“Hello, Hello” The Rise and Decline of Singapore’s Public Payphones

Singapore’s mobile population penetration rate stands at almost 155% (from the 2014 statistics by Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore). That is more than a mobile line per person. Despite the large number of mobile subscriptions, public phones still play a part in Singapore’s society, providing telecommunication services for domestic maids, foreign workers and others who do not possess mobile phones.

Public phones in Singapore arguably reached their peak in the eighties and nineties, when they were almost present in every housing estates, hawker centres and shopping malls. This could be a coincidence with the rise of pagers in the same era, when pager’s users often had to make returning calls to the paging initiators.

public phones 1960s to 1990s

From STB To SingTel

The first telephones were introduced in Singapore as early as 1879. Two years later, Bennett Pell, the manager of the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company, used a simple manual 50-line switchboard to set the first Private Telephone Exchange at Collyer Quay. He later also established a trial connection between Raffles Square and Tanjong Pagar using a telegraph line, making Singapore the first British colony in the East to have a telephone system.

In 1955, the British colonial government formed the Singapore Telephone Board (STB), which would merge with Telecommunication Authority of Singapore in 1974 to form Telecoms. In 1982, Telecoms, after installing more than 500,000 private and public telephone lines, merged again with the Postal Service Department. By 1990, a significant milestone was reached when Singapore installed its one millionth telephone line.

evolution of singapore telecom logos

Telecoms, by the late nineties, had become the most profitable statutory board, holding assets that exceeded $4.2 billion in value. As part of a three-year corporatisation program, the Singapore government restructured Telecoms to become Singapore Telecom (SingTel), and public listed it on the stock exchange in 1993.

The Coin-Operated Phones

public phone 1960sPublic phones were uncommon in Singapore in the fifties and sixties, especially in areas from the city. For example, until the late fifties, the Sembawang Hills Estate only had one public phone serving 6,500 residents.

It was only after several complaints that the Singapore Telephone Board decided to install the second public phone near the Shell petrol station at Sembawang Hills Estate in 1960.

To improve the situation, the Singapore Telephone Board carried out the installation of more than 50 public phones in Singapore in 1962, half of them in rural places. In the early sixties, there were about 250 public phones in Singapore, in a ratio of 3.75 phones to every 100 persons. It was ranked higher than Hong Kong (3.2), Bangkok (1.8) and Saigon (0.9). By 1965, the number of public phones in Singapore had increased to almost 650.

In the late seventies, the Ministry of National Development embarked on a plan to double the density of public phones from seven to 14 per square kilometre. This was mainly due to the long waiting time in the application of private telephone lines. Under the Telecoms plan, all the new four- and five-room HDB flats came with telephone lines. However, the rate was only 15%, 50% and 75% for one-, two- and three-room flats respectively.

public phones 1970s to 1980s

This led to a surge in the application of new telephone lines; in 1977, more than 3,000 people applied for residential lines per month, and in some areas, the waiting time could be as long as 18 months. As a stop-gap measure, Telecoms carried out their “one phone for each block” plan; at least one public coin phone was to be installed at the ground floor of each HDB block.

The public phones in the seventies typically had round booths in bright orange colour that were secured onto the walls, completed with thick phone books filled with names, addresses and contact numbers. They would be later replaced by the Telecoms’ booths that were in standalone or wall-mounted versions designed in shades of red.

public phone booths 1970s

public phone booth at the junction of orchard and scotts roads 1979

In 1978, a strange incident happened at Florence Road of Upper Serangoon. A youth was reported to be struck by lightning on his left ear when he used a public phone during a thunderstorm. The following investigation, however, indicated that the phone was not damaged and in fine working condition. As a precautionary measure, Telecoms issued a statement to urge the public not to use public phones during thunderstorms.

The public phone services in the late eighties brought significant revenues for Telecoms. In 1987, Telecoms raked in $20.4 million from their public payphones; a year later, the amount rose to a record $24 million. The cash earned from the local calls made by public phones, however, was small change to the company, which reported a profit of $1.5 billion in 1987. A large portion, about $700 million, was from the international calls made from Singapore.

public phone son of pulau tekong1 1985

public phone son of pulau tekong2 1985

The public coin phones, however, were often subjected to issues such as maintainability, reliability, vandalism and theft. Coin collectors hired by Telecoms had to be regularly dispatched to the 25,000 public phones in Singapore. In many incidents, the phones were prised open and had their coins stolen. These factors led to Telecoms pondering the possibility of a cashless public phone system in Singapore. By the late eighties, the company decided to switch to the cardphone system by 1991.

