FH Prager Celebrates 70 Years
Australia is filled with companies created by
entrepreneurs who fled the turmoil in Europe after the First World War. F.H.
Prager has its origins in Germany but it is the Australian hardware industry
that has benefited most from this immigrant success story.
The story of F.H. Prager centres on three young German
brothers searching for a better life. It is a story of idealism, romance, hard
work and persistence – all the ingredients needed for a successful family
But how did it all start? We have to go back to Germany in
1926, to a scout meeting. The scoutmaster, who was also a newspaper reporter,
had just returned from an assignment in Australia and was presenting a lecture
on his trip to a group of boy scouts in Thuringia, a town in central Germany.
Amongst the audience that day were three brothers, all
connected with the scout movement, and in their late teens, who had experienced
the hardships of World War I and the years immediately following the Great War
with its tremendous shortages of food and other basic necessities. Australia
seemed like paradise to the brothers as they listened intently to the lecture.
It impressed them so much that they decided Australia was the place for them.
The names of the boys were Fritz, Hans and Hermann Prager.
During the 1920s, Germany was still recovering from the
effects of the First World War and its economic and social conditions were
deteriorating. Between the First and Second World Wars, living conditions in
Germany became almost intolerable due to the effects of hyper-inflation and the
Great Depression, amongst other influences.
In 1918 a loaf of bread cost just over half a German mark.
By 1922 the cost had risen to 163 marks for a loaf of bread. By November of 1923
a loaf of bread cost 201,000 million marks. Millions of people faced starvation
as a result of the hyper-inflation. Pensioners and other people who were living
on fixed incomes found that prices rose so much faster than their earnings. Even
if they could afford to buy food they could not afford the gas to cook it.
Social unrest was the result of massive levels of
unemployment. In Germany, six million people were out of a population of
sixty-four million were out of work by 1933. These events formed the backdrop of
the Prager brothers’ decision to leave for Australia.
At the time, the brothers were all apprenticed in various
jobs and after Fritz, the eldest, finished his apprenticeship in 1927, they
pooled their resources and bought a ticket for him to set off for Australia to
set things in order so that his brothers could soon follow.
Fritz landed in South Australia, but on arrival found that
Australia, like the rest of the world, was gripped in the Great Depression and
he could not find work. He was lucky to meet up with an old German friend who
had a farm outside of Adelaide and offered to sell him some rabbit traps so he
could trap and sell the rabbits as well as the skins. After getting some capital
together he packed his "swag" and started on the long walk to Sydney – doing odd
jobs along the way.
In 1929 Fritz arrived in Sydney and through the German
Consulate, secured a job with toy wholesalers Rodger & Lloyd. The next year,
Hans joined Fritz in Australia and they started their own small agency and
import business while Fritz still held down his regular job at Rodger & Lloyd.
It wasn’t until 1933 that Fritz was able to leave his position with Rodger &
Lloyd and work full time in the business with Hans. F.H. Prager, the company was
On a trip back to Germany in 1935 to secure more agency
lines, Hans met up with and married his childhood sweetheart Margarete and
brought her back to Australia. The following year, Fritz made his first trip
back to his homeland and although it was not his intention to look for a
marriage partner, he ended up marrying Hans’s sister-in-law, bringing her back
to start a new life in Australia.
Hermann, the youngest of the brothers went to Canada after
finishing his apprenticeship, and married a Canadian lady. They arrived back in
Australia in 1937, with his brothers only too happy to give him a share of the
The years from 1933 to 1939 were boom years for F.H.
Prager with their business expanding every year. When the Second World War broke
out in 1939, Hermann who was a naturalised Canadian was drafted into the
Australian army while Fritz and Hans and their families were interned because
they were not naturalised Australian citizens. It was up to Hermann’s wife to
carry on the business from 1939 to 1945 until Fritz and Hans came out of the
Internment centres existed in Australia during the Second
World War to house political prisoners and members of national or minority
groups who are confined for reasons of state security, exploitation, or
punishment, usually by executive decree or military order. People are placed in
such camps often on the basis of identification with a particular ethnic or
political group rather than as individuals and without benefit either of
indictment or fair trial.
During war, civilians have been concentrated in camps to
prevent them from engaging in guerrilla warfare or from providing aid to enemy
forces, or simply as a means of terrorising the populace into submission. In
Australia, Prime Minister John Curtin’s government exercised considerable
control over the civilian population. Overall this was accepted – partly because
of the crisis, partly because the government showed purposefulness and capacity.
World War II also carried industrialization to a new level. The production of
ammunition and other material, machine tools, and chemicals all boomed.
For F.H. Prager, the difficult job of re-building the
business came after a hiatus of six years, once the brothers were released from
the camp. The post Word War II period saw F.H. Prager expand even further. When
F.H. Prager first commenced business, they mainly dealt with factories or
companies out of Germany. Back then, the "Big Three" included VBW Tools,
Heinrich Kaufmann & Ahrames – these companies supplied nearly 80% of the hand
tool market. The company also dealt with over 100 smaller factories in Germany
and factories in Sweden.
During the 1970s and 1980s, F.H. Prager had 20,000 line
items and represented such famous brand names as Primus, Rega, Sidcrome, Stanley
Tools, Patience & Nicholson, Frost, and Trojan. F.H. Prager was also well known
agents for many power tool brands before they set up their own offices in
Australia. For example, it represented and distributed products from companies
including Skill, Sher, Ryobi, Hytachi, Bosch and Stanley, just to name a few.
F.H. Prager continued on its successful way as the
complete supplier of hand tools to the Australian hardware market until they
sold the business in 1997 to Siddons Proline (now SPL Group).
Only Fritz is still alive of the three brothers that were
the driving force behind F.H. Prager, and he is in his early nineties. Hans died
in 1995 aged in his eighties and Hermann passed away in 1977.
Today the philosophy of what was started 70 years ago is
ongoing with F.H. Prager still one of the most comprehensive hand tool suppliers
in the market place. It continues to be the exclusive agents for Estwing,
Marshalltown, Sola and ABW Tools, as well as distributors for Howard Silvers
Retail Range, Kinnears Ropes & Cordage, Master Finish, Keson, Fisco, Komelon,
Weldon and Kuny Leather Products.
In addition to the agency lines, F H Prager also import
their own house brand products in the form of the Eagle brand – great value
tools for the home handyman; Prager – for the serious DIYers; and Prager Pro –
trade quality tools.
The company has currently over 4.000 line items and
constantly add to the range when it is required but it remains focussed on the
principle of keeping stock that "turns", not simply keeping stock that only
"might turn over".
F.H. Prager employs 100 people around Australia with a
sales force of over 45 representatives. Many long time employees of the original
F.H. Prager are still working for the company. For example, there is John
Hemingway who has clocked up 41 years with the company as a sales
representative. There is also Bernie Anner who started with F.H. Prager in 1958
and was one of the directors of the "old" company and still manages to work
part-time with the new regime.
For 70 years, the name F.H. Prager has been synonymous
with the Australian hardware industry and its strong association with hand
tools. The legacy that the Prager brothers have created moves on in the 21st
century, backed up by its rich history and a capable and effective management