Sir MacPherson Robertson
Men Who Control Australian Business
A caricature of MacRobertson for a business publication
RHSV MacRobertson CollectionContributors
Contact the Royal Historical Society of Victoria for permissionCopyright
Royal Historical Society of Victoria
"There is probably no more phenomenal industrial success in Australia, than that of Macpherson Robertson, solo owner and founder of the MacRobertson confectionery factories. The story of his progress from the humblest beginnings to the very top of his profession reads like a modern fairy-tale"
-Romance of Sweets, The Brisbane Courier, 16th January, 1928
MacRobertson’s entrepreneurial nature was evident at an early age, perhaps because he had watched his family struggle through poverty. By the age of ten, he had already picked up several part time jobs including delivering papers and lathering customers with shaving soap at a barber’s shop before and after school. His mother insisted that he continue with his education, so with the burden of subsidising his family’s income, the young MacRobertson must have spent much of his early years in a state of exhaustion.
At the age of fifteen, MacRobertson secured an apprenticeship at the Victorian Confectionery Company operated by Owen Strachan & Buhler. This was not luck, but the result of many years spent researching the confectionery trade and becoming familiar with all the key factories. The key lessons MacRobertson learned from his early years were self-reliance, patience, hard work and investing money back into his businesses.
Once MacRobertson had developed his confectionery factory, his innovation and enthusiasm began to spill over into other areas of industry. He was a practitioner of the ‘vertical business model’, an approach that led to him developing subsidiary companies in order to meet all the needs of his factory. Confectionery wrappers needed to be designed and produced, but instead of outsourcing it to a design company, MacRobertson established his own. When there were difficulties in obtaining satisfactory supplies of condensed milk for the manufacturing of confectionery, MacRobertson, in conjunction with other confectionery manufacturers, formed Federal Milk Pty Ltd. Any surplus of condensed milk was sold off under the brand name 'Lifeguard'.
In addition to his subsidiary companies, a trip to America in 1893 opened Mac’s eyes to the potential of importing goods and ideas from other countries. MacRobertson’s Chocolate Factory became the first company to distribute the American product ‘cotton candy’ or ‘fairy floss’ and also introduce new improved ranges of chewing gum to Australia. He wrote about his observations of American business models in a travel book entitled ‘MacRobertson Abroad’.
MacRobertson’s business acumen seemed to be transnational. In an 1896 article in ‘Table Talk’, it was commented that;
“Mr MacRobertson seems to have all the push and enterprise generally found in Americans which is blended with the determined perseverance characteristic of an Englishman” -Table Talk, 6th November 1896. MacRobertson supported Australia’s Federation movement in 1901 as he could see that by lowing the tariffs on products such as cocoa, Australian confectionery companies would be able to compete with the British.
Confectionery: Past and Present
The White City
Walking the White City video
The Marketing Man
The Marketing Man Video
MacRobertson's Horses Video
The Cycling Craze
The Cycling Craze Video
MacRobertson and the Motor Car
The MacRobertson Legacy
Mac.Robertson Girls' High School video
MacRobertson Land, Antarctica
Old Gold Airplane
Story education resources
Education MacRobertson's Confectionery Factory - Education Kit
The MacRobertson's Confectionery Factory education kit has been designed for grades 2 and 3 and looks at themes such as 'the past in the present' and 'community history'.
Key themes include:
1. Historical buildings and monuments
2. Victorian industry and the workforce
3. Technology and transport
4. Advertising and design
5. Local history
Teachers and students use the kit in conjunction with the MacRobertson videos, images and stories available on Culture Victoria to complete a range of activities aligning with key historical skills such as:
1. Distinguishing between the past, present and future
2. Posing questions about the past using sources provided
3. Exploring a range of sources about the past
4. Identifying and comparing features of objects from the past and present
5. Exploring a point of view
6. Developing a narrative about the past
7. Using a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written, role play) and digital technologies