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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Zimpel, William James (1859–1923)

by E. F. Kunz

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

William James Zimpel (1859-1923), furniture-maker and merchant, was born in Pesth, Hungary, on 25 February 1859, son of David Zimpel, stationer, and his wife Anna. When William was aged 5 the family migrated to Turkey and for twelve years lived in Constantinople where he learned the rudiments of the furniture trade. After the death of his parents, he went to England with his sister Klara and brother Adolf, and was apprenticed to John Stringer, an art furniture manufacturer in London. Stringer later described him as 'one of the most respectable, steady and worthy men I have ever had in my employ'. In 1884 Zimpel was chosen as one of a hundred men to be brought to Western Australia by James Grave to work in his Federal Furniture Factory in Perth. Pronounced 'a thoroughly practical cabinet maker' who 'has made all kinds of high class work' and whose 'jobs have been exhibited in the Great Exhibitions', Zimpel arrived at Fremantle in June 1884 in the Bonnington. On 3 February 1886 he married Frances Nellie Harland at St George's Anglican Cathedral, Perth; they were to have eight children.

Concurrently with his employment Zimpel had begun working on his own, establishing a furniture factory and later shops at 797-807 Hay Street. The business built up a reputation for being able to supply all levels of the community and secured many government contracts. It also profited by Zimpel's astute move to establish a country order department. He ran a wholesale trade in mattresses in the coastal and goldfields districts, and had 'constantly in stock from 30 to 40 different varieties of perambulator'. Zimpels grew into the largest wholesale and retail furniture business in Western Australia; by the turn of the century it employed about forty factory hands; the company's staff subsequently grew to over one hundred.

Zimpel had become a naturalized British subject in 1888. Quiet and reserved, he was highly regarded as one of Western Australia's leading businessmen. He gave evidence before the commission of the Legislative Assembly appointed to inquire into the operation of the customs tariffs in the colony (1893) and before the joint select committee which considered the draft Commonwealth bill (1899). A local municipal councillor, he built his house, Pine Lodge, in John Street, Cottesloe, where he was among the first to plant the renowned avenue of Norfolk Island pines which were nurtured with water from his well. Survived by his wife, six daughters and a son, he died on 3 December 1923 at Cottesloe and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery. His son Cecil Edward William became managing director of Zimpels: after nearly a century of unbroken ownership by the family of its Hungarian founder, the company was sold in 1981 to Parrys Esplanade Ltd who retained the name Zimpels.

Select Bibliography

  • E. F. Kunz, Blood and Gold (Melb, 1969)
  • R. M. James, Heritage of Pines (Perth, 1977)
  • E. F. Kunz, The Hungarians in Australia (Melb, 1985)
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Western Australia), 1893 (22), p 34, 1899, 3 (A10), p 188.

Citation details

E. F. Kunz, 'Zimpel, William James (1859–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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