Bendix Hallenstein was born in 1835 in Bisperode, Germany, where his parents owned a shoddy-mill, making woollen cloth from rags. He moved to Manchester when he was 17 and worked with his uncle who operated a shipping office.
At 22, he moved to the Victorian goldfields and opened a store with his brothers. Awkwardness arose when all three of the boys wanted to marry their housekeeper, Mary Mountain. Mary chose Bendix and the couple moved back to England where they married on February 14, 1861.
Two years later they emigrated to New Zealand where Bendix opened a general store in Invercargill, before relocating to Queenstown.
His friendliness and good business sense saw him excel, and he soon opened stores around the South Island and acted as an international wool agent. He also established a farm and entered public life serving as mayor of Queenstown from 1869-1872.
Bendix represented Wakatipu in Parliament from 1872-1873, and he would go on to be appointed German Consul for Dunedin in 1892.
Bendix had trouble sourcing good quality men's clothing for his stores, so in 1873, he established the New Zealand Clothing Company factory in Dunedin, the first of its type in the country.
Financial difficulties led to the sale of the building to the National Fire & Marine Insurance Company, from whom he leased it back. Bendix was very proud of this building and didn't want to give it up.
Bendix was a benevolent boss to his 300 staff. He established a fund to provide free medicine for his employees (until social security was introduced in 1938).
He supported trade unions, believing they would benefit both employees and employers, and even fought for the Tailoresses Union.
He also supported Richard Waddell's anti-sweating campaigns that worked to improve the conditions and pay of factory staff. Bendix claimed he would prefer to abandon his business rather than keep it going by providing his employees with starvation wages, stating, "I, for one, would not feel happy to live on the misery of others".
Bendix wished to build a wider market for his clothing line, so he opened the first Hallensteins Brothers store in the Octagon in Dunedin.
Business proved very popular, and by 1900 there were 34 stores around the country, initially selling both women's and men's clothes.
Besides this successful venture, Bendix also founded the Drapery and General Importing Company (the D.I.C.) of New Zealand in Dunedin in 1884. Many Whanganui people will still remember shopping at the local D.I.C. branch in Victoria Ave. He was also a director of Kempthorne Prosser.
Bendix died in 1905 and the next year his business became a limited company, operating as Hallenstein Bros. (Ltd). It merged with Glasson's in 1987, and there are still 42 Hallenstein Bros. stores throughout New Zealand, including one here on Victoria Ave.
The Whanganui Regional Museum holds a number of garments made by the New Zealand Clothing Company and Hallensteins Brothers, including trousers, shirts, military and Red Cross uniforms, a hat and a suit. We also hold a beautiful pair of women's shoes made in the 1920s-1930s before the sole focus turned to clothing. There is also a handsome frock coat from the 1880s that can be seen on display in the new Dressed to Thrill exhibition.
•Sandi Black is the Archivist at Whanganui Regional Museum.