The Kiwi logo
OwnerS. C. Johnson & Son
Introduced1906; 115 years ago (1906)
Previous ownersSara Lee Corporation

Kiwi is an Australian brand name of a shoe polish, first launched and sold in Australia[1] in 1906 and as of 2005 sold in almost 180 countries. Previously owned by the Sara Lee Corporation since 1984, it was sold in 2011 to S. C. Johnson.[1] It is the dominant shoe polish in some countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, where it has about two-thirds of the market. In Malaysia and Singapore, Kiwi has become such a household brand for shoe polish that the word "kiwi" has been genericized into a verb in the Malay language, meaning "to polish one's shoes".[2]

The polish was developed in Australia by William Ramsay who named it Kiwi after the flightless bird endemic to New Zealand, the home country of his wife, Annie Elizabeth Meek Ramsay. Its success in Australia expanded overseas when it was adopted by both the British and American armies in World War I.

In the UK, Kiwi was for many years manufactured at its British headquarters in Ealing (Brumwill Road, London W5 1DT). From here the factory manufactured for the UK market and exported the Kiwi brand to much of Europe and the Middle East. In the mid-1970s, as part of a major streamlining, the UK factory was closed with production switched to France. The UK operation moved to Surrey (Yately) becoming, effectively, a sales and marketing office, with distribution contracted to a third party.

In 1980, production for the UK market moved back to the UK, and was housed in a factory near Huddersfield. The UK head office was relocated to Maidstone, Kent, where Kiwi had other product interests.

Following the global merger with Nicholas Laboratories, the UK head office was again relocated to Slough at the Nicholas building on the Bath Road.


While a number of older leather preserving products existed (including the Irish brand Punch, which was first made in 1851, and the German brand, Erdal, which went on sale in 1901), Kiwi's invention in 1906 made it the first shoe polish to resemble the modern varieties, aimed primarily at inducing shine. Ramsay and fellow Scottish expatriate Hamilton McKellar began making boot polish in a small factory in 1904 in Melbourne, Australia.[3] They developed and improved their new formula and Ramsay launched the product in 1906 and began marketing it in Melbourne. Ramsay loaded boxes of the polish on his horse and cart and sold it to farmers to protect their boots.[2]

Kiwi was a major improvement on previous brands. It preserved shoe leather, made it shine, and restored colour. By the time Kiwi Dark Tan was released in 1908, it incorporated agents that added suppleness and water resistance. Australian-made boot polish was then considered the world's best. A range of colours became available, and exports to Britain, continental Europe, and New Zealand began.

A rival brand of the time was Cobra Boot Polish, based in Sydney. Cobra was noted for a series of cartoon advertisements in The Sydney Bulletin, starting in 1909, using a character called "Chunder Loo of Akim Foo". (The word chunder, meaning "to vomit", possibly originated through the rhyming slang of Chunder Loo and spew.)[4]

The spread of Kiwi shoe polish around the world enhanced the popular appeal of the kiwi as New Zealand's national symbol.[5]

Corporate history

A can of Kiwi shoe polish
A can of Kiwi shoe polish

Over the years, Kiwi has been owned by a variety of corporations. For the first six decades of its existence, it was part of iterations of an Australian corporation with Kiwi in its name, all based in the state of Victoria, including Kiwi Boot Polish Co. (1913–1916) and Kiwi Polish Co. (1916–1971). The company then joined with Nicholas International Ltd., a Melbourne-based pharmaceutical company producing international brands such as Aspro and Rennie. The new company was renamed Nicholas Kiwi. In 1984, it was acquired by American-based Sara Lee, at the time known as Consolidated Foods Corporation, who eventually sold off the Nicholas pharmaceutical products to Roche of Switzerland and kept the Kiwi range.

In 1991 a subsidiary of the Sara Lee Corporation (Sara Lee) acquired part of the shoe care business of Reckitt & Colman plc (Reckitt & Colman), including the Cherry Blossom and Meltonian brands. Sara Lee already possessed the Kiwi brand, among others.[3] The Federal Trade Commission ruled that Sara Lee had to divest its ownership of these companies in 1994 to prevent it from becoming a monopoly. Since this ruling, Sara Lee has been prevented from acquiring any further assets or firms associated with chemical shoe care products in the United States without prior commission approval.[4] The Competition Commission in the United Kingdom also investigated the potential monopoly of Sara Lee in the shoe care industry.[5] On April 4, 2011, Sara Lee announced that it had completed its sale of its global shoe care business, in a majority of countries, to S. C. Johnson.

Kiwi remains the predominant shoe polish brand in most of the world, being sold in over 180 countries and holding a 53% market share worldwide. "World War I led to an enormous demand for 'Kiwi' polish for use by Australian, British and, later, American forces."[6][6] Today, it is manufactured in Australia, Canada, Honduras, France, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Peru, South Africa, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Other leading brands include Shinola, Lincoln Shoe Polish, Meltonian, and Cherry Blossom.[7]

See also


  1. ^ "100 Years of Kiwi Show Polish 1906–2006". 2010-09-18. Archived from the original on 2013-09-28. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
  2. ^ "Universiti Putra Malaysia EduTrain Interactive Learning (PowerPoint). "Kiwi, being the name of a species of bird, became the brand of a product, and then evolved into a verb". [[Universiti Putra Malaysia]]. Retrieved 30 November 2018". Archived from the original on 30 November 2018. Retrieved 30 November 2018.
  3. ^ "Information on the burial place of William Ramsay". Archived from the original on May 1, 2008.
  4. ^ "Take Our Word For It". Archived from the original on 2006-01-02. Retrieved 2005-12-16.
  5. ^ Phillips, Jock. "Kiwi - Kiwi and people: early history". Archived from the original on 27 September 2013. Retrieved 26 September 2013.
  6. ^ Ramsay, William (1868–1914). Australian Dictionary of Biography. Archived from the original on 2013-09-27. Retrieved 2013-09-26.
  7. ^ "Conclusions of a report on Sara Lee (owners of Kiwi shoe polish) and the shoe polish market in general" (PDF). Competition Commission. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 2, 2005.


  1. ^ Australian Government article on Kiwi shoe polish - PDF file, taken from Imagination - 100 Years of Bright Ideas in Australia [7] Available in print form - (ISBN 1740661060).
  2. ^ KiwiPhile - how Kiwi shoe polish helped choose a national symbol
  3. ^ Competition Commission - Introduction to a report on Sara Lee (owners of Kiwi shoe polish) and the shoe polish market in general.[dead link]
  4. ^ Federal Trade Commission on Sara Lee's potential monopoly
  5. ^