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Ditter, Otto Kurt (1889–1967)

by Kerrie Round

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

Otto Kurt Ditter (1889-1967), fruit and nut merchant, was born on 17 April 1889 at Chemnitz, near Dresden, Germany, third son and fourth child of Otto Wilhelm Ditter, hotel proprietor, and his second wife Martha. Young Otto worked on the King of Saxony's estate in summer and attended horticultural college in winter. After qualifying he moved to Nice on the French Riviera and worked for an export florist, and then in flower shops in Paris and at Leipzig, Germany. At the age of 21 he migrated to South Australia.

Disembarking in Adelaide from the Konigin Luise on 5 March 1910, Ditter travelled to Port Pirie where his brother Johannes (Hans) was a metallurgist. After a few months in the smelters Otto returned to Adelaide, worked for two years for the printing firm Basedow Eimer & Co. and then taught in a Lutheran school. In August 1914 he was naturalized. He married Clara Magdalena Louise Remien on 15 July 1916 in Adelaide.

The forced closure of Lutheran schools in 1916, as a result of anti-German feeling during World War I, led to his return to horticultural work. Ditter spent a year at E. F. Lipsham's market garden, then he and Lipsham opened a stall at the East End market to sell vegetables and almonds. They transferred to the Adelaide Central Market and added roasted peanuts—possibly the first time they had been sold in Adelaide—to their products. When Lipsham withdrew from the business Ditter specialized in nuts. In 1927 he moved to a shop in nearby Pirie Street and Ditters Ltd was incorporated in 1928. He pioneered the retailing of almond meal, marzipan, crystallized fruits, angelica and ginger and their acceptance as gourmet foods. By 1963 he had three shops, a factory at Clarence Gardens and fifty employees in peak times.

Always conservative in business, Ditter was meticulous both in dress and in the presentation of his produce. He revisited Germany and was active in the German Club (president 1928-29). In 1933 he sought appointment as honorary consul for Germany, but the consul-general in Sydney considered him unsuitable. A police report in 1939 described him as 5 ft 7 ins (170 cm) tall, with fair complexion, grey hair, blue eyes and a small moustache. Ditter's two sons served with the Australian Imperial Force in World War II. Despite being reported for allegedly unpatriotic statements, he became an Air Raid Precautions warden at Edwardstown. An indication of his acceptance into the community was the Federal government's grant to him of the entire South Australian allocation of raw peanuts, an important replacement food for nursing mothers during rationing. He also developed an export line of glacé fruits that locals could send to their British relations. These 'overseas parcels' became so famous that on a visit to Adelaide in 1945 the Duchess of Gloucester ordered three.

By the late 1940s all the children and a son-in-law had joined Ditters Ltd. Otto Ditter died on 22 May 1967 at Tusmore and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and their two sons and two daughters. In 1969-70 the company made major additions to its range, such as 'gourmet cakes' (popularly called 'stained-glass window cakes' because they were at least eighty per cent glacé fruit) and chocolate-dipped candied fruits and ginger. In April 1985 the business was sold to Bennett & Fisher Ltd, but the remaining Ditters' store in 2003 was run by one of Otto's grandsons.

Select Bibliography

  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 May 1967, p 3
  • D1915, item SA 15131 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Kerrie Round, 'Ditter, Otto Kurt (1889–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ditter-otto-kurt-12887/text23279, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 December 2018.

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

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