The sewing machine firm of ’Wertheim’ was founded in 1868 by Joseph Wertheim ( 1804-1899 ) in Frankfurt, Germany. Joseph was the Frankfurt city delegate for the Democratic Party of which he was a long serving member. Within a few short years, Wertheim sewing machines gained a reputation for being among the best quality that was available. At its height, the factory employed around 650 people. The firm’s logo originally had a dwarf with a hammer; however this was replaced much later by a Star of David.
In 1870, a subsidiary was formed in Barcelona, Spain under the Wertheim name. Locals began to call the sewing machines "las rapidas", and the business became known as "la casa de las rapidas". Complete machines were imported and sold there until 1915, when production of a fully Spanish Wertheim machine was commenced.
Joseph’s son Hugo was born in 1854 in Hesse Kassel, (Kurhessen) a former electorate of Germany, nowadays known as the land of Hessen in West Germany. In 1867-68, Hesse Kassel became part of Hesse Nassau, incorporating the territory of Francfort-am-Main. ( Frankfurt)
Hugo was well trained by his father in business and commercial sense, with a view to becoming more involved in the running of the business, but Hugo had no plans to stay in Frankfurt, causing friction between him and his father. In 1874, Hugo married his cousin Sophie, and the following year, they arrived in Melbourne, Australia to start a new life.
He quickly established himself as a merchant, and began importing his father's sewing machines. He opened premises at 173 William Street, Melbourne, and also began to import 'Electra' bicycles, 'Hapsburg Pianos' (described in his brochures as 'Sweet Hapsburg Pianos') and organs. He also displayed in his showrooms the latest 'Patented Wertheim Home Wringer and Mangle'.
By 1900, Hugo had begun manufacturing pianos, and in 1903 he opened new retail depots at 296 Bourke Street, Melbourne, and 175 Chapel Street, Prahran. The Wertheim Piano Factory was built in Bendigo Street, Richmond in 1908 and became an enduring landmark in the area. The factory employed 300 people and manufactured all the parts for the wide range of pianos on offer. These fine quality pianos were sold throughout Australia not only to the general public, but to conservatoriums, halls and the like.
It is said that Dame Nellie Melba would not perform on stage unless she was accompanied on a Wertheim piano.
In Brisbane, the Wertheim Company set up a showroom in Queen Street near Custom House. They sold and serviced pianos and sewing machines there until the late 1920s.
Hugo’s son, Rupert ( Rupert Carl “Soss” Wertheim ) was a distinguished sportsman who played Davis Cup tennis for Australia in 1922. He enlisted with the 23rd Battalion in June 1915, and served at Gallipoli before transferring to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion in April 1916 and later fought at Pozieres. He was promoted to Captain and appointed to the Intelligence Corps serving with the 2nd Australian Division from January 1917 to March 1918 before being promoted to Corps Headquarters in March 1918. He was mentioned in Dispatches 5 times as well as in Sir Douglas Haig's personal Dispatches of 7 November 1917.
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