Story: Factory industries

Early New Zealand factories were started to supply settlers with the manufactured goods they needed in their new country, and most exports were agricultural products. By the 2000s around one third of exports were manufactured goods, and some New Zealand companies had factories overseas.

Story by Ian Hunter
Main image: Fisher & Paykel's Mosgiel factory

Story summary

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Early factories

When Europeans came to New Zealand they set up factories to make the things they needed, such as bricks and timber for building, food, beverages and clothes. Later, there were many factories that processed meat and dairy products.

Working conditions

Factories were often unhealthy and dangerous places to work, and working hours were long. In the 1890s the Department of Labour was set up to inspect working conditions in factories.

Bigger and mechanised factories

In the early 20th century about 20% of all workers were employed in a factory, and factories got bigger. The introduction of electricity and more machines changed how people worked in factories.

Factories that made clothes, weapons and other equipment grew rapidly during the Second World War, and factories had trouble getting enough workers.

Government protection

From the 1938 the government limited imports to protect and help local factories industries develop. After these limits were removed in the 1980s, cheaper imported goods undercut locally made goods, and many factories closed.


Many factories began to sell their products overseas, rather than just to the New Zealand market. By 1995, 25% of all goods manufactured in New Zealand were exported.

How to cite this page:

Ian Hunter, 'Factory industries', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 16 July 2024)

Story by Ian Hunter, published 11 March 2010