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Blackwoods celebrates another major milestone

Supplier: Blackwoods By: Alan Johnson TecTorque Winter 2013
13 August, 2013

This year Blackwoods celebrates its 135-year anniversary of supplying essential equipment and supplies to Australian Industry.

Looking back through the history books, it is clear Australia was a very different place in 1878 than it is today. Horse and buggies clogged the rutted dirt thoroughfares of our cities and towns, and huge sailing ships packed with supplies filled our harbours.

In that same year, the telephone was used for the first time in Australia (Melbourne) and Ned Kelly and his gang were still on the loose, robbing Victorian banks almost at will.

And while BHP was still seven years away from being incorporated, and federation was still 23 years away, the idea of being "Australian" began to be celebrated in songs and poems with Advance Australia Fair first sung publicly at the Highland Society of NSW's annual Scottish concert in the Protestant Hall, Sydney.

It is into this background, James Blackwood, a Scottish Marine Engineer, founded the Blackwood Company in 1878 as a specialist supplier to the shipping industry and engineers in Sydney with the logo "J Blackwood & Son – Steamship and Engineer Furnishers"

At the time, Sydney's population was around 330,000 people and the second largest city in Australia, around 100,000 people behind Melbourne.

According to the records, the first place of business J Blackwood & Son was in a lane situated close to Hickson Rd, where St Phillip's Church now stands on "Church Hill" at the approach to Sydney's Harbour Bridge.

Following a short time in Erskine Street, the company moved around the corner into a larger warehouse in 62-64 Sussex Street and a bulk store in Mill Street, Pyrmont.

Nearly all the stock was imported, with iron plates, bars and pipe coming from England and the US, who also supplied the company with donkey pumps, packings and joints.

Also from England came nuts and bolts, while copper and brass sheets came from England, Belgium and France, and cotton waste came from England and Japan.

The records show that ordinary household cement was not made in Australia at the time, and was usually imported from Germany packed in casks with six casks to the ton. Cement and fire bricks were also interestingly imported from Scotland.

At that stage, the company also did quite a trade in oils and greases, with oils blended on the site for many years - all the bulk oils coming from the US.

Despite the bubonic plague in 1907, the company continued to grow, having developed a reputation for consistent and reliable supply to a growing Sydney market and expanding its metals business.

It was around this time, Blackwood moved the company across the road to 68 Sussex Street, where it stayed until 1966.

Readers should note Sussex Street was still very narrow, so most of the stock was carried by hand across the street, and only heavy items moved by horse and cart.

Here, the company was well positioned to contribute to the supply of the Sydney Harbour Bridge construction, which started in 1924, as well as a number of other historic projects that shaped the city we now know.

It was not until 1953 when Blackwoods became a public company triggering a dramatic expansion over the next few years.
In 1961, Blackwoods acquired A.E. Baker and Co a Builders' Hardware and Plumbing Supplier, then in 1964 Blackwoods expanded outside of the Sydney area for the first time acquiring W.R. McKerrow and Co. in Canberra.

Over the next couple of decades Blackwoods expanded into the Victorian market with United Engineering Supplies and the steel processing business Victoria Berrin, and into Queensland with a new Brisbane branch to service all of Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Throughout the next decade, Blackwoods became a truly national company expanding into Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Tasmania.

In 1984 Backwoods joined the legendary Australian shipping and transport company Howard Smith.

Through the 90's Blackwoods strengthened its capabilities in an expanding product range acquiring successful and aligned Australian companies including Dunlop Industrial Sales, Adair Industrial Supplies and Dent QBC, a fastener specialist.

In 2001, Blackwoods proudly became a member of the iconic Wesfarmers Group.

More recently, and to support local industry, new branches have continued to be opened throughout regional Australia and New Zealand opening the doors to manufacturing, agricultural and mining operations and confirming Blackwoods place as the 'One Stop Shop' for Australian Industry.

Today, Blackwoods is the largest Australian distributor of industrial, engineering and safety workplace needs across over 70 locations and is a vital part of Australia's industrial and workplace landscape.

As a single source of supply to businesses both large and small, Blackwoods aim to deliver great customer service whilst saving customers time and maximising efficiency with fast delivery of all their workplace needs and in being a trusted supply partner.

The Blackwoods brand and service has been proudly associated with thousands of strategic projects nationwide, over many decades ... and every time the message and promise is the same: if you see the Blackwoods logo, you know 'all your workplace needs' are covered.

From the introduction of a world-class supply chain capability providing superior delivery performance, to the roll out of leading-edge mobile technology, Blackwoods has stayed on top by changing with and anticipating the needs of the industries and customers they are proud to have served for 135 years.

Visit the website to journey through Blackwoods' history.