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Photo of Cyril Percy Callister

Cyril Percy Callister

Chemist
Birthplace Victoria Chute AustraliaPlace of Death Melbourne Victoria Australia Date of Death: May 10, 1949 Date of Birth: February 15, 1893

Biography

Full name of worker at H.M. Factory Gretna (and any other names they are known by) : Cyril Percy Callister.

Gender: Male.

Date and Place of Birth: 16 FEBRUARY 1893 • Chute, Pyrenees Shire, Victoria, Australia.

Date and Place of Death: 5 OCT 1949 • Melbourne, Melbourne City, Victoria, Australia.

Nationality: Australian.

Biography

Childhood: His siblings were Reginald Clive (1889-1971), Alice (1891-1956), Dolly (1894), Ruby (1895-1985), Minnie Rosetta (1897-1980), Mary Lillian (1900-1974), Allan William (1902-1988), Florence Edith (1904-1985) and Ralph Leonard Callister (1907-1973).

He attended the Ballarat School of Mines and later won a scholarship to the University of Melbourne. He gained a Bachelor of Science degree in 1914 and a Master of Science degree in 1917.

Parents: William Hugh Callister (1864-1926) and Rosetta Ann Dixon (1866-1909).

Parent’s occupations: He was the son of a teacher (his father was a schoolmaster) and postmaster.

Schools / universities attended and years of attendance: CALLISTER C.P.: B.Sc., 1914, University of Melbourne, CALLISTER C.P.: M.Sc., 1917, University of Melbourne, CALLISTER C.P.: D.Sc., 1931, University of Melbourne.

Occupation: company director, food technologist, industrial chemist.

Place of residence at Gretna: N/A.

Job title at Gretna: Shift Chemist.

Marital status:  Married Katherine Hope Kath Mundell (1896-1955). Married 8th March 1919 in Annan, Scotland.

Children: Doris Jean (1920-1989), Ian Hope (1922-1943) and William Hugh Callister (1923-2001).

Travels: In his life he spent time in Wales, Scotland, the USA, Canada and England.

Awards/recognitions: He is most famous for creating the Vegemite yeast spread.

Trivia / any other information: In the early 1920s, Callister was employed by Fred Walker and given the task of developing a yeast extract, as imports from the United Kingdom of Marmite had been disrupted in the aftermath of World War I. He experimented on spent brewer’s yeast and independently developed what came to be called Vegemite, first sold by Fred Walker & Co in 1923.

Working from the details of a James L. Kraft patent, Callister was successful in producing processed cheese. The Walker Company negotiated a deal for the rights to manufacture the product, and in 1926, the Kraft Walker Cheese Co. was established. Callister was appointed chief scientist and production superintendent of the new company.

A biography of Callister, The Man Who Invented Vegemite, written by his grandson Jamie Callister, was published in 2012.

In early 1915, Callister was employed by food manufacturer Lewis & Whitty, but later that year he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. After 53 days, however, he was withdrawn from active service on the order of the Minister for Defence and assigned to the Munitions Branch, making explosives in Britain.

Returned to Australia and resumed employment with Lewis & Whitty in 1919.

Between 1919 and 1927 Callister had three children, who were the original Vegemite kids. During World War II Ian died.

Callister got his Doctorate from the University of Melbourne in 1931, with his submission largely based on his work in developing Vegemite.

He was a prominent member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, helping it to get a Royal Charter in 1931.

Callister died in 1949, following a heart attack and is buried at Box Hill Cemetery. Died aged 56.

Callister is the great uncle to Kent Callister, a professional snowboarder who has competed at the Winter Olympics for Australia.

After education at state schools, Grenville College, Ballarat, and the Ballarat School of Mines, he attended the University of Melbourne on a major residential scholarship to Queen’s College (B.Sc., 1914; M.Sc., 1917; D.Sc., 1931).

 

In January 1915 Callister joined Lewis & Whitty, manufacturers of food and household products. In June he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Within three months the Department of Defence withdrew him to join the Munitions Branch. Shortly afterwards he was sent to Britain and spent the war working on explosives manufacture in Wales, and in Scotland where he met and married Katherine Hope Mundell at Annau.

 

On his return to Australia in 1919 Callister rejoined Lewis & Whitty where he remained until that company was taken over. In February 1923 he was appointed to Fred Walker’s small food company to develop yeast-extract for retail sale. Although this product was known overseas, no information was available about the process, and Callister developed it de novo from brewers’ yeast. Under the trademark Vegemite it was placed on the market early in 1924 and slowly became an established item, solely through Callister’s technological skill and perseverance. Walker was also interested in methods for preserving cheese, and involved Callister in this as well. Thus the chemist rapidly became well informed in microbiology and began to experiment with cheese-processing. With the help of patents held by the American James L. Kraft, he made a satisfactory product and Walker used this in 1925 to persuade Kraft to grant a licence for the manufacture of Kraft cheese in Australia. So the Kraft Walker Cheese Co. was established in 1926 with Callister as chief chemist and production superintendent.

 

He was the key to the increasing technical emphasis of the company. In 1925 he had sent samples of Vegemite to London to be tested for Vitamin B activity—a far-sighted move in the very early days of vitamin knowledge. The result confirmed Callister’s confidence in the product as a valuable nutrient. In 1926-31 he carried out detailed original studies on the scientific background of cheese-making to establish the parameters of good cheese quality. Convinced that background science was essential in any industry, in 1927 he appointed a bacteriologist to his staff, possibly the first such appointment in Australia.

 

Callister became a director of the company in 1935 shortly before Walker died suddenly. He continued to build up laboratory staff and supervise production and quality as the company emerged from the Depression and shouldered unexpected demands for the production of familiar and unfamiliar products during World War II. Under his personal direction high tonnages of service rations for the Australian and United States armies were produced; the unfamiliar technology of dehydration was undertaken for government; and scientific staff greatly improved Vegemite, developed new knowledge of cheese manufacture and processing and of the behaviour of thiamine (vitamin B1) in foods, and introduced into Australia methods of assay of the B complex vitamins. Immediately after the war he stimulated successful attempts to diversify the source of raw-material yeasts for Vegemite.

 

Prominent in the leadership of the (Royal) Australian Chemical Institute, for which he and (Sir David) Rivett secured the royal charter in 1931, Callister was also closely associated with the Society of Chemical Industry of Victoria. His two greatest attributes were his professional excellence and his high personal integrity, a product of his staunch Baptist upbringing. Callister left few published scientific papers, though his output of company reports was extensive. His contributions to Australian food science and technology include the establishment of two new products, Vegemite and processed cheese; his emphasis on quality control; his demonstration of the value of research in the food industry when little was being done anywhere; and the men he trained and inspired.

Callister suffered his first heart attack late in 1939. Others followed, the fatal one occurring on 5 October 1949. Survived by his wife and two children (a son was killed in World War II), he was buried in Box Hill cemetery. His estate was valued for probate at £45,917.

Served in munitions 1915-1919.

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