Alice Anderson: Pioneering Women in the World of Wheels

by | Oct 10, 2023 | History, Motoring, Motorsport, Shed Stories | 0 comments

Alice Elizabeth Anderson
In the early 20th century, Alice Anderson emerged as a trailblazer in a world dominated by men. Born in 1897 in Melbourne, Australia, she embarked on a mission that would forever change the automotive industry: to shatter stereotypes and pave the way for women to excel in mechanics. Alice’s incredible journey began at the age of 20 when she took her first step into the world of automobiles as a chauffeur. Little did anyone know that this was just the beginning of her extraordinary story.

Early Challenges and Unconventional Beginnings

Growing up, Alice faced numerous challenges. Her family’s fortune fluctuated, and they moved from wealth to modesty, eventually settling in the countryside. While her siblings struggled to adapt to this new life, Alice seamlessly integrated into her surroundings, displaying her resilience and adaptability from an early age.

Defying Expectations and Breaking Stereotypes

During this era, women were just beginning to learn how to drive, and the automotive world was predominantly a male domain. However, Alice was undeterred by these societal norms. She enthusiastically embraced the opportunity to learn to drive and quickly honed her driving skills.

The Birth of a Garage, An Innovator, & an Inventor

At the age of 20, Alice started working as a chauffeur, a role that laid the foundation for her groundbreaking career. However, she didn’t stop there. Soon after, she transformed a house in Kew into an auto workshop, laying the cornerstone for Australia’s first all-female garage, the Art Deco-fronted Kew Garage, all by the tender age of 22.

Alice was more than just a mechanic; she was an inventor and entrepreneur. Her innovative spirit gave rise to the ‘Radi-waiter,’ a flask that could keep beverages warm by attaching to radiators, allowing her customers to enjoy a piping-hot cup of tea or a warm meal on their day trips.

Kew Garage

Unrecognised Genius: The Birth of the Creeper

In 1918, Alice Anderson achieved a groundbreaking feat that would revolutionise the world of mechanics but sadly remained largely unrecognised during her lifetime. It was during this year that she conceived and created what we now know as the ‘Creeper,’ an innovation that has since become a staple in the workshop of every mechanic. The Creeper, as Alice envisioned it, was a wheeled trolley designed to allow mechanics to easily access the undersides of vehicles during repairs. This invention provided a comfortable and efficient solution for working beneath cars, replacing the awkward and uncomfortable alternatives of the time. Alice’s pioneering work with the Creeper did not receive the recognition it deserved. Shortly after her invention, a similar tool emerged in the United States, but it was her creation that laid the foundation for this essential piece of automotive equipment. Despite her incredible contributions to the field, Alice remained in relative obscurity, her innovative spirit overshadowed by others who would later claim credit for similar inventions.
Today, the Creeper is a standard tool found in auto repair shops worldwide, a testament to Alice Anderson’s ingenuity and her determination to make a mark in the automotive industry. While she may not have received the acclaim she deserved during her lifetime, her legacy lives on through the countless mechanics who continue to use her invention daily. Alice’s story serves as a reminder that innovation knows no gender, and her pioneering spirit continues to inspire generations of women in the world of wheels.

A Motto to Live By

Alice’s personal motto, “Qui ne risque rien n’a rien” in French for “He who risks nothing has nothing,” reflected her fearless spirit. She proudly wore this saying on her tiepin and business cards, honouring her heroine, Joan of Arc. But her ambitions extended beyond the garage doors.

Empowering Women Through Education

Alice was passionate about educating women in a rapidly changing technological landscape. She offered driving classes that included mechanical instruction, empowering women to work on their cars alongside male mechanics. Some of these women later became renowned as the ‘Garage Girls.’

Elevating a Trade to a Profession

Alice’s vision was to elevate the mechanics trade into a true profession for women. She believed in women’s potential to undertake repairs and create spare parts if needed, advocating for an eight-year course covering mechanics, chemistry, and trigonometry. She believed it was attainable for those with initiative and determination.

The Unprecedented Journey

Alice continually set high standards. Her dream was to transform a trade into a true profession for women, requiring determination and grit. She knew that women were capable of much more than society gave them credit for.

Daring Adventures

In August 1926, she left her garage in the hands of her employees to embark on a daring adventure. Setting out in her brand-new ’26 Austin 7, she embarked on an unprecedented journey from Melbourne to Alice Springs. Today, this might seem like a classic car club excursion, but back then, it was unheard of. She even removed her Baby Austin’s doors to accommodate the supplies needed for the journey.

A Mysterious End and Lasting Legacy

Tragically, just a few weeks later, on September 17, 1926, Alice’s life came to a sudden and mysterious end. She passed away in her garage, leaving the circumstances surrounding her death shrouded in mystery. The world was left wondering about the potential of this incredibly ambitious and innovative woman. Some sources claim it was a suicide while others claim she was cleaning her pistol and it accidently went off. We will never know.

Alice's Legacy Lives On

Alice Anderson’s story serves as a testament to the indomitable spirit of women who dare to dream, challenge norms, and pioneer change. She was a trailblazer who proved that women could excel in fields traditionally dominated by men. Her legacy continues to inspire women in Australia and around the world. A theatre performance has even been created around her wonderful life and career.

Breaking Barriers with Determination

As we reflect on Alice’s remarkable journey today, let us remember that barriers are meant to be broken, stereotypes are meant to be shattered, and dreams are meant to be pursued. Alice Anderson’s story is a powerful reminder that with determination, innovation, and courage, women can achieve the extraordinary in any field they choose. Whether you aspire to be a mechanic, an entrepreneur, or an adventurer, Alice’s legacy whispers, “You can do it too.”