Australia has long enjoyed its global reputation as a leading exporter of iron-ore, the key ingredient in steel manufacturing. What isn’t so widely known is that Australia has produced a number of surprising inventions that have used steel and stainless steel to revolutionise everyday household items – and these inventions are still being used all over the world.
The Hills Hoist clothes line
Since its invention in Adelaide in 1945, the Hills Hoist clothesline has been synonymous with Australian backyards. The first Hills Hoists were manufactured by Lance Hill in his own backyard before high demand meant moving to a dedicated production facility. The Hills Hoist Company became Hills Industries in 1958 and is still in operation today, producing a wide range of clotheslines, laundry and garden products that are used all over the world.
The electric drill
Combining the recently invented electric motor with the traditional mechanical drill was an idea that occurred to Arthur James Arnot and William Blanch Brain of Melbourne, the two Australians who patented the electric drill in 1889 – creating the very first power tool.
Their invention looked very different to today’s compact, portable battery-operated electric drills and was definitely not portable. But it was this initial steel-constructed electric model that was the prototype the miniaturised version produced by German brothers Wilhelm and Carl Fein, which it turn inspired Duncan Black and Alonzo Decker to create the trigger-release, pistol-grip style, electric drill in 1916.
Stainless steel braces
Stainless steel was the driving force behind Adelaide orthodontist Percy Raymond Begg’s invention. Until the 1950, gold and platinum were the metals of choice for braces and the traditional technique required the whole tooth to be wrapped in wire. The cost of such procedures put orthodontic work out of reach for most families. Working together with metallurgist Arthur Wilcock in Victoria, the duo developed a much gentler stainless steel system. While the new methods caused controversy when Begg published his invention in 1956, it was quickly adopted by orthodontists around the globe. Begg is widely credited not only as the inventor of stainless steel braces, but the innovator who made orthodontics more affordable and comfortable.
Baby Safety Capsule
It seems hard to believe now, but before the 1970s wearing seat belts in the car was totally optional. When compulsory seat belts were legislated around the country, there still wasn’t a restraint effective for small babies. In 1984, the ‘Safe-n-Sound’ Baby Safety Capsule was invented by Bob Heath and Bob Botell in response to the need for a secure system that would protect babies in the event of a car accident. Made of two components, the bassinet and the base that remains strapped into position in the car, the bassinette locks into place with the baby facing the rear of the vehicle.
While seat belt laws and child safety seats are different around the world, the Australian invention of the Baby Safety Capsule led to a widespread re-think of child restraints, particularly the safety advantages of rear-facing capsule-style models.
In the second of our two-part series, we’re going to look at how steel and stainless steel is being used in some of the more high-tech sectors of the economy, as well as the critical role Australian inventors have played in the Defence industry.
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