The Rise of Cardphones

first telecom phonecard 1985The switch from coin-operated payphone system to card-operated phone system took place in the mid-eighties. The first cardphone was introduced by the Telecoms in 1985 as an one-year trial to gauge the public response and their general acceptance in using pre-paid phone cards, which were issued in simple designs that indicated their stored values in the denominations of $2, $5 and $10. The $20 and $50 phonecards were introduced at a later time.

In late 1985, some 47 cardphones were installed at major shopping complexes, Changi Airport and the Woodlands Checkpoint. Surveys were carried out to find out customers’ preferences, as well as to assess the operational and technical aspects of the new telecommunication equipments. At the start, three types of card technology were tested; magnetic cards, cards with hologram technology and cards with built-in programmed integrated circuit chips. The following year also saw the 47 cardphones modified to allow users to dial directly to as many as 155 countries in the world.

a public phone at chai cheeBy the late eighties, the success of cardphones led to many of them installed at post offices and the Telecoms outlets, and also places that demanded high phone usages, such as Raffles Place and Hill Street.

To prevent call hogging at these busy districts, coin phones and cardphones were often placed side by side, and the cardphones were programmed such that they could only make oversea calls. This was to discourage users from hogging the cardphones with local calls. In September 1992, the Telecommunication Authority of Singapore (TAS) opened up the market to private competitors, who brought in coin-operated phone models that had more user-friendly features, such as volume control.

In the same year, Singapore Telecom also purchased 6,000 sets of new cardphones. Costing $20 million, the new models were used to replace the older version of cardphones islandwide. The public listed company would spend another $19 million to upgrade the public phone services again in 1998. Between the nineties and early 2000s, two versions of cardphones were commonly found in Singapore. However, this did not signal the end of the public coin phones. Many of them had co-existed with the cardphones, and entering the new decade, the new models possessed both the coin- and card-operated functions.

public cardphones 1990s

The phone cards soon became popular collectible items. Singapore Telecom would design the front of the phonecards with pictures showcasing various Singapore landscapes, heritage, food and festivals. The phonecards later also served as advertising platforms for companies such as Fujifilm, Dulux and Konica, which would launch their own series. The stored values were indicated at the back of each phonecards. Small holes were punched onto the printed arrows to indicated the remaining values after usage.

singapore phone cards 1990s

The Good Ol’ Coinafon

In 1971, the Singapore Telephone Board also introduced the Coinafon, the iconic squarish orange-coloured payphone that could be typically found outside provision shops and kopitiams. Some were installed at private housing estates. For example, in the eighties, Coinafons, together with their wooden telephone booths, could be found along roads outside the terrace houses at Upper Paya Lebar.

black orange coinafons

The early Coinafons belonged to the rotary dial type. In 1984, Telecoms introduced the newer Coinafon model that came with push buttons and a digital display. It provided greater convenience to the users and also allowed them to check whether the numbers they dialed were correct. The rental charges for Coinafons for private owners ranged between $700 to almost $900 per annum. Telecoms would later stop selling these phones, but the durable Coinafons survive the test of time and can still be found at some of the older shops in Singapore today.

public phones singapore 2010s

Public phones once played an important part in everyday life in Singapore. To make an urgent call home while having a late night out. Or waiting anxiously beside the public phone after paging someone. In army camps, dozens of recruits queued up at nights to make calls to their families and loved ones. By the late nineties, public phones’ popularity began to decline as mobile phones made their way into the life of common Singaporeans. By the early 2000s, mobile population penetration rate had jumped to more than 80%.

Today, there are still as many as 11 licensed operators in Singapore to provide public phone services, although most of Starhub’s public payphones had been phased out in 2010.

Published: 19 August 2015

Posted in General, Historic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

SG50 – A Glance at Singapore in the Past 50 Years

Fifty years, fifty old and new photos of Singapore, and fifty familiar names, events and landmarks that helped to shape and define Singapore between 1965 and 2015.

To celebrate SG50, let us take a look at Singapore’s enormous progress and achievements as a new nation in the past five decades.


