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Remember Swinging on the Hills Hoist Clothes Line?

The Hills Hoist is now an Aussie icon of course but had its humble beginnings right here in Adelaide in the mid-1940s.

Photo from News Ltd. Remember going for a swing or a ‘whizzy’ with siblings or friends, on mum’s Hills Hoist clothes line.

Photo from News Ltd. Remember going for a swing or a ‘whizzy’ with siblings or friends, on mum’s Hills Hoist clothes line.

The legend goes that when Lance Hill returned home from war in 1945, his wife started nagging him about her clothesline. It was strung up between two posts and propped up in the middle with a stick (a traditional clothes line of the times), and it was in the way of the lemon tree. Lance, who was still trying to find work at the time, put his mind to designing a compact rotary line made out of metal tubing and wires. And the Hills Hoist was born.

The earliest models were put together with scraps from salvaged tubing but when Lance’s brother-in-law, Harold Ling, also returned home from the war the following year and joined him, they formed a partnership and set about manufacturing the rotary clothes line in earnest.

It wasn’t a new invention. As early as 1895 Colin Stewart and Allan Harley of Sun Foundry in Adelaide applied for a patent for an ‘Improved Rotary and Tilting Clothes Drying Rack’. Gilbert Toyne of Geelong patented four rotary clothes hoists designs between 1911 and 1946. Toyne also first patented a clothes hoist with an enclosed crown wheel-and-pinion winding mechanism in 1925, however none of these earlier models had quite the impact that the Hills Hoist was to have.

In 1947 Hills Hoists began manufacturing a wind-up clothes hoist, which was identical to Gilbert Toyne’s expired 1925 patent with the crown wheel-and-pinion winding mechanism.

Initially the clothes hoists were constructed and sold from Lance Hill’s home on Bevington Road in Glenunga. Soon production moved to a nearby site on Glen Osmond Road and within a decade the factory had relocated to a larger site at Edwardstown. The company Hills Hoists became Hills Industries in 1958.

Hills Industries has now expanded and diversified. It has acquired several different companies and produces many different products, eg, clothes lines, ironing boards, wheelbarrows, antennas, CCTV equipment and systems, building and roofing products to name a few.

Photo from State Library of SA. There was a time throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s when almost every backyard in Australia had a Hills Hoist.

Photo from State Library of SA. There was a time throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s when almost every backyard in Australia had a Hills Hoist.

They have manufacturing plants in the UK and New Zealand. Products are sold in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and SE Asia, and trade links exists with many countries including Scandinavia, Austria, Hawaii, Greece, Papua New Guinea and Burundi in the African continent.

Toyne may have invented the rotary hoist, but it was Lance Hill and Harold Ling’s entrepreneurial flair and the huge boom in house-building after World War II that made his big metal tree for drying clothes into an icon of suburbia.

There was a time throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s when almost every backyard in Australia had a Hills Hoist, but with the popularity of apartment living, smaller back yards and indoor clothes dryers, this great national icon may one day disappear.

Pity, because I’m sure there are many baby boomers reading this who will be immediately transported back to carefree childhood days, going for a swing or a ‘whizzy’ with siblings or friends, on mum’s Hills Hoist clothes line.

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4 Responses to Remember Swinging on the Hills Hoist Clothes Line?

  1. Mal October 31, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    Check the associations between RM Williams (yes, THE RM Williams), Lance Hill, and another bloke (I think he had the ‘Torrens’ hot water chip heater business), a card game in Tennant Creek NT, the winning of Nobles Knob gold mine and therefore the funds to set up their businesses. Ol’ RM started his business at his sister’s house at 5 Percy St Prospect. they were all financial backers of RM Williams and the mine in the mid-late 40s.

    • Tom October 28, 2018 at 4:04 pm #

      Hi Mal!
      I’d like to hear more about this story, I can’t seem to find anything on it!

  2. Evelyn November 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm #

    We have a Hills Hoist in our backyard and I wouldn’t upgrade it to anything else. Unfortunately it doesn’t go up and down anymore because the kids swung on it!!!!

  3. Hills Hoist Lover! March 8, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    As a kid in the 1970’s, swinging on the Hills Hoist in the backyard was something we so look forward to after getting home from school. Me and my brothers and the kids next door all had turns swinging around and we had competitions to see how many we could get on at once! Such a great Aussie invention and still use it today in my home and with my kids today.

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