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A short life for Launceston's Rapson tyre factory

The announcement in 1926 that the Rapson Tyre and Rubber Company was to build a factory in Launceston caused great excitement.

Although motor vehicle production was still in its infancy motoring was going through a boom period.

Rapson, a British manufacturer, marketed their tyres as the best in the world and advertised that members of the Royal family used them.

In the 1920s Tasmania aggressively marketed itself in the UK as a place for industrial development and Launceston had attracted major British textile companies in Patons and Baldwins and Kelsall and Kemp.

Rapson had negotiated financial support for its Launceston factory from the Tasmanian government and cheap electric power from the Launceston City Council.

The company said it was also influenced by Launceston’s climate, which was similar to cities in Britain and the United States where tyres were made.

The prospectus issued in 1926 said the company would have a nominal capital of £1,000,000 and that the Tasmanian government was underwriting a return of 8 per cent for seven years on 200,000, £1 preference shares in the company.

To qualify for the government guarantees the factory had to employ a minimum of 400 workers and produce 2000 tyres a week.

A 12-hectare site at the river end of Gleadow Street was selected for the Rapson factory and on Monday, March 12, 1928, the Tasmanian Governor, Sir James O’Grady, laid the foundation stone.

A feature of the factory, which was estimated to cost more than £400,000, was a 30-metre high red brick chimney built by J. and T. Gunn.

However even before production started in November 1928 the company was in financial trouble due to the economic downtown and industrial unrest.

Then it was inundated in the great flood of April 1929 and production stopped for some time. By the end of 1930 the company was in the hands of administrators.

There was some production under the liquidators and it even ran at a profit for a period in 1931 but by the end of 1932 the assets of the company had been sold to the Dunlop tyre company and the workers dismissed.

The machinery was taken to Sydney and several uses were suggested for the empty factory until it was bought by wool scourers and skin merchants L. W. Smith Pty Ltd in 1938.

The name Rapson on the tall brick chimney was replaced with Smith.

In November 1942, in what was described as the biggest fire in Launceston’s history, much of the L. W. Smith wool store was destroyed.

(Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in the Sunday Examiner on 15 September 2019)

Top image: Spurling photo, Launceston Library Collection. Bottom image: Weekly Courier of 12 March 1928.

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