Inside the Collection

Wes Standfield’s Supreme mousetrap-making machine

Mouse trap making machine
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 2001/85/1. Gift of Ron Standfield, 2001.

Wes Standfield’s Supreme mousetrap-making machine has been very popular with visitors to the Powerhouse Discovery Centre since 2007. Definitely a ‘cracking contraption’, it is making its debut appearance at the Powerhouse Museum in conjunction with Wallace & Gromit’s World of Invention. It is the star object in Australian Inventions, a small display in the foyer and the kick-off point for an inventions trail through the Museum. Both exhibitions, and the trail, can be seen and explored until April 2013.

Arnold Wesley (Wes) Standfield made a group of four machines during World War 2, when materials and parts were in short supply. He scoured scrap yards to find what he needed, and he built his machines from scratch, without first creating drawings or prototypes. There are actually two machines in this photo, but his main machine is at the front. The ancillary machines cut wire and made springs to feed into this machine, which assembled and branded the traps.

The machine took just 1.5 seconds to make each trap, and it made 1000 traps each hour. A counter records that it made over 96 million traps between 1943 and 2000. The machines were never replaced or redesigned; Wes and his sons, Ronald and David, kept them going, repairing worn or broken parts as necessary.

Detail of Mouse trap making machine showing photograph of Wes
Powerhouse Museum Collection, object 2001/85/1, detail.

When Wes died, his sons placed this framed photo of him on the main machine, and the company continued making traps until Ron and Dave were ready to retire. As a humble but fitting tribute to Wes Standfield, they attached the last trap made by the machine to his photo.

Wes was a self-made man, a country lad with an inventive bent and great determination. He grew up in dairy country, at Kyogle in northern NSW, and his first patented invention was the Kyogle clip for fixing a cow’s tail to a fence before it was milked; this prevented the cow from swinging its tail, annoying the milker and potentially flicking manure into the milk bucket. His second invention was the Westan metal mousetrap.

Detail of assembled mousetrap
Powerhouse Museum collection, object 2012/142/1. Gift of Ron Standfield, 2012.

He moved to Sydney, set up his business in the inner suburb of Mascot, and made clips, traps and other small metal goods. His decision to make machines and move into mass production took the business in a new direction, kept Australia and our Pacific neighbours supplied with mouse traps, and created a legend. The Supreme machine has only been on display for a few days, but it has already attracted huge interest from visitors and the media.

12 responses to “Wes Standfield’s Supreme mousetrap-making machine

  • I am coming to see this wonderful machine. A.W Standfield was my Great Grandfather and we used to go to the factory whenever we used to go to Sydney. I am glad the rest of Australia can see what an amazing and clever man he was.

  • So wonderful to catch up on what has happened to Wes and the factory! Wes’ son Alan was my stepfather. I used to work in the factory, assembling the traps and packaging them when I was a girl. I remember a lot of the family working and being at the factory a lot. Alan kept his Crisly Sky Jeep and Fairchild in storage there. Tinkering and invention ran in the family! Memories I shall never forget…

  • Allan was my husband and he was a great fabricater of racing car parts in his fathers factory at mascot.He also made our car from scratch and racing cars from scratch for a lot of the top drivers at the time.

    • Oh Aunty Brenda. How lovely to find you here. . yes their creativity and ability to visualise something and make from scratch always amazed me. I loved it when uncle Alan worked on the HOLDEN teams cars for Bathurst. Also remember going up in a plane that he had made. True geniuses hope u are well Aunty Brenda. U often cross my mind. . I so wanted to be like you when I grew up. All trendy,beautiful and sexy. Omg. U had it going on. Love Donna

  • Thank you Brenda.. Thank you Allan, I was 8 or 9 yrs old when I first saw the Mousetrap Machine, My father was having tramp rods fitted to his Lotus Cortina.. that experiment wasn’t a great success, but I’ve never forgotten that brilliant machine

  • I have much pride in being one of “Wes’ Stand fields granddaughter. Unfortunately we didn’t live in Sydney from when I had been a young age due to my dads job but how I always loved returning home. I would love visiting the factory . the sound of the big saw cutting through wood and the sound of the mousetrap machine ,unique and unforgettable. And I would stare at that machine in amazement. Amazed at the tape reels and bits and pieces salvaged from tips and such. U don’t needan ivy education. Just a vision ,imagination and the determination to create that vision,making do with what you have. This actually may be Australia’s first steampunk object. If we all cared about this land and country as my grandfather did,what a much better country we would have.

    • Beautifully written Donna! Great and loving memories. I do remember you from when I was little, but with Allan’s five siblings I cannot remember who were your parents.
      The old factory has gone now, it is hard to recognise the street.
      And you remind me now of the mill, I had forgotten that!

  • I lived in Alexandria, & we had a metal work shop over the road. Bob & his father made some parts for the plant in the 1970´s. I would love the machine to be working again. It would be a great income generator for the museum when it moves. (What a fiasco moving the museum from its current location!)

  • Hi everyone-my name is Sheila and I’m Allans
    stepdaughter through his his marriage to my mother Pat. I also share some later memories of the Standfield family-visiting the factory which was absolutely fascinating-that machinery was amazing-especially when I heard how it was made from scrap post war. I also flew with Al in several small vintage planes he worked on & have been around for 45 years to see him restore & build some beautiful magnificent cars.
    The Standfield family are exceptional -with their genius & invention & I feel very privileged to be connected to them & learn so much from my stepfather about the family & their incredible work

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