Whitney being appointed as the first manager.


Many of the materials required by the factory were supplied from other industries in Lithgow. Steel required for the production of guns, for example, was in part supplied by the Hoskin Brothers. Electrical power was initially generated on the site but was later obtained from the NSW Railways Power Plant.


Production of the Short Magazine Lee Enfield .303 rifles pioneered the use in Australia of American scientific mass production techniques, and contributed to Australia's military contribution to the First (1914-1918) and Second (1939-1945) World Wars. (Australian Government Heritage Site)


Increasing demands were placed on the factory during the First World War with production doubling and then later re-doubling. The production of Lee-Enfield .303 rifles increased during this time from 15,000 per year to 80,000 per year. Over the period of the two world wars a total of 640,000 .303 rifles were made at the Small Arms Factory to assist the war effort (Brown 1989, p.86)


At the end of World War I, production began to decrease due to the decreased demand for armaments. As a result, the Armaments Factory began to diversify its production to include stream-lined wires, aircraft engine parts and aeroplane airframes. By 1931 more than half of the factory's production was linked to sound projection (a very successful venture, supplying most Australian cinemas) in addition to tools and equipment for the Lithgow collieries. Sheep shearing machinery, golf clubs, handcuffs, rifles and Vickers Machine guns were also produced on site (Lithgow Public School 1947).


When World War II broke out production of armaments was again increased this now included the Bren Machine Gun, this lead to considerable increases in employment at the factory.


A large forge and die sinking shop were constructed; reputedly the largest in the southern hemisphere, and new laboratories, boiler rooms and heat equipment were also introduced. The workforce at this time rose to 12,000 with the inclusion of increased shift work. This included 6,000 in Lithgow as well as an additional 6,000 in feeder factories established at Orange, Bathurst, Young, Forbes, Wellington, Cowra, Dubbo, Parkes, Portland and Mudgee to assist the Lithgow operations (Lithgow District Historical Society Notes).


The Small Arms Factory was one of the major employers in Lithgow and as a result of the rising work force during World War 2 a suburb known as Littleton was established with 'Duration Cottages' to house both workers and their families. An additional railway station at Cooerwull was also established to facilitate commuter travel from the Blue Mountains' towns.


After the WW2, tools, pencil sharpeners, sporting rifles and telephone parts were produced. Operations at the Small Arms Factory have been significantly scaled down due to increasing government cutbacks. (Lithgow Tourism)


Start of Sewing Machine Production

Wooden model of the factory late 1940’s. The sewing machines were made in the sawtooth roofed building at the bottom right of the photo, which was called Bren 1.

(Based on information from a manager’s report at the time)

Pattern Mould used in the casting process.
Technical Drawing.
Machining the Arms and Bed Plates.

The Pinnock sewing machine project got underway at the conclusion of WWII around 1946. At this point in time rifle and machine gun production had ceased and many workers were laid off. A huge re-organisation took place with many machines bought online to manufacture sewing machine parts.


Available records suggest the initial order was for 6000 units. Difficulties arose, particularly assembly times which were enormous due to the limited inspection of the machined parts, this resulting in selective assembly.


During 1952 it was found necessary by Factory Management to survey the project and identify the many areas of concern. A more efficient system of quality control was introduced along with fixtures to aid assembly. A better system of masking prior to painting was deemed necessary to reduce time in this area.

(Click on Thumb Nails for Larger Image)


Initially, Mr Pinnock or his representative decided whether a machine was acceptable or not. Factory Management considered this to be unsatisfactory as it was felt that this could be used as a means of compelling a reduced output if the machines became increasingly difficult to sell.


Sew Testing New Machines. Mr Pinnock is standing in the background to the left wearing a hat
Photo of some of the different brands Gladiola, Thomson and New Century can be seen in the middle row. See close up
Close up

Mr Pinnock was responsible for supplying packing boxes, and regulated the supply of these to correspond with his sales. It was thought that he would not take deliveries of machines unless he held orders from his distributors. Steps were taken by Factory Management to ensure a reserve supply of boxes was on hand at all times.


