Early electricity

19 July, 2009

Kettle, about 1925, on display in the Melbourne Story exhibition at Melbourne Museum.
Kettle, about 1925, on display in the Melbourne Story exhibition at Melbourne Museum.
Image: Nicole Davis
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: What was the first electrical appliance used in Australia and in what year was it first used?

Answer: It is unclear what the first electrical appliance was, when it was first made and used, and where it was used – however it was likely to be a small appliance such as a heater, kettle or an iron. Electricity was also used for domestic lighting early on.

Clarence and his father James Marriott were Melbourne metal workers who made Australia’s first carbon filament electric radiators in 1899, and were an early manufacturer of electrical appliances. Clarence later established Hecla Electrics. Other local companies may have made similar appliances. However, electric appliances were mostly imported to Australia until the 1920s, when tariff protection was introduced and a local industry established.

Worldwide, electricity began to be used in the home around the 1890s for electric heating, cooking and ironing. Electricity use in the home in Australia was slow to develop, however, because not many homes were wired, electricity supply was not unified, appliances were expensive, the supply was sometimes unsafe, and there was fear and ignorance surrounding electricity use.

By the 1920s in Victoria the State Electricity Commission (SEC) had been formed and domestic electricity use increased through their role in promotion and infrastructure development. Most of the electricity use through the 1930s-1940s was with small appliances such as toasters, kettles, irons and heaters. Larger appliances such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, refrigerators and stoves were also available, but were too expensive for most to purchase. It was not until post-World War II that most homes owned large appliances and became truly ‘all-electric’.

Local manufacturer Hecla became a household name in Melbourne during the 1920s. The Hecla brand name and logo was registered in 1918 by Clarence Marriott. It was inspired by the recent eruption of Iceland’s volcano Mt Heckla. Clarence and his father James were metal workers who had made Australia’s first carbon filament electric radiators in 1899, and also built an early steam car. As electricity use exploded, Hecla began producing appliances for domestic and commercial use. In 1927, the company shifted from small premises in the city to a bigger, electric-powered factory in South Yarra. Hecla ceased manufacturing in Melbourne in the 1980s.

Comments (2)

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Stephen Marriott 2 August, 2009 20:26
Grandfather Clarence used Siemens carbon filament lamps, fitted into his father's ornamental bronze surrounds. I have several of these lamps [operational!] at our family museum at Degraves Mill, Carlsruhe.
tony parry 17 June, 2016 20:05
Hi Steven, I am a collector and restorer of vintage electrics, particularly hecla, and am trying to find out all I can about the company. Was thinking of doing an exhibition of products and perhaps advertising etc particularly from 1920s to 1950s. I live near Mildura and am still finding items still quite serviceable after all this time.i would appreciate any info or source of info you could provide. Look foreward to any correspondance. tony p.
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