In 1935 the company’s founder, Hugo Molenaar, came to South Africa as a young technical engineer from the Netherlands. Shortly after his arrival, he secured a job with leading Western Cape nurserymen, Pickstone Farms. At that time, Pickstone was the main supplier of fruit trees too, among others, Rhodes Fruit Farms – one of the first Groups to can deciduous fruit in South Africa.

After serving as an aircraft engineer in the South African Air Force during the Second World War, Molenaar teamed up with fellow serviceman, Jock McKenzie, to start “Molenaar & McKenzie”. Three years later though, the pair went their separate ways and Hugo was joined in the business by Guus, his mechanical engineer brother. H.G. Molenaar was founded in January 1949.

At first, the company provided mechanical and engineering assistance to farmers and general industry in and around the South African town of Paarl. Early photographs show teams repairing huge boilers, as well as the construction of the Molenaar factory, which the company built itself.

A travelling big wheel – an early Molenaar McKenzie project – late 1940s

One of H.G. Molenaar’s major early contracts was to help equip the developing fish processing industry on the West Coast of South Africa. This work led to further projects in the 1960s, which took the company into what was then known as South West Africa (Namibia).

Through earlier involvement with Pickstone Farms, Hugo already had a network of contacts among farmers in the Western Cape. As the deciduous canning industry developed in the late 1940s through to the 1960s – with the formation of companies such as Ashton Canning in Ashton and SA Preserving (now a thriving concern known as Del Monte Fruits South Africa based in Tulbagh) – there came a growing need for fruit handling, peeling, coring and canning machinery. H.G. Molenaar fulfilled that need.