With tears in his eyes, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew announced the separation of Singapore from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. A new nation was born.

sg50 1965 independence of singapore


Singapore held its first ever National Day Parade (NDP) at the City Hall on the morning of 9 August 1966, where six People’s Defence Force contingents participated.

sg50 1966 national day parade


The National Service (Amendment) Act was passed and came into effect on 17 March 1967. Around 9,000 male youths were called up to form the country’s first batch of national servicemen.

sg50 1967 national service


Established on 1 June 1968, the Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) was tasked with the development of industrial estates and setting up of factories at Jurong, Kranji and Sungei Kadut.

sg50 1968 jurong industial estate


Developed by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and completed by Housing and Development Board (HDB), Queenstown, the first satellite town in Singapore, had almost 20,000 dwelling units by 1969.

sg50 1969 queenstown


In 1970, Golden Shoe, lying at the heart of Singapore’s Central Business District (CBD), was embarked in its first urban redevelopment project by the government.

sg50 1970 raffles place


The $3.5-million Jurong Bird Park was opened on 3 January 1971. Home to more than 8,000 birds of 600 species, it is Asia’s largest bird park and has the world’s tallest man-made waterfall.

sg50 1971 jurong bird park


In 1972, a $5-million street hawkers’ resettlement program was launched with hawker centres built at Serangoon Gardens, MacPherson, St Michael’s Estate and Telok Ayer, following the success of the first hawker centre at Yung Sheng Road, opened a year earlier.

sg50 1972 hawker centres


The 50,000-capacity National Stadium had a grand opening on 21 July 1973. For three decades, it had been the venue of many Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, Malaysian Cup football matches and National Day Parades.

sg50 1973 national stadium


On 13 November 1974, the Singapore Zoological Gardens, officially opened just 18 months earlier, received its one millionth visitor.

sg50 1974 singapore zoo


Toa Payoh Town Garden, one of Singapore’s oldest and most iconic parks located in a residential town, was completed and opened in 1975.

sg50 1975 toa payoh town garden


The Toa Payoh Town Garden was also home to the first version of the iconic Dragon Playground, which was a hit among children in 1976. It gave rise to the popular locally-designed sand playgrounds at the new towns in the eighties and nineties.

sg50 1976 dragon playground


The first Lion City Cup was held at the National Stadium and Jalan Besar Stadium between 8 and 18 December 1977. The Singapore team, featuring a teenage Fandi Ahmad, won the tournament by beating six participating Malaysian states.

sg50 1977 lion city cup


The Singapore River in 1978 was filled with goods-ferrying wooden bumboats called tongkangs and twakows. They would be cleared five years later in the River Clean-Up Campaign.

sg50 1978 singapore river


The first National Courtesy Campaign was launched on 1 June 1979, with the catchy slogan “Make Courtesy Our Way of Life”. The iconic mascot Singa would be introduced three years later.

sg50 1979 national courtesy campaign


In 1980, the Housing and Development Board (HDB) completed Ang Mo Kio, one of the earliest and largest new towns in Singapore, after seven years of development.

sg50 1980 ang mo kio


Named after the second President of Singapore, the majestic 1.8km-long Benjamin Sheares Bridge was opened on 29 September 1981 after three years of construction.

sg50 1981 benjamin sheares bridge


To further enhance the popularity of Sentosa as an upcoming resort destination, a monorail system was built and opened in February 1982 to ferry visitors around the island.

sg50 1982 sentosa monorail


Singapore hosted the 12th Southeast Asian Games (SEA Games), its second hosting after the 7th SEA Games in 1973, between 28 May and 6 June 1983. Singapore finished fourth in the tournament with 38 gold medals, 38 silvers and 58 bronzes.

sg50 1983 sea games


The iconic National Theatre, dubbed as the “People’s Theatre”, held its last show in January 1984 before the building was demolished two years later.

sg50 1984 national theatre


Singapore’s annual street parade Chingay was held at Orchard Road for the first time on 24 February 1985, attracting thousands of spectators.

sg50 1985 chingay orchard


Changi Airport welcomed its 10 millionth passenger in 1986 after almost five years of operation. Two decades later, the airport would receive 10 million visitors in just a year.

sg50 1986 changi airport


On 7 November 1987, Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system began operation between North-South (NS) Line’s Yio Chu Kang and Toa Payoh stations.

sg50 1987 mrt


The first Swing Singapore was held at Orchard Road in August 1988.  As many as 250,000 people turned up at the massive street party filled with lights and music.

sg50 1988 swing singapore


Dismantled earlier due to the MRT tunnelling works, the century-old Telok Ayer Market was reassembled in 1989 in a $6.8-million renovation project. It was renamed Lau Pa Sat after its completion.

