When it comes to inventions, New Zealand is right up there with the rest of the world, the electric fence, the egg beater, bungy jump - all famous ones.
But there is one that you are all using whose inventor’s name is barely remembered. And all because he forgot to get a permanent patent.
John Eustace had been born in 1855 in Helston, Cornwall and came to New Zealand on board the Chile in 1862.
Not a big lad, he nevertheless had a quick mind despite a lack of formal education.
Initially he worked on a cherry farm and then help print and deliver some of the first issues of the Evening Star.
At 12 years old he became a blacksmith’s striker then began an apprenticeship as a tinsmith - starting by making tin match boxes.
He married Martha Emma Hoskings and they settled down, having three daughters and one son.
In 1896 he started his own tinsmith business making kettles, trays and other goods.
He was kept busy during the South African War with huge orders.
It was during the early 1900s that he was asked to find a way to making paint cans that did not leak.
He said it took him a sleepless night trying to figure it out but the next day he created an airtight lever lid for a paint tin.
That lid is still in use today.
It was so successful that orders began flooding in. not just from New Zealand but all over the world.
He took a patent out with some help from painter Robert Fergus Smith for “An invention for hermetically closing tin boxes with th 3 lid without soldering."
and began the process of creating a die to mass produce the tins.
Except he did not know the patent - an interim one - ran out after six months and from then it was a free for all, with companies all over the world producing their own lids.
Smith and Smith, the company that had asked him to make the lid in the first place, promised they would only buy their lids from him and did so while he and his son ran the company.
It enabled him to expand the factory and employ many men.
At one point he was called an idiot who had lost a fortune - but Eustace replied that ‘Well, I’m happy, I’ve got a good family, I get three feeds a day, I can only wear one suit at a time what would I want with a fortune?’
John died on August 2, 1944 and is buried in Andersons Bay Cemetery in Dunedin.
Picture by Sven Brandsma.
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