WUNDERLICH BROTHERS: ERNEST (1859-1945), FREDERICK (1861-1951) & ALFRED (1865-1966)
This advertising cover for Wunderlich Durabestos, Asbestos-Cement Building Sheets, The Ideal Lining for Exterior Walls, Interior Walls, Partitions, Ceilings, Gable Ends, Eaves, Soffets was sent in 1934 from Wunderlich Limited, Perth to the Comptroller of Stores, W.A. Government Railways, Midland Junction (Western Australia), with a Perth 2d meter cancel (Figure 1).
The 3 sons were born in London to Charles Frederick Wunderlich, a clerk and later indigo merchant and his wife Caroline. In the early1870's the family moved to Switzerland where the brothers attended public school. From the age of 16, Ernest studied architectural and mechanical drawing, and after being apprenticed to an engineer at Vervey, he became in 1878 a clerk and traveling salesman for a London firm. Otto returned to London to study medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and practiced medicine. Ernest married in Germany and he and his wife arrived in Sydney in July 1885. He worked as a manufacturer’s agent, imported German stamped zinc mansard windows, and his imports were erected in the Sydney Town Hall.
Alfred joined his brother in 1887, and Ernest took out his first patent for an improved ceiling in 1888. By 1897 the brothers had formed the Wunderlich Patent Ceiling & Roofing Co. Ltd. Otto, the doctor reached Sydney in 1900, and he specialized in the administrative, technical and scientific aspects of the company. He set up an improved costing system, remodeled the works, standardized manufacture and introduced better selling methods. In June 1908 they united with W.H. Rocke & Co. to form Wunderlich Ltd with a nominal capital of £200,000 and the three brothers became directors for life. The company opened branches in all States as well as in Wellington, New Zealand. From 1910, terra cotta products were produced in their Brunswick, Melbourne works.
Ernest, ‘The Chief’, remained chairman until 1945, but he was content to leave the every day running of the business to his brothers. Despite having to contend with anti-German hysteria, the Wunderlichs survived WWI building a new tile factory in Rosehill and a ceiling factory at Cabarita to make asbestos cement sheets from the company’s mines at Beaconsfield and Barraba Tasmania. The firm was active in WWII working for the war effort. Strong promotion was a feature of the firm’s expansion in the 1920s, and attractive catalogues were produced by artists and designers, notably William Dobell (Figure 2).
Wunderlich’s success owed much to the brother’s paternalistic attitude to their work force which was rewarded by loyalty, a tradition of quality work and long service. The firm’s products enhanced the interiors of many homes and public buildings, and its red roofing tiles and fibro sheets transformed the landscape of suburban Australia. James Hardie (Asbestos) Ltd took over Wunderlich Homes Asbestos Pipes Pty Ltd in 1964, and in 1969 Wunderlich Ltd was taken over by the Colonial Sugar Refining Co.
The majority of information was derived from the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography.