The Hills Hoist: Lance Hill's Clothesline Revolution

A towel dries on a rotary clothes line, or 'Hills Hoist' January 23, 2006 in Sydney, Australia. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Necessity is the mother of invention -- sometimes you need to know what, exactly, is needed before you can invent it. In the case of Lance Hill, from the Australian town of Glenunga, Adelaide, it was his wife who had a necessity: She asked the returning WWII veteran to think of something better than the old clothesline she had in their yard. 

Using scrap metal, Hills built a rotary clothesline—although it really was a series of small clotheslines jutting out from a central pole—that was fitted with a hoist operated by a crown and pinion winding mechanism that allows the frame to be raised and lowered.

 

Although it was hardly the first rotary clothes hoist to be invented, the inexpensive invention caught on instantly with friends and family, and Hill went into business with his brother-in-law, forming Hills Industries. 

Hill allowed his initial patent application—filed for the crown and pinion winding mechanism that allows the frame to be raised and lowered—to lapse. Fortunately, he followed through on his invention, and 11 years after he welded his first Hoist, Australian Patent 215772 was granted in 1956. 

By the mid-fifties the company had expanded into to other laundry products, but the Hill Hoist remained its most identifiable product. In fact, for many, this useful invention that maximized the use of drying space in small yards, grew to become a symbol of Australia’s sprawling suburbia. The device appeared in the closing ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games at Stadium Australia.

Hills died in 1986 at the age of 84, but his company has continued to thrive. By 1994, Hills Industries celebrated the sale of its five millionth Hills Hoist. In the 21st Century, the company founded by a low-tech device had been rechristened Hills, and now specializes in high tech products. Among its new businesses are Hills Security Solutions, which offer home security systems, and Hills Health Solutions, which delivers interactive patient care systems.

It's even become a leading provider of satellite communications systems. 

But it all started with a wife who wanted a better clothesline.