Tom Clark, Navistar's Corporate Historian
August 7, 2016
Written by Tom Clark, Navistar’s Corporate Historian, this story was originally published in Cornbinder Connection Magazine. The color image is used with Navistar’s permission. The black and white image was provided by Sarah Tomac.
During the 1850s Cyrus McCormick’s concept of global expansion became a reality. No country, however far from Chicago, was too distant to be forgotten. In 1852 independent agents began testing the waters in Australia and New Zealand. Their success created serious interest in Chicago.
In 1876 a dramatically improved reaper, the wire binder, made its way down under. (The twine binder would follow seven years later.) Between 1877 and 1884, the company shipped more than 3,500 reapers, mowers and binders to the region. With a clear demand for its products, in 1884, the company set up an official sales organization. Deering did as well.
In 1904 International Harvester opened an assembly plant in Spotswood, a suburb of Melbourne. Nearly all imported products arrive in kit form, and now they could be expertly assembled in one central location.
In 1937 the Australian government announced new import duties. This action forced the hand of IH and the company began to build local manufacturing plants. In 1938 Harvester House opened in Melbourne. This large facility functioned as the IHC Australian Headquarters, a Motor Truck Showroom, the Melbourne District Office, and an Assembly Plant.
The first true manufacturing facility was the Geelong Works which opened in 1939 to produce farm equipment. Ten years later the first tractors and engines came off the line. To further establish the Australians’ independence, a design and engineering facility was added on the grounds at Geelong in 1960, and to support it, a proving ground was purchased at Angelsea in 1961.
For the most part the engineering center produced modified versions of American products like the AB Line of trucks. The best known all-Australian designed truck was the ACCO series, manufactured at the Dandenong Works starting in 1962. This truck plant which opened in 1952 was enlarged in 1955. A new cab assembly plant was added that same year. The third plant, Port Melbourne Works, opened in 1958 to assemble construction equipment.
It is difficult to capture the monumental scale of the company’s operations in Australia, but this fact offers some insight. Between 1946 and 1951 (before trucks were manufactured in Australia) the company exported products, manufactured and assembled in Australia, to 80 different countries.
Today, Navistar and its International brand continues to enjoy success in this part of the world.
The ACCO Series Trucks (Australian A-Line Cab Over) were produced from 1962 to 1971. Similar looking, but significantly different trucks were designed and built for the Australian military including the 5 Ton, 6x6, MK5.
Only a few months after the Geelong plant opened in 1939, with WW II underway in Europe, the Royal Australian Air Force commandeered two thirds of the plant for the assembly of Fairey Bombers and for use as an air base.