Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Alfred Hannaford (1890–1969)

by Kay Hannaford

This article was published:

Alfred Hannaford (1890-1969), inventor of farming machinery, was born on 23 June 1890 at Wattle Vale farm, near Riverton, South Australia, ninth of ten children of native-born parents John Hannaford, farmer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Shearer. After attending Riverton Public School until sixth grade, Alf worked on the family farm. In its blacksmith's shop he invented and developed a wet-wheat pickling machine fashioned from a railway sleeper: by enabling seed to be dipped in a copper sulphate solution, it helped to combat rust in wheat. His invention was inspired by a machine exhibited at a farmers' conference. 'If I can't make a better one', Hannaford declared, 'I'll eat my hat'. A big, strong, vigorous man, ingenious but essentially practical, he sometimes rose at 2 a.m. to give an idea physical form. The design drawing came later.

At the Methodist Church, Tarlee, on 2 April 1913 Hannaford married Ivy Julia Hill. After a drought in the following year, they moved to Adelaide where he continued to refine the pickler and patented it in 1914; with the help of J. E. Swann, several machines were manufactured. Although the picklers were in great demand, Hannaford worked for H. V. McKay's Harvester Co. for two years to gain business experience. In 1923 he invented a dry-wheat pickler and in 1924 a combined seed grader and dry-pickler. The latter machine marked a breakthrough in the control of smut and in the cleaning and grading of wheat, and proved popular with farmers in every State; in 1927 the wooden-framed machine was converted to a steel-bodied one, the first of its kind in Australia. Alf. Hannaford & Co. Ltd, established in 1925, built between 500 and 600 machines a year until farmers could no longer afford them during the Depression. The company then introduced a contract scheme, loading the machines on trucks and taking them to farms where they graded and pickled the wheat at a bag-rate charge. By 1933 the firm had two hundred trucks and graders operating; by 1937 it had opened offices in Victoria and Western Australia. In 1944 11,000 farmers had their grain treated by the Hannaford On-Farm Grading Service, producing sufficient seed to cover some five million acres (about 2,023,450 ha). Hannaford's five children all worked for the company at different stages.

Committed to improving the quality and yields of Australian crops, in 1937 he had built a clover harvester and begun extensive harvesting of Barrel Clover, which was later named after him. He retired as managing director in 1960 and was appointed M.B.E. in 1961. Hannaford enjoyed travelling, particularly in South Africa and Europe. He was a Rotarian and a Methodist lay preacher. Survived by his wife, two sons and three daughters, he died on 25 August 1969 in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville, and was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at $457,460, from which he bequeathed $320,000 to the Waite Agricultural Research Institute. He is commemorated by a plaque (1986) in the footpath on North Terrace, Adelaide.

Select Bibliography

  • Waite Agricultural Research Institute, University of Adelaide, Biennial Report, 1980-81
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 31 Dec 1960, 1 July 1970
  • PRG 155 (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Kay Hannaford, 'Hannaford, Alfred (1890–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


23 June, 1890
Riverton, South Australia, Australia


25 August, 1969 (aged 79)
Woodville, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.