Laxmanrao Kashinath Kirloskar was an Indian business man and founder of Kirloskar group and the township of Kirloskar wadi, which was the very first industrial township of India. Laxmanrao and Mahatma Gandhi were coincidentally born in the same year of 1869. Sir Laxmanrao was born in Gurlahosur, a village in Belgaum district of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency state, then.
Laxmanrao, was a Maharashtrian Brahmin and his father Kashinathpant was a Vedant-Pandit. Therefore, the society also expected Laxmanrao to follow in the foot steps of his father. However, he broke away from the traditions and entered the field of engineering and technology. He was an entrepreneur who had a love for machines and was passionate about manufacturing newer tools to ease man’s life. He also had an ability to grab business opportunities at the right time.
The Kirloskar saga began in 1888 when Laxmanrao Kirloskar set up a small bicycle repair shop at Belgaum on Kirloskar road, which was later named after him. Strongly believing that agricultural implements must fit the milieu they are used in, he manufactured India’s first iron plough, which was also the first Kirloskar product, and chaff-cutters. In the early days, Laxmanrao met with opposition from farmers who believed that iron ploughs would poison the land and make it infertile. These superstitious farmers were extremely hard to convince and Laxmanrao took two years to sell his first iron ploughs. Originally intended as an essential aid to agriculture, the plough soon became an icon of reform and revolution.
In January 1910, the Municipality of Belgaum ordered Laxmanrao to vacate Belgaum to make room for a new suburb. He struggled to find a suitable place, until, the Raja of Aundh offered help, not just as a friend, but also as a Ruler concerned for his state’s industrialisation and the benefits to be derived from it. Therefore, he offered Laxmanrao a loan of ten thousand rupees, without interest, and 32 acres of arid wasteland near a renowned railway station, named Kundal Road. This became Kirloskarwadi and the factory for Kirloskar Brothers Limited, fulfilling one of Laxmanrao’s dreams – to build his own industry and community for his employees.
Driven by his faith in human ability, Laxmanrao banded together 25 workers and their families and succeeded in transforming the barren, cacti and cobra infested expanse into his dream village. His judgment of character and indifference to superficial social, economic and educational qualifications, gave him the uncanny ability to unlock potential in seemingly ordinary people. He even hired two ex-convicts who became the night guards of Kirloskarwadi.
Shantanurao Kirloskar, Laxmanrao’s eldest son moved to Pune to initiate a new aspect of the group’s activities – diesel engines. His experience of trying to secure the land for his factory in Pune was quite different from his father’s in Kirloskarwadi. He had to face the tangle of red tape and public resistance to acquisition of land for industrial purposes.
Finally, after arguing that “factories have a longer life than human beings”, Shantanurao Kirloskar won a place for Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd. (KOEL), twelve months after signing an agreement of collaboration with Associated British Oil Engines Export Ltd. of UK. This collaboration, incidentally, was the first of its kind between an Indian and a foreign company that signified a bridging of the technological gap between east and west. The KOEL factory was incorporated in 1946, and soon after that gave India her first vertical high-speed engine; fulfilling another dream of Laxmanrao’s – to make engines for farmers.
Laxmanrao Kirloskar was a man who believed that an understanding of one’s environment and reality was essential to the manufacture of path-breaking industrial implements. He was not only an industrialist but also a great social reformer. When blind orthodoxy was rampant in rural areas, he advocated the removal of untouchability. He also trusted in the goodness of man.
The Departments of Posts, Union Government of India issued a postal stamp for Laxmanrao Kirloskar on 20th June 1969 marking 100 years of his birth anniversary.