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Who was Lionel Otto

The Man Behind The Brand

Lionel Otto - The man behind the brand

By all accounts, Lionel was a self-made man. Leaving school at the age of 13 in 1930 to help his family and make a living for himself. Working from sunup to sundown as a laborer, for a meager 6 shillings per day (60c) he quickly decided that laborious work was not for him - that he was destined for more.

Given his good general knowledge of technical terms and tools, Lionel found himself employment and managed to both work and study becoming a proficient toolmaker and assisted to make the first machines to manufacture twist drills.

Forced to leave employment due to economic reasons, in 1938 Lionel found himself in Toowoomba. He worked in the foundry toolroom making the prototypes of the diesel engines for the Army. Once World War 2 started Lionel enlisted into the RAAF and was accepted to become an instrument maker. He studied in Melbourne, at the West Melbourne Technical College and quickly went on to become a Sargent in charge of the instrument section of Rathmines Flying Boat Base. This base was the main defense to ward off the Japanese invasion.     

During WW2, Lionel became friendly with the famous Scotty Allen, working together they mastered a bombing technique known as ‘skip bombing’. Where a torpedo is dropped from 40-50 feet above sea level and enters an enemy warship around the level of the armored plate. This method was successfully deployed in the Coral Sea resulting in victories for the allies.

He was also posted to the Liberator bomber wing in the Northern Territory. Equipped with the now famous Norden Bombsight, Lionel discovered that there was no equipment to accurately test or maintain the site properly. Lionel made the first equipment in the RAAF and dismantled the complete autopilot and bombsight from a crashed bomber and set it up in an in an instrument section that showed the aircrew the correct method to using the bombsight.

In 1945 at the conclusion of WW2 Lionel returned home and was discharged from the RAAF, “I will never forget reading the honor list, in the local paper and saw myself honored by the late King George for what I had done “Mentioned in Dispatch”  

With the experience that he had gained in the RAAF, Lionel found employment as an instrument maker for TAA, the first in Queensland. The hours and travel soon made it complicated for him to work for TAA and he sought employment with Qantas at Archerfield. When the operations for Qantas moved to Sydney, Lionel soon found employ with the Irrigation and Water Supply Commission. During his time with the Commission, Lionel created several apparatuses, that measured rainfall, river levels, and the fresh water entering the sea at a river mouth.

After 5 years working for the public service, Lionel found that his work was not satisfying his ambition to progress, and he left the Irrigation and Water Commission to pursue work with an optical firm.
As foreman of the optical instrument shop, Lionel became interested in optics. It was through this that he was able to develop and modify the grinding process of lenses for theatre projectors and cameras. Being the man of action, Lionel applied his theories and created an anamorphic lens that converted some of the first theatres into a widescreen projection.

By the 1960’s Lionel bought the company he was employed with, creating a business of his own which over the years grew into the 3 companies that are still in operation today, including Lionel Otto Small instrument Repair.