This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002
William Peter Sher (1902-1977), engineer and businessman, was born on 6 November 1902 in Vienna and named Wilhelm Peter, second son of Skender Schlesinger, accountant, and his wife Emilie, née Kohn. Wilhelm studied electrical engineering at the Technische Hochschule (later Technical University of Vienna) and graduated in 1922. After working as a lighting engineer, he took a job with the French railways at Marseilles. In 1926 he joined the Mecox engineering company, which manufactured power tools. Lacking a permit to work in Paris, he moved to Switzerland and then to Berlin where he assembled electric-power and automotive tools. He changed his surname to Sher and used it on his products. On 3 September 1928 he married Elsa Rabinovicz in Vienna. Fearing persecution by the Nazis, they migrated to Australia in 1939. William was to be naturalized in 1944.
After arriving in Melbourne, Sher was employed by Richardson Gears Pty Ltd at Footscray. His engineering experience, enthusiasm and drive were matched by his alertness to business opportunities. World War II restricted supplies from abroad and created an urgent need for power tools in Australia. In 1940 Sher formed a partnership with Alexander Faill and set up a small workshop in Little William Street, Melbourne. The firm soon produced a three-eighth-inch (9.5 mm) portable electric drill which Sher claimed was the first hand-held power tool to be manufactured in Australia. Problems arising from the unavailability of basic components, such as switches and commutators, were swiftly overcome. Sher and Faill incorporated their venture as the Red Point Tool Co. Pty Ltd and moved to Prahran, where they produced power tools and alarm sirens for the war effort. Eliza Tinsley Pty Ltd was their main supporter and distributor.
In the years of postwar suburban expansion Sher realized that large manufacturers were not meeting the needs of a growing number of home handymen. Returning from a visit to Japan in 1951, he designed the small and light quarter-inch (6.4 mm) Drillmaster. The partners bought a new factory at Collingwood in 1952 and changed the firm's name to Sher Power Tools Pty Ltd in 1957. A two-speed drill, the Shermatic—intended for industry, farm and home use—was marketed in 1958. The rapid development of the Sher range reflected the increasing demand for 'do-it-yourself' tools. With a net profit of £101,464 in 1962, the company had become the largest manufacturer of portable power tools produced wholly in Australia.
On 13 March 1963 Sher Tools Australia Ltd was incorporated as a public company to acquire the whole of the issued capital of Sher Power Tools Pty Ltd. A subsidiary, Malvern Non-Ferrous Foundries Pty Ltd, bought Malvern Brass Foundry in September 1964 and began to manufacture castings for its parent company's products. Sher believed that tools imported from the United States of America were designed with 'inbuilt obsolescence'. He was determined that his products would continue to provide years of service for the home handyman. In 1967 the American Skil Corporation took over Sher Tools Australia, buying every share except those owned by Sher and Faill. Sher remained a director and chairman until 1972 when he and his son Ronald quit the firm and formed Ronald Sher Pty Ltd. They manufactured electric bench-tools (which Skil-Sher Pty Ltd did not make) to avoid competing with their former company.
In 1977 Sher was appointed A.M. He belonged to the Institute of Machine Tool Makers, to the Graduate Union of the University of Melbourne and to Rotary. Survived by his wife and their son, he died on 26 June 1977 at Prahran and was cremated with Presbyterian forms.
Fay Woodhouse, 'Sher, William Peter (1902–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sher-william-peter-11679/text20871, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 31 July 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002