sg50 1989 lau pa sat


A packed National Stadium rallied to support the Singapore team in a Malaysia Cup game against Kedah in August 1990. Singapore finished as runner-up that season but would go on to win the cup four years later, before its exit of the tournament.

sg50 1990 malaysia cup


With the completion of the underground tunnels, the last section of the Central Expressway (CTE) was officially opened on 21 September 1991. The completed CTE, 16km long, took almost a decade and $500 million in construction.

sg50 1991 central expressway tunnels


City Hall, an important landmark in Singapore during the colonial period, self-government and post-independence eras, was gazetted as a national monument on 14 February 1992.

sg50 1992 city hall


On 21 September 1993, Ngee Ann City was added to Orchard Road‘s impressive list of popular shopping malls that already boasted of Tangs, Plaza Singapura, The Centrepoint and Wisma Atria.

sg50 1993 orchard road


The Night Safari, the world’s first nocturnal zoo, was opened on 26 May 1994. Occupying an area of 35 hectares at Mandai Lake Road, it cost almost $63 million in its construction.

sg50 1994 night safari


The 37m-tall tower in the shape of Merlion, Singapore’s famous icon, at Sentosa was completed in late 1995. It was commissioned by the Sentosa Development Corporation and cost $13 million.

sg50 1995 merlion


Following its exit from the Malaysia Cup, Singapore launched its own domestic league called the Singapore Professional Football League, or S-League, in 1996. The first league winner was Geylang United Football Club.

sg50 1996 s-league


On 1 October 1997, the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) was corporatised to continue the operation of Singapore’s container terminals, which by then was handling more than 10 million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) of containers a year.

sg50 1997 tanjong pagar container terminal


Composed by Dick Lee and sung by Kit Chan, “Home“, the National Day song commissioned for the 1998 National Day Parade, was one of many Singaporeans’ favourite National Day songs.

sg50 1998 national day song home


The 1999 Singapore Art Festival was held at the Fort Canning Hill, one of Singapore’s earliest recorded landmarks and home to former Majaphahit kings and British governors.

sg50 1999 fort canning park


The Fullerton Building, one of the well-known landmarks of Singapore’s historic waterfront, was restored and refurbished into a boutique hotel named Fullerton Hotel, which opened in May 2000.

sg50 2000 fullerton building


On 19 January 2001, a new official version of “Majulah Singapura“, Singapore’s national anthem, was launched to make it easier for Singaporeans to sing as many could not reach the high notes in the original version.

sg50 2001 majulah singapura


The Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay, or fondly known as “Durian”, was opened on 12 October 2002. It has a 1,600-seat concert hall and a 2,000-capacity performing arts theatre.

sg50 2002 esplanade


Formerly the venue for exhibitions, fairs and conferences, as well as the 1987 Miss Universe Pageant, the World Trade Centre was renovated and reopened on 20 June 2003 as HarbourFront Centre.

sg50 2003 world trade centre


The red-bricked National Library, an iconic landmark at Stamford Road, closed its doors for the last time on 31 March 2004, and was subsequently demolished for the construction of Fort Canning Tunnel.

sg50 2004 national library


The world-famous Raffles Hotel, known as the “Grand Lady of the Far East” during the colonial times, was sold on 18 July 2005 to an US investment fund. Five years later, it would change hands again, this time to a Qatar sovereign wealth fund.

sg50 2005 raffles hotel


The former Ford Factory, the historical site where the British officially surrendered to the Japanese during the Second World War, was gazetted as a national monument on 15 February 2006.

sg50 2006 ford factory


In 2007, on its 30th anniversary, the Singapore Science Centre, located at Jurong East, was renamed as Science Centre Singapore.

sg50 2007 science centre


On 29 September 2008, the first Formula One Singapore Grand Prix race was held at the Marina Bay Street Circuit; it was the first ever night race in Formula One’s history.

sg50 2008 formula one


In December 2009, the Singapore Flyer created the tallest Christmas tree in Singapore. It was 83m tall and made up of 91,000 LED lights.

sg50 2009 singapore flyer


Singapore held the first Youth Olympic Games (YOG) between 14 and 26 June 2010, a multi-sport tournament that involved 3,600 young athletes from 205 countries.

sg50 2010 youth olympic games


Singapore’s signature city skyline welcomed a new addition when the Marina Bay Sands held their grand opening on 15 February 2011.

sg50 2011 marina bay sands


The National Parks Board’s (NParks) vision of creating a City in a Garden became a reality on 29 June 2012 when the Bay South of Gardens by the Bay was officially opened.

sg50 2012 gardens by the bay


The 5km-long Marina Coastal Expressway (MCE), Singapore’s first underwater expressway and 10th expressway, was officially opened on 29 December 2013.

sg50 2013 marina coastal expressway


River Safari, Asia’s first river-themed zoo, was opened on 28 February 2014. It has the world’s largest freshwater aquarium and houses 6,000 animals of 200 species.

sg50 2014 river safari


On 4 July 2015, the 156-year-old Singapore Botanic Gardens was successfully inscribed as the nation’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

sg50 2015 botanic gardens

We have come a long way. A great 50th birthday to Singapore!

