Ira & Berk – A little Local History

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Ira Leigh Berk came to Australia in 1909 with the single purpose of establishing sales offices for the American adding machine company whose franchise he held. He was. however a man of vision, and the consequences, of his visit were more far-reaching than one might have expected

Today, the companies which exist because of that visit have a proud history in the automotive field, and a promising future of greater diversity. In half a century the firm of Ira L. & A. C Berk Pty”. Ltd reflects the faith of Ira Berk and his brother Clyde in a young and growing nation

Ira Berk was born in Dayton. Ohio of parents of Dutch extraction,   he and his brother incidentally wereschoolmates of Orville and Wilbur Wright who developed and flew the first aeroplane in the U.S.A

At the time of his coming to Australia he had for some time been associated with the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, serving at one time as secretary to the company President. Alvan Macaulay, who later became  President of the Packard Motor Car Company.

First of all, Ira Berk, set up Burroughs sales offices in Sydney and other capital cities, and in his travels became  aware of further business opportunities in this young country

He also established selling branches in the leading cities of New Zealand In in 1914. just prior to the outbreak of war. he persuaded his brother Albert Clyde Berk, to join him in the Australian business. His purpose was double-edged in that he was now free to return to the United Stales to develop other interest?

On his return to the United States Ira Berk obtained distribution rights for Packard cars in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, and part of West Virginia. He set up a sales and service organisation in Pittsburgh with such success that he returned to Australia thereafter only short visits As a result. A. C. Berk remained in charge of Australian operations until his retirement many years later.

From April 1921 to 1923 the business was conducted in the name of Ira L & A. C Berk, foreshadowing a profitable partnership in new. fields. Early in 1923 the company obtained distribution rights for Packard cars for Australia and New Zealand and two companies were formed to handle the respective fields of operation
Ira L. & A C. Berk Ltd. with offices in Challis House. Sydney was formed on the 8th August, 1913 for the stated purpose of ”acquisition by the company of all that portion of the business at present carried on by Ira L. &. A C. Berk referring to the Burroughs Adding, Book-keeping and Calculating Machines’. Under the chairmanship of A.C.. Berk the directors of the company were Vida Davis (Mrs A. C Berk). Ira Berk. V B. Audette and H.C Bartley.

The other company incorporated on the same day was titled Ira L. &. A. C Berk (Packard) Ltd., founded for the purpose of acquiring the business previously conducted by Ira. L. & A C Berk. A. C. Berk was also chairman of this company, the otthcr directors being Ira L. Berk, Vida Davis Berk, H C. Bartley and C McGhie. The office was in Martin Place Sydney while the selling and servicing of Packard cars was handled from premises in Castlereagh Street, near Mark Foys.

n the initial stages, Packard cars sold and serviced by (lie company were imported complete from the United States and, despite the fact that the vehicle, a quality car, was fairly expensive in Australia, it sold in considerable numbers.

The world-wide depression which struck in 1929 adversely affected the company, as it did all of the motor business and some considerable time was required to liquidate the sizeable stocks which were on hand when the first impact of the depression was felt.

The Service Repair Division was moved to Crown Street, Wooloomooloo, after the Castlereagh Street premises were vacated, and subsequently and for some years service operations were carried on in the basement of Berk House.

ln l937 a parcel of land was purchased in Young Street, not far from the head office, and the following year the company’s main repair shop was built there. The building, 2 storeys high, has an area of some 16,500 square feet. These premises were supplemented  in 1956 by the erection of another 2 storey building in Riley Street, The latter now serving as the Service Station offices and the reception area for customers cars.

If the depression found the company overstocked, World War II dealt a different blow; there was no merchandise to sell.

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