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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Baird, Adam (1873–1954)

by Kathleen Baird

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Adam Baird (1873-1954), engineer and businessman, was born on 19 May 1873 at Ballarat, Victoria, son of William Baird, accountant, and his wife Janet, née Paton, both of whom were from Ayrshire, Scotland. He won scholarships to Grenville College, Ballarat, and in 1890 to Ormond College, University of Melbourne. He graduated with honours in 1896 in civil engineering, then went to Western Australia, surveying and erecting mining machinery at Coolgardie, Kalgoorlie and Menzies.

In 1896 Baird's brother William founded a hardware business in Coolgardie and it was soon extended to Kalgoorlie and Boulder. In 1899 Adam followed other brothers and sisters into the firm, which opened a shop and a rural mail-order house in Perth in 1903; from about 1910 it was housed in Baird's Arcade, designed by Adam. Retail interests were diversified and their catalogue became widely know as the 'Farmer's Bible'. After incorporation as a limited company in August 1917, Bairds moved its headquarters to Murray Street in 1919. On 6 February 1906 at Ballarat Adam had married Eliza Armstrong, daughter of a solicitor H. W. Morrow.

During World War I Baird represented the Chamber of Commerce on the State Munitions Supply Committee in 1915 and became secretary of its engineering sub-committee. He was honorary secretary of the War Munitions Supply Co. of Western Australia in 1915-16, then volunteered for munitions work in England and was away till 1919.

Although Baird controlled the accounts of the family company, his main concerns were service to customers and staff welfare. He drafted a profit-sharing agreement in 1919; it was not then implemented, but the firm introduced a subsidized mutual-aid plan and a health insurance scheme for staff long before these became common practice. During the Depression Baird worked to avoid staff retrenchment, and saved many farmers from ruin by extending credit, accepting payment in kind and helping with marketing. He followed similar policies in World War II, during which he deferred his retirement. He remained chairman of directors after the death in 1947 of his brother William, who had throughout been managing director, but passed much responsibility to his only son Hugh. Survived by his wife, son and two daughters, Baird died on 9 February 1954 at his Peppermint Grove home. Hugh Baird died in 1965 and in 1969 the Myer Emporium bought out the firm.

Baird had been a founding director in 1919 of Plaimar Ltd which produced extracts, essences and perfumes from Western Australian native plants. He was also a director of its subsidiary, Industrial Extracts Ltd, which developed a process for producing tannin from wandoo trees. He was an early member of the faculty of engineering at the University of Western Australia, served on the councils of Scotch College and the Presbyterian Ladies' College and gave generously to both, and was treasurer of his local Presbyterian church. Sir Walter Murdoch, with whom he had shared a college study, thought him 'one of the best men I have ever known, and the most modest'.

Select Bibliography

  • Bairds Limited: A Short History of the Company, A. McCracken ed (Perth, 1972)
  • West Australian, 7, 21 Aug, 4, 6 Oct 1915, 13 July 1916
  • private information.

Citation details

Kathleen Baird, 'Baird, Adam (1873–1954)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 28 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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