Published: 28 July 2015

Updated: 03 August 2015

Posted in Cultural, General, Historic | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

“50 Made in Singapore Products” Exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore

50 made in singapore products exhibition01

The “50 Made in Singapore Products” Exhibition is currently held at the National Museum of Singapore till September 2015. In celebrating Singapore’s 50th birthday, the commemorative exhibition features Singapore’s manufacturing achievements and showcases many popular locally-made past and present products such as the Setron televisions, Bata shoes and Tiger beer.

The 50 products are categorised into six major groups: Electronics, Fashion, Food & Beverages, Medicine, Household and Transport.


1. Setron Televisions

Led by Steven Tan Sek Toh, a group of enterprising local businessmen formed Setron in 1964, and produced the first ever Singapore-made television set in May 1965 at its temporary factory in Leng Kee Road. In April 1966, Setron moved to its new factory at Tanglin Halt Close. At its new factory, Setron produced almost 1,000 television sets a month.

50 made in singapore products exhibition02

By 1971, Setron developed into the largest television manufacturer in Southeast Asia. The major shareholding of the company was acquired by Haw Par Brothers International in 1979, but Setron continued its manufacturing of television sets until the late eighties, when it shifted its production base to Johor Bahru.

2. Roxy Electric Industries Televisions

In 1966, a Hong Kong industrialist named Li Dak Sum set up a factory at Tanglin Halt Road, after obtaining the license from Hayakawa Electric Co Ltd to assemble Sharp television sets. Besides the assembly works, his Tanglin Halt factory would also manufacture the wooden cabinets for the television sets.

By 1968, high demands led to Li Dak Sum’s business and he built a new nine-storey building beside his factory. In the seventies, he also acquired the rights to assemble Telefunken, a German-brand television set, in Singapore. In the eighties, the government removed a tariff protection for locally-made television, and this led to a down turn in Li Dak Sum’s business. In 1984, he scaled down the manufacturing arm of Roxy Electric Industries, and eventually sold off his stake in the company.

3. Pan-Electric Refrigerators

Pan-Electric Industries Ltd was established in 1963. In 1965, its factory at Kampong Arang Road produced many affordable and high quality electrical appliances for the local market, such as refrigerators, air-conditioners and electric cookers. By 1970, Pan-Electric’s products were exported to more than 16 countries including Australia and Hong Kong.

50 made in singapore products exhibition13

In 1981, Pan-Electric sold its electrical appliances subsidiary to ACMA Electric Industries, which continued to manufacture refrigerators until 1990. The main business of Pan-Electric Industries was diversified to other sectors such as marine salvage, real estate and hotels.

In 1986, Pan-Electric Industries collapsed due to a huge debt of $480 million. The event, known as Pan-El Crisis, caused a shock in the Singapore Stock Exchange, which was forced to shut down for the first and only time in its history. Pan-Electric Industries eventually went into receivership and closed down.

4. ACMA Refrigerators

ACMA Electrical Industries Ltd was established in 1965 as a joint venture between the Economic Development Board (EDB), Chung Hsin Electric, Machinery Manufacturing Corporation of Taiwan and several Singapore businessmen. It set up a factory at Jurong to mainly produce refrigerators and electric desk fans for Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

50 made in singapore products exhibition14

In 1990, the company sold off its loss-making refrigerator and air-conditioning businesses to OYL Industries Bhd in Malaysia, which was later acquired by Daikin Industries Ltd in 2006. This made the Japanese air-conditioning giant the world’s second largest manufacturer of air-conditioning systems.

5. Trek Thumbdrives

Trek 2000 International Ltd was founded by Henn Tan in 1995 when he bought a small electronics trading company called Trek. After working for several years with his team of engineers to make a device capable of storing and transferring data using the Universal Serial Bus (USB), Henn Tan’s Trek 2000 successfully launched the Thumbdrive at CeBIT in 2000.

