The History of Henselite Bowls
The Henselite company was started in 1918 by William D. Hensell. In a time when all bowls were made of wood, William came to an arrangement with the Dunlop Rubber Co. and in partnership they developed the world's first rubber bowls. Henselite was then contracted to turn and test rubber bowls for the Dunlop Rubber Co until 1930.
Once the contract with Dunlop ended, William and his son Raymond W. Hensell turned their attention to developing bowls made from a new kind of material which would not expand and contract with temperature changes. After much experimentation they decided upon a plastic called Phenolformaldehyde and in 1931 the first solid plastic bowl was produced, changing the face of bowls as it was known.
These original bowls were called Henselites and were made with separate coloured discs which were inserted into the bowls to allow bowlers to differentiate their bowls from others.
1937 – 1946
In 1937 the separate disc model was replaced with the Uni-disc model, where the bowl was moulded and machined in one piece and the emblems were engraved directly on to the bowl. In this same year, the first Henselite all-plastic jack was produced.
Production was suspended during the Second World War. The factory took part in the war effort, producing plastic mouldings for 'turn and bank indicators' on aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force.
1946 – 1959
When bowls production resumed after the war years on 6th February 1946, Raymond W Hensell who by this time had taken over the management of the company from his father, installed a series of specially designed, high-precision turning and biasing machines.
At this point, the Uni-disc model was renamed as the Standard model.
In these post-war years, bowls consolidated its popularity as a mass participation sport.
With television yet to be introduced, there was also a demand for indoor recreational games for the whole family. In the early 1950's Henselite began to sell sets of "Junior Bowls". Later called "Home Carpet Bowls", these bowls remain popular today.
In 1959, Henselite introduced an improved powder compound with a ‘Super Grip’ additive, designed to give the plastic bowl a better feel in the hand and provide bowlers with a better grip on the bowl. Bowls with 'Super Grip’ were called the Henselite Championship model. The additive has remained a feature of all subsequent models.
1967 – 1988
Up to this point, Henselite bowls were not machined with a dimple grip. In the late 1960's there was popular demand for a gripped bowl with many bowlers after a firmer, more reliable grip on the bowl.
Henselite brought out the Deluxe bowl the first Henselite bowl with a dimple grip. This grip feature continued to be extremely popular and today it appears on approximately 90% of bowls produced. Since its innovation, all subsequent Henselite models have been available in gripped or non-gripped variations.
In the 1970's, Henselite expanded its business to become distributors of a wide range of sporting goods, becoming the Australian agents for sporting goods manufacturers such as Stuart Surridge and Gunn and Moore (cricket), Unicorn and Nodor (Darts), Finn and Yonex (Tennis, Squash, Badminton and Raquetball). The sporting goods business continued into the mid 1990's.
In 1983 Henselite took over the Toll Park Engineering Company in Cumbernauld, Scotland and began to manufacturer Almark bowls for the UK market. Production continued at the factory until 1995 when the facility was closed and manufacturing shifted to the Australian plant.
1988 was a turning point for bowls and also for Henselite. This year saw the introduction of the World Biased Bowls (W.B.B.) Rules for the game of lawn bowls. These rules allowed the introduction of ‘narrow biased bowls’, and also called for bowls manufacturers to identify their biases by a specific model name.
Consequently, the Henselite Standard Bias, the bias used from 1930 to 1988 on the original Henselites, Uni-disc, Standard, Championship and Deluxe models, was renamed the Classic Bias.
Henselite was also producing a bowl with a narrower bias for faster, New Zealand greens which, at this point, was renamed the Masters Bias.
Due to the adoption of the new W.B.B. Rules, Henselite developed and released the Classic II model bowl with a narrower bias than the Classic.
As a result of its release and subsequent success on the greens, it became the most popular narrow biased bowl in Australia and New Zealand.
The following decade saw an increase in demand for bowls with varying bias profiles and Henselite began to manufacturer a number of different bowls for the different greens around Australia and the World, beginning with the Maestro bowl in 1992.
In 1994 the Maestro was superseded by the ABT-2000. The ABT-2000 used the latest precision manufacturing technology at the time, hence the name Advanced Bias Technology (ABT). This bowl combined the best features of the Classic II and the Maestro and was released only after extensive field testing by some of Australia’s best bowlers. In their hands it achieved outstanding success on the greens.
The Henselite factory celebrated the production of its six millionth bowl in 1995.
The millennium year saw the introduction of the Eureka Gold model and the Sapphire model - a bowl with a narrower girth, designed to accommodate bowlers with smaller hands.
Henselite played a significant role in the 2002 film Crackerjack with Mick Molloy. Not only did Henselite's iconic North Melbourne premises and testing table appear in the film, Henselite developed the remote control bowl which was used by Mick Molloy's character to bowl his famous 'flipper.'
In 2002, Henselite closed it North Melbourne factory and warehouse to the suburb of Fairfield, about 8km north of Melbourne's CBD. The new premises provided more space and improved manufacturing and distribution processes were implemented.
With demand increasing among bowlers for a bowl with a 'banana bias' the Dreamline was introduced in 2003 and remains, today as one of the world's most popular bowls. This year also saw the commercial introduction of coloured bowls in blue, green and burgundy and the Tiger bowl for the UK market.
In the following years, the very narrow biased Impact was launched in 2005, followed by the highly successful Tiger II for the UK market.
In 2006 the ABT-evo, an evolution of the Advanced Bias Technology, was produced primarily for bowlers in the northern states of Australia where the greens are faster.
In 2008, Henselite became the first manufacturer to produce 7 million bowls.