The Colgate-Palmolive company is celebrating its 100th anniversary in Australia this year, and has a special connection to the Balmain Peninsula. In December 1923 the company opened a factory in the suburb on Broadstairs Street.
The factory produced its first iconic toothpaste in 1928.
According to Inner West Council, the company was undoubtedly drawn to the site on Mort’s Dock (now Mort Bay Park) because of its water access, which made the delivery of ingredients quick and economical.
In the 1920s, Colgate Ribbon Dental Cream launched in Australia. It went through many versions from jars to collapsible tubes. Photo: Supplied.
The building was designed by Sydney architectural firm Spain & Cosh and by 1936 the growth of the company saw a second building added. The two buildings were joined together by an enclosed bridge and described stylistically as a blend of beaux-arts classical and art deco modern.
Australia was home to the first update of the famous Palmolive soap in 1973, shifting from its brick shape into the pillow shape that has remained unchanged for nearly 50 years.
Conditions of the plant were not always easy. The work was often physically demanding and repetitive, but Australians began to depend on Colgate-Palmolive products.
Rose Walker, who has lived in Balmain her whole life, shared her recollections of life on the factory floor at Colgate-Palmolive with Inner West Council.
Colgate toothpaste reformulated with MFP Fluoride in the 1960s and was deemed the best possible protection against tooth decay by dentists. Photo: Supplied.
“What they used to do was boil the soap up, then once it got to a certain intensity, they put salt and water into it to cool it down,” said Walker.
“They had a funnel sort of thing to take it up and then when it boiled it would go up another two floors and dry out and then it’d come down through a conveyor to get wrapped.
“The ordinary square ones, they were easy to pack, but the other ones had to be specially done. Hand done. I don’t think they do it like that now,” she said.
In 1951, due to the significant presence of the factory, company executives persuaded local authorities to change the name of the street “Broadstairs” to Colgate Avenue, and regular donations to Balmain Hospital saw one of the ward’s take the name Colgate-Palmolive.
The factory closed its doors in the mid 1990’s and moved operations to a site in Sydney’s Southwest and its manufacturing presence remains active at the Villawood factory.
A Colgate product is sold every second in Australia, and one in two households use a Colgate-Palmolive company product.
After operating for more than 70 years, the Balmain factory was converted into apartments in 1997 and is now also home to a park, Colgate Avenue Reserve, aptly located on Colgate Avenue.