As a leading global manufacturer and supplier of cast iron and steel products Bradken today is a far cry from its humble beginnings, which were grounded in a lot of luck, some true entrepreneurial spirit and a dedicated commitment by its founders.
Leslie Bradford (General Manager) and Jim Kendall (Chief Mechanical Engineer), two BHP steelworks employees, got lucky at the races one day in 1920 and pledged their £15,000 winnings to start a steel foundry business. The horse they backed, ‘Jack Findlay’ completed a remarkable sequence of five wins during 1919 and 1920. With each win Leslie Bradford, Jim Kendall and a group of friends rolled-over their bets. By January 24, 1920 they had won a small fortune. On April 28 1920, the group used their winnings to establish the Alloy Steel Syndicate and build a steel foundry in Alexandria, Sydney to take advantage of what they saw as an untapped potential for industrial growth. Bradford Kendall Ltd was incorporated on 20th March 1922.
While there were a number of larger foundries specialising in engine castings and other industrial products, the foundry industry was limited, consisting primarily of small regional operations producing largely iron and brass, and focused on restricted markets. In 1926 Bradford Kendall started to manufacture licensed products in the form of railway couplers and under-carriages. This was a development that led to the first of many strategic business relationships, including a close affiliation with American Steel Foundries (ASF), which still exists today. Picture shows Australian steel workers circa 1920s.
Established in the boom years of the 1920s, Bradford Kendall quickly had to adjust to the bad years of the Great Depression. This was the first real test of the company’s character, and it proved extremely good at adapting to change. During these years the Company not only survived but excelled. We supplied manganese steel products to the mining industry and eventually began manufacturing dredge buckets for the Malayan tin industry. This was the first step in developing the company’s export business.
Following the Great Depression demand slowed for Bradford Kendall’s main business of supplying railway requirements and, as World War II began to take hold, foundry production switched to armament castings – a move that proved very lucrative. The company was engaged by the Commonwealth Government to build cast armour for the Australian Built Tank Program. While it began by producing aerial bombs, naval gun parts and tank hulls, its biggest contribution to the war effort was the development of the world’s first one-piece cast tank hull in 1940. After the war Australia needed to rehabilitate its neglected railway systems and the introduction of diesel electric locomotives along with demand for higher speed and larger capacity freight trains were key forces behind Bradford Kendall’s growth. In 1948, the Company took advantage of this boom and listed on the Sydney Stock Exchange.
Boyed by the railway boom of the 1940s, Bradford Kendall’s growth surged on into the 1950s when a number of the Company’s foundries were built (in South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and Queensland). The company carried out complete design, engineering and construction of its plants, adopting the latest international concepts. In 1954 the company acquired the ESCO licenses ( a leading edge foundry technology company specialising in cast products) and began producing an extensive range of ESCO ground engaging tool cast products. Picture shows steel workers circa 1950s.
During the 1960s and 70s, Bradford Kendall continued to expand its local operations, as well as build on its early export success. In December 1974, the company officially changed its name to Bradken Consolidated Limited. This followed the formation of a new subsidiary, Bradford Kendall Foundries Pty Limited in 1973. Picture shows workers at the Wodonga foundry circa 1960.
In the early 1980s, the Company fell on hard times and was purchased by Australian National Industries (ANI) which had built up its stake in the Company since the late 1970s. It was during this period that Bradken’s fabrication division, on the back of manufacturing and servicing of a range of draglines for the mining industry, embarked on a phase of unprecedented growth. During this time, Bradken’s engineering division also came to the fore, completing the fabrication, construction and supply of a broad range of projects from cranes and storage units to numerous draglines. This included a Marion 8750 Dragline for Curragh Queensland Mines,one of the largest modern draglines in Australia with an operating weight of 6,600 tonnes.
In October 1990, ANI moved its head office from its original location at Alexandria, back to Newcastle, where Bradken’s founders had first worked together. The late 1990s saw the company undergo some big changes. In October 1997 Bradken went through a major restructure, regionalising its sales force and rationalising its foundries. In January 1999 ANI was taken over by the Smorgon Steel Group and Bradken subsequently divested many of its offshore businesses forming the framework of the company that exists today.
Picture shows the Bradken foundry at Kilburn, SA.
In 2001, Bradken changed hands again, with Smorgon Steel Group announcing the sale of the company to CHAMP (Castle Harlan Australian Mezzanine Partners Pty Ltd). The business underwent considerable restructuring, with significant capital injection by the owners to improve operational efficiency and make Bradken globally competitive in the major resource and rail markets. In August 2004, Bradken Limited listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. In November 2007 the company announced the opening of a new manufacturing facility in Xuzhou, China and followed with the acquisition of Americast Technologies, Inc in the United States in July 2008. Picture shows the official opening of Bradken’s first plant in China in November 2007, a production facility in XuZhou, Jiangsu Province.
In July 2011, the company announced the acquisition of Norcast Wear Solutions in Canada and SwanMet Pte Ltd in Malaysia making Bradken the world’s largest manufacturer of mill liners to the global mineral processing industry. In March 2013 Bradken opened it’s state-of-the-art head office building in Newcastle, Australia and officially opened a greenfield foundry development in Xuzhou, China following the construction of the manufacturing facility on the site back in 2007. In April 2017 Bradken became a wholly owned subsidiary of Hitachi Construction Machinery Co. Limited, a member of the Hitachi Group, leading the company into a new era. Picture shows Bradken’s Global Corporate Centre in Newcastle, NSW Australia on its opening in 2013.