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Geiger, Kurt (1915–1972)

by David Jefferson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Kurt Geiger (1915-1972), businessman, was born on 11 March 1915 in Vienna, son of Eugen Geiger, merchant, and his wife Elsa, née Glaser. As a young man, Kurt served behind the counter of his family's drapery business. Educated at Waser Gymnasium, in 1933-38 he studied medicine at the University of Vienna. On 19 May 1938 he married Czech-born Olga Trenschina, née Hochwald, in Vienna. Fleeing from Hitler's anti-Semitism, they reached Melbourne on 31 August; Kurt's parents and sister, who remained in Austria, were killed by the Nazis.

Unable to afford to continue his studies at the University of Melbourne, Kurt leased a small shop in Collins Street; in October he set up K. O. Geiger Pty Ltd and began to sell imported handbags. Business was brisk in the weeks before the Melbourne Cup, but then it slackened and Kurt spent two years as a window-dresser for a jeweller while Olga ran the shop. Realizing the benefit of selling matching handbags and shoes, in 1941 the Geigers established Mascot Shoes Pty Ltd, opening their first store in Degraves Street. Kurt was naturalized on 22 June 1944.

In 1945 he travelled through Britain and North America, learning more about the trade and selling shoes on commission. Returning with a licence from a large English company, he bought a shoe factory in 1951 and improved both its machinery and craftmanship. Three years later he owned seven outlets; by 1957 he had five hundred employees.

A man of good taste, immaculately groomed and fashionably dressed in English suits, Geiger was chairman (1959-60) of the Museum of Modern Art of Australia, head of an appeal (1961) for the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and a director of the National Theatre of Australia Ltd. He was also a member of the Victoria Racing and the Victoria Amateur Turf clubs.

In 1955 Geiger Holdings Pty Ltd and its subsidiaries had merged with Melbourne's oldest retail draper, Hicks Atkinson Pty Ltd, as an alternative to a public float. Geiger was appointed managing director. In 1958, at his instigation, Reid Murray Holdings Ltd made a successful takeover bid for Hicks Atkinson, valuing it at £1.75 million. Geiger became a director of Reid Murray. From 1960 he sold most of his R.M.H. shares (and those of his wife), provoking a confrontation with the company's chairman, Robert Reid, which led to Geiger's resignation from the board in April 1962.

The Geigers left Australia in September 1963, shortly before the collapse of the Reid Murray organization. In April 1964 they opened a shoe salon in New Bond Street, London. Olga returned to Melbourne in 1967 and set up her own handbag shop in Collins Street. She died from an overdose of barbiturates on 9 March 1969 at Toorak. At the register office, Westminster, London, on 31 August 1971 Geiger married Irmgard Steinberg, a consultant. Survived by his wife and by the three daughters of his first marriage, he died on 8 August 1972 at Westminster. His Australian estate was sworn for probate at $920,861.

Select Bibliography

  • People (Sydney), 20 Oct 1954
  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 Jan 1956, 1 Oct 1958, 2 Oct 1959, 7, 9 Apr 1962, 9 Apr 1964, 28 Feb 1966, 12 July 1967, 11 Aug 1972
  • Nation, 11 Oct 1958
  • Age (Melbourne), 4 Oct 1961, 18 Nov 1966
  • Bulletin, 14 Apr 1962
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 Dec 1963, 23 Apr 1964
  • Geiger naturalisation file (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

David Jefferson, 'Geiger, Kurt (1915–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/geiger-kurt-10287/text18199, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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