The History Of The Federal Match Factory

September 9th, 2022 - by Brad Gillespie

Now home to Alexandria Park Community School, the land at the end of Alexandria Park was once the site of the Federal Match Factory, which dominated the state’s match industry and even helped with the war effort.

The spark of an idea

In Alexandria today, vacant land is almost unheard of. But it wasn’t always this way. A century ago there were still empty blocks to be had, and in 1914 one Carl Gustav Sundstrom was looking for a place to start a business or two.

That year, Sundstrom signed a contract with Quirk’s Lighting and Engineering to buy a portion of land owned by Quirk’s. The block sat at the Mitchell Rd end of Alexandria Park. It was once part of the original Waterloo Estate, granted to former convict William Hutchinson in 1823. Just two years later, Hutchinson sold part of the undeveloped land to another former convict, Daniel Cooper. His portion was then named the Cooper Estate, and upon Cooper’s death it passed to his nephew, also called Daniel Cooper.

Once Sundstrom had secured his block, he quickly put in applications to establish two companies on the land fronting Park Rd. He started the Continental Paper Bag Company on a smaller section of the land, while on the rest he built the Federal Match Factory.

A business built from matches

With Sundstrom at the helm, the business flourished, becoming one of the state’s leading match manufacturers (Bryant & May found similar success in Victoria, producing their famous Redhead matches). After a 1920 fire damaged the Continental Paper Bag Company’s building, the match factory, in need of more space, took over the premises. Then in 1922 more adjoining land, which fronted Belmore Street, was purchased to become part of Federal.

The factory had a good reputation for its social practices. Sundstrom built two tennis courts at the site, and during further extensions in 1931 he added a bowling green. Lunch of soup and bread was also provided every day for factory employees.

Many indigenous women living in South Sydney found employment at the Federal Match Factory. With many of the women originally from Wellington, near Dubbo, the company became affectionately known as Wellington Matches.

Striking a patriotic note

The Federal Match Factory produced many brands, including Federal, Kookaburra, Captain Cook, and matches for the Civil Service Stores, an extremely popular Sydney co-op which had opened in York Street in 1871.

In World War II an unlikely player stepped in to help forge a path to victory: Federal Matches.

When war broke out, the company started manufacturing matchboxes printed with patriotic slogans. Customers could strike a light while being advised that, “The enemy listens; guard your tongue”. “Don’t spread rumour; silence saves lives” and “Careless talk costs soldiers’ lives” warned people of the dangers of mindless gossip, while “Saving is serving; buy national bonds” asked the public to put their cash towards the country’s war effort.

A collector’s item

The Federal Match Factory closed in the 1970s, and today the site houses the Alexandria Park Community School. But interest in the company’s matches lives on.

Phillumeny, the hobby of collecting of matches and match-related paraphernalia, is ensuring that Federal’s products have a life beyond the factory’s closure. Enthusiasts buy and sell matchboxes via online platforms, with some collections fetching hundreds of dollars. An eBay auction of a rare box of Federal “pull matches” – where the match automatically lights upon being pulled from the box – fetched almost $300.

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Photo credits: The Federal Match Factory at Alexandria in the late 1970s (photograph courtesy City of Sydney - CRS 1140: BM 901) - from Sydney Barani website