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The rise and fall of the Big Orange Machine

Newspaper advertisement for the Big Orange Machine from the 1920s. IMAGE/WAIRARAPA ARCHIVE

Hundreds of businesses have come and gone over the years. MARK PACEY of the Wairarapa Archive writes of the Queen St’s Big Orange Machine.

Earlier this year we were asked if we had a map showing Queen St from the 1920s.

Upon checking our records we found one which was perfect for what our researcher wanted. What was also interesting was the advertisements that made up the border for Masterton businesses of the time. The Empire Hotel, the Huia soft drink factory . . . and the Big Orange Machine.

“Have your daily drink at the Big Orange Machine.”

None of us had ever heard of this product before, and with a name like that our curiosity was piqued. What was it and where did it operate? What happened to it? We were now committed to find out.

Fresh orange juice that is squeezed on site is something that many Masterton residents will be familiar with. The Ten O’Clock Cookie Company has, for the past two years, been operating a machine that juices fresh oranges.

In what would echo the Big Orange Machine’s advertisements, 10CC’s machine produces fresh juice which is sold in glasses or bottles and boasts a high vitamin C content.

The company acquired a machine after the owner, John Kloeg, saw a similar machine while on a conference in Germany. It’s a clever idea and produces a very tasty drink.

Our product is no mystery. We can see it being made in basically the same way. We can also purchase what is essentially the same beverage. But what about the other details?

Where did the machine of the 1920s operate from? As it turns out, not far from 10CC.

Our advertisement states that the Big Orange Machine was based in a confectioners shop opposite the Midland Hotel which was on the corner of Queen and Bannister sts. It was run by an immigrant named Peter
Alick Johansen.

As his name suggests, Peter came from Scandinavia. He was born in 1876 in Norway and by 1911 he had emigrated to Norsewood, an area already well settled by his fellow countrymen.

While in this small Tararua town he worked as a mill hand before moving to Masterton where he set up his confectioners shop on Queen St.

After a few years he joined in with several other New Zealand businesses and bought a Big Orange Machine which became a main draw to his shop.

This was at a time when Masterton had two soft-drink factories as well, the Huia Aerated Water Company on Bannister St, and Neil and Wotton on Chapel St.

The Big Orange Machine was first advertised in the country in 1926, starting out with machines in Palmerston North, Dunedin, Auckland and Wellington.

By 1927, the spread of the machine had increased, with five machines in Auckland alone and also one in Masterton.

The Big Orange Machine was gaining in popularity, but it was not without its problems.

In 1928 a branch in Hamilton was taken to court over an alleged breach of minimum wages for those working at the site.

This was not the end of the troubles for the franchise. Within three years advertisements frequented the country’s newspapers with the machines and rights being up for sale.

By 1931 the company was in liquidation and the branches closed down. The franchise in Auckland was purchased and the name changed to Orange Drink Limited, but for Masterton the Big Orange Machine had squeezed its last piece of fruit.

Peter Johansen continued with his Queen St shop throughout the 1930s. By 1941 he had moved to Carterton where he was working as a confectioner on High St where he worked until he retired.

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