Historical information

Hugo Wertheim (1854-1919), was a merchant and manufacturer and was born on the 12th July 1854 at Lispenhausen, in the German electorate of Hesse-Kassel, son of Meyer Wertheim and his wife Minna, née Heinemann. Hugo reached Melbourne in October 1875. He soon began advertising, from premises at 39 Flinders Lane East, as agent for his father's cousin Joseph Wertheim, a well-established manufacturer of sewing machines. Hugo returned to Germany where he married Joseph Wertheim's daughter Sophie Emilie (1864-1953) on 30 August 1885 at Frankfurt. the couple then came to Melbourne. In a short time, with extensive advertising, Hugo established a substantial business, selling sewing machines, bicycles, pianos and other mechanical devices, under brands such as Wertheim, Electra, Planet, Griffin and Hapsburg. He also mounted elaborate displays at agricultural shows and in 1901 at the Pan American Exposition, Buffalo, United States of America. O. C. Beale worked with him before setting up his own piano business in New South Wales. Hugo continued to own 25 per cent of one of Beale's companies, which became Wertheim's Queensland business.
In 1908 Wertheim opened a large, innovative piano factory at Richmond, Melbourne, intending to produce 2000 pianos and player pianos annually, predominantly using Australian materials. In laying the foundation stone, Prime Minister Alfred Deakin observed that “few men with such opportunities for a life of ease would have embarked on such an enterprise”
Hugo died of chronic hepatitis on 11 July 1919 at his home at South Yarra, his wife, two daughters and three sons survived him; Herbert Joseph (1886-1972), the eldest, continued the business. Rupert became a share broker and went on to represent Victoria in inter-State tennis in 1913-27 and Australia in Davis Cup matches against Czechoslovakia in 1922. The piano factory closed in 1935, becoming a Heinz food processing plant and in 1955, GTV Channel 9 studios and offices.


Early Australians had to be self-reliant in regards to making and mending their clothes and utensils. This sewing machine was one of many items used that exhibit the skill and craftsmanship of the women in these early families. A sewing machine was a necessary part of each home and this item demonstrates how women of the time managed had to become self-reliant in the repair and making of their families clothes to make their household budgets go further.

Physical description

Sewing machine, Wertheim brand “ Syst 182” hand crank operated machine with folding handle, timber case and carry handle. Metal machine is painted black, with remnants of gold, red and green scrolls and floral decoration. Machine has base with inlaid measuring rule across front and 2 holes drilled through the base (perhaps for mounting machine to a bench). Machine tilts open, hinged on one side, after thumb screw is unwound, revealing machine’s workings and serial number. Base has a fitted round, concave, silver metal pin holder with lid that hinges open, and symbol pressed into lid; several pins are inside. Body of machine has brand name transfer across front and oval metal trademark disk on front. Metal sliding covers over footplates have stamped lettering. Timber machine case or cover includes an accessory box with sliding cover and metal hook and eye latch, and inside the box are 23 metal sewing attachments, a disc and a stick of black crayon with maker’s trademark on it paper cover. Workings of machine have seized up. The crayon wrapper has printed on it “For the wonderful Wertheim new family machine made in Germany ‘Syst. 182’”, and the maker’s symbol with “Trademark” beside it. Made for Hugo Wertheim.

Inscriptions & markings

“WERTHEIM” transfer across front and back of machine body. Cover of pin holder has symbol ‘Wings above a shield’. Maker’s trademark on gold oval disc, “WERTHEIM / FRANCFURT” and picture of a dwarf with a hammer. Left footplate has script “Syst 182”, right footplate has stamp in oval shape “MANUFACTURED IN - - /SPECIALLY FOR / HUGO WERTHEIM” Serial Number “7501”