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

Wertheim sewing machine in carry case, hand operated with two spindles, handle with locking pin, which turns lever between spokes of main handle, hand brake. The machine is table-mounted with a Turkish walnut base. The base can be attached to a cast iron table with a foot treadle as an optional extra. The walnut base has marquetry to the front set out as a measure for material. There is also an accessory box inside the carry case containing 20 additional items for use with the machine.

Inscriptions & markings

Wertheim brass trademark badge riveted to the body of the machine of a crouching dwarf with a hammer with the name of the company Wertheim and Frankfurt. Gold filigree decoration in gold paint adorns the main body of the machine.