Mr Pinnock was also responsible for the supply of transfers. This was also an area where machines were held up at the Factory.

Sewing Machines Produced

These sewing machines were marketed under eight different names and sold by twelve different retailers: It is thought that the machine was an Australia design and was known as the Model A with the A depicting made in Australia:

Pinnock, Hallmark, New Century, Dobbie, Gladiola, Mercury, Kennedy, Thomson.

(One of the retailers also handled an unmarked machine) The machines came in treadle models, portable models, and electric cabinets, as well as 'electric portables. Prices ranged from 58 pounds 10 shillings to 82 pounds ten shillings, an Australian pound was worth two Australian dollars.

All brands can be found with either straight gold, fern, laurel, floral or lion pattern transfers.

Sewing Machine Production and Dating Figures

There are no records available to indicate the total production figures, although a second order of 6000 was placed in 1953. Unfortunately no records exist to indicate completion of production, but it is thought that it may have been towards the mid to late 1950's.


In 1957 the Pinnock Manufacturing Company opened its own factory at Elizabeth, near Adelaide South Australia, thereafter assembling machines from parts made in-house and bought elsewhere. Lithgow Factory Engineer, Keith Rickard, left to work at the Adelaide factory.


Based on the information that the first Pinnock machine was produced in November 1949 and from production figures supplied by Tony Griffiths, the first two years saw only 221 and 252 machines completed, manufacture had been plagued by inferior body castings from an outside supplier.


A new supplier was chosen and figures started to improve over the next two years 2886 and 2685 machines respectively, giving a total production of 6044 by June 1954


Information supplied by John Wray tells us that a further order of 6000 machines was placed in 1953 although no confirmation has been found to establish when or if this order was completed, but given the fact that the new Pinnock factory opened in Elizabeth South Australia on the 1st November 1957 it would seem that actual sewing machine production ran from November 1949 until 1957/58.

This is the first sewing machine manufactured by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory. Pinnock Serial No. A1 which was produced in November 1949. It was presented back to the SAF on 10th August 1979 by Mrs P. Tanner, the daughter of Mr Pinnock. It now forms part of a permanent display at the SAF Museum in Lithgow situated on the original site
This second example is also on display at the Museum. Pinnock electric model in a portable case and base Serial No. A525


We can estimate from these figures that the total number of sewing machines produced was 12,044 approximately.

(Tony Griffiths Author “Lithgow’s Small Arms Factory and its People.”)



Production figures for the eight brands of machines manufactured:


1949/50 1 - 221
1951 222 - 473
1952 474 - 3,359
1953/54 3,360 - 6,044
1954-58 6,045 - 12,044


This would date the second example of the Pinnock machine from the museum serial number A525 as 1952 approximately. It should be noted that this is early information and should be used as a guide only, the figures quoted are based on managers reports of the time, no actual production figures exist as they were discarded some years ago.


The sewing machine project as it became to be known, was initiated to keep the current work force gainfully employed and was undertaken in a relatively small area of the total complex. After overcoming initial problems, with quality control issues and assembly techniques the Small Arms Factory was finally able, if only for a short period, approximately eight years, to produce domestic sewing machines. During this time, the factory was also manufacturing other commercial products and continued to produce weapons and other items for the Australian Military and still does to this day.


The Lithgow Small Arms Factory has undergone several expansions and modifications over the years including a name change to ADI Australian Defence Industries and in July 2007 it became part of the International Thales Group.

Examples of Machines Produced at Lithgow

Pinnock

Serial #A4275

Courtesy of Bernadette Dewhurst-Phillips

The machine has been badged for sale as Pinnock. The decals are like those used on German machines.

Serial #A447

Courtesy of Cyndy

Made by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory NSW 1951

Gladiola

Courtesy of Bernadette Dewhurst-Phillips

SAF-made Gladiola machine

Hallmark

Courtesy of Bernadette Dewhurst-Phillips

Lithgow-made Hallmark machine 1953

New Century

Dobbie

Mercury

Kennedy

Lithgow-made Kennedy machines 1953

Thomson