Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Ansell, Eric Norman (1878–1952)

by Richard Trembath

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Eric Norman Ansell (1878?-1952), rubber goods manufacturer, was born in London, son of Michael Ansell, a commercial traveller, and his wife Martha, née Solomon. Eric worked in the rubber industry in England before becoming assistant purser in the Omrah. According to family tradition, he met Mildred Daisy 'Dai' Jones, who was returning to her native Geelong from England, in 1902. He jumped ship to marry her, with Free Christian Church forms, on 14 October at Queen Street, Melbourne. They were to have two sons (Eric) Lloyd (1903-1978) and Harvey Neil (1905-1984).

Ansell worked briefly as a traveller then as a mechanic at the Dunlop Pneumatic Tyre Co. of Australasia Ltd works at Montague, Melbourne. In 1905 he set up his own business, manufacturing condoms. He remained discreet about this product for the rest of his life. In 1912-19 he worked at the Zenith Rubber Co., while continuing to manufacture prophylactics, but thereafter devoted himself exclusively to his own company. Harvey joined the firm in 1922, Lloyd in 1925: in 1929 the business was registered as E. N. Ansell & Sons Pty Ltd, the name changing to the Ansell Rubber Co. Pty Ltd in 1934. The range of products expanded as the sons' chemical and mechanical skills took effect. In 1919 they began manufacturing balloons and by 1925 were producing household and surgical gloves.

Tariff protection in Australia under the Lyons government assisted the enterprise in the Depression. Ansell's importation of liquid latex in 1929 was crucial to future developments; the firm became one of the first Australian organizations to move away from the use of rubber in a solid form. In the 1930s Ansell kept abreast of developments abroad, travelling with family members to the United States of America and Europe to study new techniques.

The company prospered during World War II. An 'essential industry', the business overcame difficulties in importing raw product after the Japanese seized Malaya's rubber plantations. Ansell acquired lucrative government contracts for the production of gas masks, surgical gloves and the ubiquitous condom. After the war ended, a long-planned move to larger premises in River Street, Richmond, took place. In 1946 Ansell and his sons automated the glove-making process, with other products being automated by 1952. That year the company was ready to launch a national advertising campaign that would result in many Australian homes using the pink household glove with silver lining. Hot water bottles were another popular product.

Inside the factory Ansell was an autocrat. Within his family circle he was more relaxed. He died on 1 May 1952 in the Mercy Hospital, East Melbourne, and was cremated. Survived by his wife and by his sons, on whom the company devolved, Ansell left a personal estate of £15,154 and realty worth £7500. The lack of fuss and absence of public obituaries were indicative of a hard-working, carefully innovative man who was devoted to the interests of his family and his company. He left remarkably few public records, eschewing entries in Who's Who in Australia or industrial gazetteers. At his death the company was wholly family owned. In 1969 Dunlop Rubber Australia Ltd bought it and in 2002 Pacific-Dunlop Ltd changed its name to Ansell Ltd.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey, Jumping Over the Wheel (Syd, 1993)
  • M. Johnston and J. Wippell, Ansell (Melb, 1990)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 3 May 1952.

Citation details

Richard Trembath, 'Ansell, Eric Norman (1878–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ansell-eric-norman-12774/text23045, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 29 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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