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Leslie (Les) Bradford (1878–1943)

by D. F. Fairweather

This article was published:

Leslie (Les) Bradford (1878-1943), metallurgist, was born on 9 March 1878 in Delhi, India, youngest of seven children of George Augustus Bradford, customs collector, and his wife Amelia Caroline, née Moore. Les attended Bishop Cotton School, Simla, until the family migrated to Adelaide in 1892. Next year he entered the School of Mines and Industries where in 1896 he obtained associate diplomas in mining and metallurgy. Having moved to Broken Hill, New South Wales, in 1897, two years later he joined the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Ltd as an assayer at its smelter at Port Pirie, South Australia, but soon repaired to Broken Hill as metallurgist. On 26 April 1902 at All Souls Church, St Peters, Adelaide, he married Mabel Ellen Müller.

Working under G. D. Delprat and with A. D. Carmichael, in 1902 Bradford invented an improved desulphurization process for treating ores and about 1912 perfected the flotation process of separating silver-lead and zinc. Writing in the early 1960s, W. S. Robinson declared that no other metallurgical development in the last fifty years had 'added so much to the wealth of the world'. In 1915 Bradford was transferred to the company's Newcastle steelworks. He was to regard his innovative work on the open hearth there as the most difficult he had performed. An entrepreneur, able to perceive and exploit opportunities, Bradford resigned in 1920 to establish the Bradford Kendall foundry in Sydney to produce alloy steel casting. He and his partner had raised the necessary capital by punting on the racehorse, Jack Findlay, which had four straight wins (1919-20). After Bradford Kendall Ltd was registered as a public company in 1922, B.H.P. attracted Bradford back as production superintendent; he became manager of the steelworks in 1924. Sydney Technical College awarded him an honorary fellowship in 1927 for his original research in the steel industry.

Appointed general manager of B.H.P. in Melbourne under Essington Lewis in 1935, Bradford became chief executive officer in 1938. He had remained an active director of Bradford Kendall Pty Ltd, by then a major foundry, and in 1940 set up Bradford Insulation Ltd to manufacture rock-wool from steelworks' slag. He was also a director of Australian Iron and Steel Ltd, Lysaght Bros & Co. Ltd, Bullivants' Australian Co. Pty Ltd and Titan Nail & Wire Pty Ltd. President (1926) of the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, in 1937 he was awarded its medal for his work on flotation and in steelmaking. He was a member of the American Institute of Mining and Metallurgical Engineers, and of the Iron and Steel Institute, London.

Described as 'gently spoken, sensitive and withdrawn', Bradford was 'enthusiastic and intense', with sympathetic brown eyes and a dark, brushy moustache. By 1935, however, the moustache had gone, with most of his hair. A 'keen collector of paintings, he loved the theatre and a game of bridge', and showed a keen appreciation of motorcars. He was president (1930-34) of the Newcastle Club and belonged to the Union Club, Sydney, and the Australian and Athenaeum clubs in Melbourne.

Survived by his wife, three sons and twin daughters, Bradford died of coronary vascular disease on 20 June 1943 at his Toorak home and was cremated. A laboratory in the South Australian Institute of Technology is named after him in tribute to his 'outstanding work in the realm of mining and metallurgy'. His portrait by (Sir) William Dargie is held by the University of Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • W. S. Robinson, If I Remember Rightly, G. Blainey ed (Melb, 1967)
  • G. Blainey, The Steel Master (Melb, 1971)
  • J. Burns (ed) for Australasian Mineral Heritage Trust, Leslie Bradford Golden Jubilee Oration (Melb, 1987)
  • Critic (Adelaide), 5 Apr 1902
  • Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy records (Melbourne)
  • University of Melbourne Archives.

Citation details

D. F. Fairweather, 'Bradford, Leslie (Les) (1878–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 3 March 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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