In 2002, the Singapore’s Intellectual Property Office approved Trek 2000’s patents in the Thumbdrive and its associated USB mass storage technology. Today, Trek 2000 has developed into a global company with offices in the United States, Japan, India and China. Its major partners and clients include SanDisk, Toshiba and Imation.

6. Rollei Cameras

Founded in Germany in 1920, Rollei set up its first Singapore production plant at Alexandra Road in 1971, before subsequently relocated to Chai Chee Road. While retaining its research and development (R&D) work in Germany, Rollei pumped in an estimated $149 million in the investment of its Singapore production base in the seventies.

50 made in singapore products exhibition15

Using imported components from Germany and Japan, the Rollei cameras were engraved with the words “Made in Singapore”. In 1981, however, the parent company of Rollei went into bankruptcy. The Singapore plant was closed down, resulting in the retrenchment of 4,000 workers. Rollei was sold to Samsung in 1995, and subsequently to Capitellum, a Danish investment company.

7. Philips Electronic Products

Established in 1951, Philips Singapore Pte Ltd started as a trading company importing mainly lighting products and also acting as the local distributor of radios and gramophones. Its business expanded in the sixties, and the company decided to manufacture its own products. Between 1968 and 1970, Philips set up assembly factories at Boon Keng Road and the Jurong Industrial Estate to produce television sets, radios and other small domestic appliances.

50 made in singapore products exhibition16

As the demand of its products continued to surge, Philips decided to consolidate its operations and built a new plant in its newly acquired 18,500-square metres site at Toa Payoh in 1972. Today, the company has expanded beyond manufacturing. It is now vested in the design of electrical and lighting systems for buildings and facilities, as well as the health technology industry.

8. Sound Blasters

Sim Wong Hoo and his schoolmate Ng Kai Wa founded Creative Technology in July 1981 with an initial capital of $8,000, which started as a computer repair shop at Pearl’s Centre. During this period, Sim Wong Hoo developed an add-on memory board for the Apple II computers, and also customised computers with incorporated enhanced audio capabilities. These eventually led to the invention of a standalone sound card named Sound Blaster, which was one of the earliest dedicated audio processing cards available to the public.

50 made in singapore products exhibition17

The original Sound Blaster was introduced in November 1989 at the Computer Dealers’ Exhibition in Las Vegas. The Sound Blaster became the PC audio standard when it was incorporated into the Microsoft Windows OS Multimedia in 1991. Today, Creative Technology has diversified its business to speakers, headphones, MP3 players and Chinese language software.

9. Smith Corona Typewriters

In 1973, the American company Smith Corona Marchant Corporation invested $11 million to build a manufacturing plant at Bedok, which produced electric portable typewriters using ribbon spools and film cartridges. By 1979, over 90% of the typewriters were exported to the United States, Canada and the Western European countries.

In 1989, Smith Corona opened a new factory at Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate which focused on the assembly of typewriters. Rising costs and waning demands for typewriters, however, led to the closure of Smith Corona’s two Singapore factories in 1995. Its production base was subsequently relocated to Mexico.

10. Robertson Amplifiers

Robertson Audio was founded by David Tan How Khim in 1979, as a subsidiary of Hwee Seng & Co which dealt with the import and distribution of equipment from Japan and the United States. In the early eighties, David Tan decided to design and build his amplifiers and named them after his father, the founder of Hwee Seng & Co.

In 1982, David Tan launched his FortyTen amplifier in the United States for US$895. Two years later, he released the high-end SixtyTen power amplifier to the US market for US$2,550. The power amplifier won an award at the Singapore Design Award in 1989 for its “dynamic balance between the high and low sounds” and its ability to reduce acoustic interferences.

50 made in singapore products exhibition18

Despite the great reviews, the high overseas distribution costs made production unsustainable and reduced profit margins. The last set of Robertson amplifiers was produced in 2008, after which David Tan took over Hwee Seng Electronics and concentrated in the distribution of global high-quality audio equipment.


11. Bata Shoes

Bata was founded by a Czech industrialist named Thomas Bata. When it established its first store in Singapore in 1931, it was already Europe’s largest shoe manufacturer. In 1964, a Bata factory was set up at Telok Blangah. It was opened by then Finance Minister Dr Goh Keng Swee, who admitted that he was a long-standing customer of the company’s value-for-money shoes.

