Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Charles Ernest Ruwolt (1873–1946)

by G. Hayes

This article was published:

Charles Ernest Ruwolt (1873-1946), engineer and industrialist, was born on 19 March 1873 at Mieckenhagen, Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Germany, son of Ernst Johann Christian Ruwoldt, farmer, and his wife Maria Catharina, née Engel. The family migrated in 1878 and took up wheat-farming at Mount Gambier, South Australia. Charles was educated at Yahl Paddock and Mount Gambier Public schools. During his apprenticeship in 1886-90 with James Martin & Co., machinery manufacturers at Gawler, he attended the State technical school there. For the next decade Ruwolt worked with various Victorian foundries and engineering manufacturers, including James Alston & Co., Warrnambool, the Phoenix Foundry, Ballarat, Austral Otis, South Melbourne, and Thompsons, Castlemaine.

In 1902 he opened his own iron foundry at Wangaratta, making windmills and carrying out agricultural machinery repairs. Within ten years he became a leading manufacturer of mining dredges, used throughout Australia and exported to the Malay States, Siam (Thailand), the Philippines, South Africa and New Guinea. In 1914 Charles Ruwolt Pty Ltd (registered in 1910) transferred to Victoria Street, Richmond, Melbourne, becoming a public company in 1920, but with shareholding retained by Ruwolt and his original backer Isaac Stevenson of New Zealand. After 1922 Ruwolt's diversified into heavy industrial work, producing road-making equipment, crushing machinery for mine-work, and hydraulic presses for the nascent car industry. By 1938 it was one of the largest engineering companies in Australia, occupying 20 acres (8 ha) and employing 600-700 workers. Its steel foundry was one of the largest and best-equipped in the country and it manufactured much of the most important machinery in Australia, which Ruwolt, a tall, earnest man of heavy physique, promoted personally.

During World War II the company reorganized to manufacture armaments. In June 1940 Ruwolt joined an eight-member central control board (Victorian board of area management) of the Department of Munitions. The company, employing 2000 workers, became No 1 annex of munitions supply, manufacturing light artillery and trench mortars. Its forte was the highly successful 25 lb. short-gun howitzer developed in conjunction with the Department of Munitions, to fill the need for a field artillery weapon designed to break into components and light enough for transport in heavy conditions.

Ruwolt was a member of the Athenaeum Club but was not socially prominent, preferring to develop his large pastoral property at Yarramundi, Mulwain, New South Wales, but he enjoyed owning racehorses and was a member of the Victoria, Moonee Valley and Williamstown Racing clubs. He was also a major collector of Australian paintings.

Ruwolt died on 4 November 1946 at home at Toorak and was cremated with Anglican rites. He was survived by his wife Emily, née Loch, whom he had married on 7 December 1898 at Warrnambool, and three sons. His estate was sworn for probate at £157,557. His great industrial enterprise, built in only one generation, was bought in 1948 by Vickers Ltd (U.K.) for £750,000 and subsequently operated as Vickers Ruwolt.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Whittaker, Wangaratta (Wangaratta, 1963)
  • Institute of Engineers, Australia, Journal, 6, no 10, Oct 1934
  • Age (Melbourne), 23 June 1938, 5 Nov 1946, 14 Feb 1947, 1 Mar 1948
  • Herald (Melbourne), 21 June 1940, 5 Nov 1946, 28 Feb 1948
  • G. D. Hayes, Charles Ruwolt, a History to 1927 (M.Eng.Sc. thesis, University of Melbourne, 1981).

Citation details

G. Hayes, 'Ruwolt, Charles Ernest (1873–1946)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 March, 1873
Mieckenhagen, Mecklenburg, Germany


4 November, 1946 (aged 73)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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