Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lance Eric Harold Reichstein (1900–1980)

by Mark Richmond

This article was published:

Lance Eric Harold Reichstein (1900-1980), businessman and philanthropist, was born on 31 October 1900 at Morchard, South Australia, youngest of six children of Johann Wilhelm Reichstein, farmer, and his wife Emily, née Wait, both South Australian born. Educated at Morchard Public School, Petersburg (Peterborough) and Adelaide High schools, and the University of Adelaide (B.E. Hons, 1922), Lance worked as a draughtsman for C. A. Smith & Co., engineers, before supervising the drawing-office of the South Australian Gas Co. In 1924-35 he was head of the engineering department at the Gordon Institute of Technology, Geelong, Victoria; his lectures emphasized the practical rather than the theoretical. He helped to form the Gordon Kelvin Club in 1932.

With A. G. Appleby, Reichstein had established Industrial Service Engineers Pty Ltd in 1928 to manufacture tools for use in the automotive industry. In 1929-30 he made the first of many visits to factories abroad, travelling via New Zealand to the United States of America and Canada. He expanded I.S.E. and increased its range of products. A branch was opened in West Melbourne in 1934 and a factory built at Yarraville soon afterwards. Reichstein moved to Melbourne. On 15 October 1938 at St John's Anglican Church, Toorak, he married Esther (Tessa) Frances Smalpage, a 27-year-old musician; they were to be divorced in 1943.

In 1940 Reichstein formed Steelweld Pty Ltd, which produced munitions at West Footscray. Next year he founded Harland Engineering (Australia) Pty Ltd, in association with its parent company in Scotland. His firms employed 750 people by the end of World War II. In November 1946 he, Keith Duncan, F. S. Grimwade, G. F. Maxted, J. B. Arnold and others established Industrial Engineering Ltd as a holding company. Issues of shares in I.E.L. were readily taken up. At the Unitarian Church, East Melbourne, on 21 January 1949 Reichstein married Mavis Lurline Young, a 35-year-old manageress; they were to have a daughter before being divorced.

The I.E.L. group of companies usually manufactured under licence, as Reichstein preferred to supply goods for which there were proven markets rather than to develop original lines. In the postwar period a major affiliation was negotiated between Steelweld and the Caterpillar Tractor Co. of the U.S.A. which resulted in four hundred men being employed for ten years in the production of earth-moving equipment. The loss of the Caterpillar licence was a setback which Reichstein overcame by initiating more joint ventures, diversifying his products to include pressure vessels, doors and industrial gases, and introducing marketing techniques such as annual trade fairs (from 1959). By the late 1950s I.E.L. had factories and outlets throughout Australia. Reichstein was the principal founder and a member (1968-79) of the executive-committee of the Heavy Engineering Manufacturers' Association which lobbied for the protection of Australian manufacturing.

In 1956-71 Reichstein represented Bourke Ward on the Melbourne City Council, becoming identified with the Civic Group and serving on several committees, including one responsible for abattoirs and markets. After being involved in philanthropy in a quiet and inconspicuous way, he chaired (1966-71) an appeal for funds for extensions to the Footscray and District Hospital, directing his charitable impulses towards Melbourne's west, the home of much of his business empire. He established the Lance Reichstein Charitable Foundation in 1970 and in the following year endowed it with 28,000 I.E.L. shares.

Reichstein was a member of the Victoria and Moonee Valley Racing clubs, the Victorian Amateur Turf Club, and the Melbourne Cricket and Victoria Golf clubs. In a civil ceremony on 18 March 1979 at Olinda he married Josephine McGrath, née Garro, a 46-year-old widow. He resigned as chairman of I.E.L. only days before his death. Survived by his wife, and by the daughter of his second marriage, he died on 25 June 1980 at Windsor and was cremated with Anglican rites. The Reichstein foundation was the principal beneficiary of his estate, which was sworn for probate at $5,156,208.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Anderson, Lance Reichstein Remembered (Melb, 1989)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Mar, 11 Aug 1956, 15 Aug 1967, 28 Nov 1976, 26 June 1980
  • Australian, 19 Aug 1967
  • Age (Melbourne), 7 Sept 1967, 17 Mar 1970, 26 June 1980, 18 Feb 1989
  • Australian Financial Review, 26 June 1980
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 27 June 1980.

Citation details

Mark Richmond, 'Reichstein, Lance Eric Harold (1900–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 October, 1900
Morchard, South Australia, Australia


25 June, 1980 (aged 79)
Windsor, Melbourne, Victoria, 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.