50 made in singapore products exhibition19

Besides adult footwear, Bata was extremely successful in the promotion of their school shoes in the seventies and eighties. Its tagline of “First to Bata, then to school” was catchy, and its Bata Badminton Master shoes were very popular among the students of that era.

By 1983, due to cost considerations, Bata ceased the manufacturing of its fashion shoes and sandals, and switched to the production of safety shoes and army boots. Even though it has ceased its local shoe manufacturing, Bata still maintains a strong retail presence in Singapore.

12. Bibi&Baba Apparel

Bibi&Baba started as a small shop at Orchard Road specialising with children wear. It was established in 1947 by Nina Whuang, and was one of the first local shops to offer party apparel to children. After it had created the uniforms for the Singapore American School in the sixties, the company expanded into the production of uniforms, as well as apparel for youths and working adults.

50 made in singapore products exhibition20

In 1970, it started to produce jeans and sportswear. The local garment industry flourished in the seventies and eighties; Bibi&Baba became the contract manufacturer for major foreign brands such as Macy’s (US), Marks & Spencer’s (UK) and Gaps (US). From the nineties onwards, Bibi&Baba focused on the design and production of uniforms for corporate clients and institutions, and became the leading manufacturer of uniforms in Singapore.

13. Kwanpen Handbags

An immigrant from China, Kwan Pen Seng worked in 1938 as a repairman of leather handbags owned by the wives of British servicemen based in Singapore. He later decided to venture into the production of crocodile leather handbags and belts. Soon, he became famous for his skillful craftsmanship of crocodile leather handbags.

Kwan Pen Seng’s business grew and by the mid-seventies, he was producing crocodile leather bags for retailers and Western brands. The Raffles Handbag was the most iconic of Kwanpen’s collection of handbags. Today, the company’s biggest market is Hong Kong, and it has numerous outlets in Singapore, Macau, Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Doha, Bangkok and South Korea.

14. Perfumes of Singapore

Originally known as Perfumes of the Orient, Perfumes of Singapore was established by local socialite Christina Lee and her husband in 1969, after being inspired by a 500-year-old Ming dynasty scent container in a museum and a visit to leading perfume houses in Europe.

50 made in singapore products exhibition22

The company had two factories in Jurong and Malaysia’s Petaling Jaya, producing scents named Chinta, May Ling, Bali, Javanesque for women and Sultan and Tai Pan for men. Later, they produced Singapore Girl, a best-selling hit with the locals and tourists, winning the Singapore Manufacturers Association’s top prize for best design and packaging at the 1977 Singapore Fair.

Perfumes of Singapore was eventually closed down in the nineties.

15. Heng Long Crocodile Skins

Heng Long Leather Company was established by Koh Long Cheok in 1947. It started as Chye Huat Tannery, supplying tanned skins to shops that sold watchstraps, belts and souvenirs to the British forces in Singapore. In 1979, the business became a private limited company called Heng Long Leather Co Pte Ltd (HLL).

When fashion and luxury brands were in demand during the eighties, HLL switched its focus from trading of crocodilian and exotic skins with other tanneries to offering value-added tanning activities. By 1991, HLL was processing almost 4,000 crocodile skins a month.

50 made in singapore products exhibition21

In 1998, HLL became the world’s first reptile skin tannery to obtain ISO 9002 certification. It went public listed in 2008, and three years later, it was acquired by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), one of the world’s top fashion conglomerates.

16. Three Rifles Shirts

Three Rifles Shirt Manufacturer was founded by Chong Chong Choong and his wife Lim Lai Choon in 1965, who used popular Taiwanese singers to promote his wide variety of shirts in different styles. In 1980, Three Rifles acquired the rights to market Italian Caserini label in Asia.

Three Rifles built a $7.4-million factory at Paya Lebar Road in 1992. By then, the company had its shirts exported to Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Spain, India and Pakistan. Its turnover had grown to $21 million a year. In 1995, Three Rifles paid a record $11.9 million for a 1,351 square metre site at MacPherson for its new factory.

In the 2000s, Three Rifles went into a decline and was making huge losses. It was acquired by TR Networks in 2005. Today, it still actively markets the Caserini label, especially in Malaysia.

17. RISIS Orchids

The RISIS Orchid was the product of a biochemist who researched on orchids. Its origins could be traced back to 1975 when Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Finance Minister, asked the Singapore Institute of Standards and Industrial Research (SISIR) to develop unique Singapore souvenirs. A year later, the Chairman of SISIR Dr Lee successfully created the gold-plated RISIS Orchid, which soon became a big hit with both the locals and tourists.

