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J. KENNON & SONS, TANNERS, MELBOURNE to ROHM & HAAS, PHILADELPHIA

The illustrated cover from J. Kennon & Sons Pty Ltd, Chrome Tanners and Leather Manufacturers, Wool, Hide and Skin Merchants was sent to Messrs. Rohn (sic) & Haas company, Washington Square, Philadelphia, Pa, U.S.A. The blue 3d KGVI stamp was postmarked with a roller cancel from MELBOURNE/ 5 30 PM/ 1941/ VIC AUST with a slogan BUY ----/ WAR SAVINGS CERIFICATES, which partially obscured the purple 3/ NOT/ OPENED BY / CENSOR handstamp. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

 

It always surprises me when a large, long standing firm (established 1863) is so difficult to find information about the individuals behind the firm. The following was the total information found to date: "Skin companies like J. Kennon & Sons advertised regularly for rabbits skins and the skins of those chook house villains, the foxes. The company accepted consignments of skins via rail to Spencer Street Station and sent out cheques on the day of arrival. Another way of earning a bob or two was to save kitchen fat and fat trimmings from butchered stock. Melted down and sealed in small drums this tallow could also be consigned to Kennon's at Spencer Street Station." Hardly what one would expect for a large company!

Once again the NLA newspaper Beta site came the rescue with 2 obituaries of the Kennon family describing 4 generations of the family involved in the tannery. The first obituary was for Mr. Thomas Kennon which appeared in The Argus 1 August 1933. "The death occurred yesterday of Mr. Thomas Kennon, a director of J. Kennon and Sons Pty. Ltd., leather, wool, and skin merchants of Richmond, Melbourne. He died at his residence, Kenloch, Olinda. Born in Lancashire in 1855 he came to Australia in September 1860 in the Great Britain. In 1863 his father the late Mr. James Kennon founded the business which has been extended steadily, until it now occupies 11 acres. When Mr. James Kennon started the business all the surrounding district was bush, except for the small settlement where the works were established. Mr. Thomas Kennon retired from active business 15 years ago, and made his home at Kenloch, Olinda. He gave liberally to charities and was a life governor of many hospitals in Melbourne. He was survived by his wife, a daughter and a son, Mr. J.W. Kennon". A photo of Mr. Thomas Kennon and an aerial view of the firm are seen in Figures 2 & 3.

An obituary for the son, Mr. John William Kennon appeared in The Argus on 16 March,1945 who died at his home in Hawthorn. He apparently was in good health when he returned from the Hawthorn Bowling Club, and he died suddenly the next morning, at the age of 59. He was a director and the largest shareholder in J Kennon and Sons Pty Ltd, tanners and wool merchants of Richmond. He was a keen sportsman, with involvement in cricket, football and bowling. He was also well known on account of his generous contributions to charity. He was survived by his wife, one daughter and three sons, Messrs T. Kennon, H. Kennon (RAAF) and R. Kennon, a prisoner of war in Japanese hands. I have no record as to whether the family members had a continuous involvement in the firm, nor when the firm ceased to exist, but the cover proves that the firm was in existence from 1863 until at least 1941.

 

What was the relationship of the Victorian firm of J. Kennon and Sons with the Rohm and Haas company of Philadelphia? This American firm was started in Esslingen, Germany by Dr. Otto Rohm and Mr. Otto Haas in 1907. Haas moved to Philadelphia and began the American side of the business on September 1, 1909, whilst Rohm remained in Germany building Rohm GmBH. The American company grew rapidly as World War I approached, because of there initial invention, a synthetic substitute (brand name Oropon) for fermented dog dung, which was used for bating leather, which was part of the tanning process. The leather was needed for the war in large quantities for belts, boots and saddles.

The advertising evidence for the firm was quite scant, but a 3-line advert was seen in The Argus: "Rabbit, Sheep, Fox Skins, Wool, Hides, Tallow &c; no commission. Write price, Kennon, Sons Pty. Ltd., Richmond." In addition, three other items caught my eye - a colourful toy train, an advert for ‘Mazeppa Kid’ with the initials ‘J.K.S.’ for J. Kennon and Sons of River Street, Richmond, and a can of Kromo dark tan shoe polish ( Figures 4, 5 & 6).

 

What was the relationship of the Victorian firm of J. Kennon and Sons with the Rohm and Haas company of Philadelphia? This American firm was started in Esslingen, Germany by Dr. Otto Rohm and Mr. Otto Haas in 1907. Haas moved to Philadelphia and began the American side of the business on September 1, 1909, whilst Rohm remained in Germany building Rohm GmBH. The American company grew rapidly as World War I approached, because of there initial invention, a synthetic substitute (brand name Oropon) for fermented dog dung, which was used for bating leather, which was part of the tanning process. The leather was needed for the war in large quantities for belts, boots and saddles.

 

 

 
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