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