Thomas Athol (Tom) Pressley [1914-1982]

By July 16th, 2014


Thomas Athol Pressley was born on 20 February 1914 in Onehunga, New Zealand. He obtained his B.Sc. in New Zealand and joined a tannery as a works chemist in 1938. In 1943 he joined the British Leather Manufacturers Research Association in London and five years later was transferred to Sydney. The following year, 1949, he joined the CSIRO Protein Chemistry laboratory in Parkville. For the next 30 years he made many important contributions to wool and leather research, including:

  • developing a new process for recovering wool from sheepskins by bacterial digestion
  • identifying the role of wool crimp in retarding felting
  • improving methods for wool carbonising
  • developing a wool-based external mammary prostheses
  • showing that wool blanket fibres were not an important vehicle for bacteria in hospitals
  • developing medical sheepskins which could be laundered with woollen blankets
  • developing the neutral detergent Softly®
  • rewriting the Australian Safety Standards for children’s clothing following his work on fabric flammability.

In the late 1950s, Tom Pressley managed the fledgling Australian Wool Testing Authority, based on the Parkville site, pending the appointment of a full-time manager.

He was awarded a PhD, by the University of Melbourne, for his work on the distribution of pathogenic bacteria in airborne particles in hospital wards, which proved that woollen blankets were not responsible as previously alleged (see the Softly detergent story).

For his sustained contributions to scientific research he was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia in 1976.


  • Rivett DE, Ward CW, Belkin LM, Ramshaw JAM, Wilshire JFK, 1996, The Lennox Legacy – A History of the CSIRO Laboratory at 343 Royal Parade Parkville, CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, pp.370.

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