50 made in singapore products exhibition24

In 1981, the SISIR collaborated with local craftsman Mow Chee Kong to design a series of casted orchids based on the Vanda Miss Joaquim, Singapore’s national flower. The first RISIS counter was then opened in C.K. Tangs at Orchard Road in 1985. Six years later, the first RISIS gift gallery made its debut at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. With the increasing demand, RISIS moved its factory at Henderson to Loyang to increase its production capacity.

In 2000, RISIS was bought over by B.P. de Silva Holdings.

18. Crocodile Apparel

The Crocodile International Pte Ltd had its origins traced back to 1938 when the family of its founder, Dato Dr Tan Hian Tsin, set up a garment business at Saigon. After the war, Dr Tan Hian Tsin migrated to Singapore and established Li Sheng Min Co Ltd at North Bridge Road. The company produced singlets and was named “Crocodile” due to its recognisability and rarity.

50 made in singapore products exhibition23

In 1951, Dr Tan Hian Tsin registered his “Crocodile” trademark, which by then had penetrated the markets in Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Thailand. The company expanded into Hong Kong in 1953, where Dr Tan Hian Tsin started United Shirts Factory to manufacture Crocodile shirts.

In the late sixties, Crocodile International got into a series of lawsuits with Lacoste over the usage of the crocodile logo in Asian markets. In 2010, it was the official apparel sponsor for the first Youth Olympic Games held in Singapore.

19. Swan Socks

In 1963, Swan Socks Manufacturing Co was established under the Pioneer Industries Scheme promoted by the Economic Development Board (EDB). It was a collaboration effort between three Japanese companies and the local Siakson Trading Co. With a paid up capital of $1 million, Swan Socks was Singapore’s first mass-market socks manufacturer and was expected to produce 3.5 million dozen pairs of socks every year.

In 1964, its factory at Jalan Tukang, Jurong, was opened. Two years later, Singapore became self-sufficient in nylon socks, with Swan Socks and Chenta Rayon Co Ltd producing 320,000 pairs of socks and stockings monthly. With the textile prices taken a big hit in 1974 due to the oil crisis, Swan Socks were able to avoid its downturn by manufacturing socks for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

In 1983, Swan Socks became a wholly Singaporean-owned company, and by 1988, it had expanded into the manufacture of better-designed fashion socks. However, it soon ceased its operation after being outcompeted by its competitors’ cheaper products.

Food & Beverages

20. Van Houten Chocolates

Van Houten Chocolate was founded by Coenraad Johannes Van Houten in 1828 when he invented a process to manufacture tastier and more soluble cocoa powder. In 1966, Van Houten Company collaborated with the local Sheng Huo Enterprise Ltd to establish a factory at Tanglin Halt. Within a year, the factory was producing 50 tons of industrial cocoa to Thailand.

50 made in singapore products exhibition29

Sheng Huo Enterprise was renamed Allied Chocolate Industries Ltd in 1970 and was subsequently listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange. It went on to become one of the world’s largest suppliers of cocoa and chocolates. In 2000, Van Houten was acquired by Barry Callebaut Group, a French-Belgian chocolate conglomerate.

21. Khong Guan Biscuits

Khong Guan Biscuit Company was established by Chew Choo Keng at Howard Road in 1947. Chew Choo Keng first arrived at Singapore and worked for Tan Kah Kee in his Khiam Aik Biscuit Factory. In 1940, he relocated to Malaysia to start his own business, named Khong Leng Biscuit Factory in Ipoh. Beside biscuit production, Chew Choo Keng’s business also manufactured soap, coconut oil, rubber products and charcoals.

After the Second World War, Chew Choo Keng moved back to Singapore to set up Khong Guan with the help of his brother Choon Han. By 1959, Khong Guan was producing 10,000 tins of biscuits everyday. Chew Choo Keng’s factories at Malaysia produced even more, at 40,000 biscuits daily. Khong Guan’s products were mostly exported to neighbouring countries, as well as countries as far as Middle East and Africa.

50 made in singapore products exhibition30

Khong Guan expanded in the early seventies, and was producing 75 tons of associated biscuits and confectioneries daily. By the early eighties, Khong Guan was able to distribute its biscuit products for the United States and Japan. In 1993, the Chew family sold their controlling share of Khong Guan Holdings in Malaysia to Malaysian businessman Lim Geok Chan, and thus ended the company’s ties with its original founders.

22. Lam Soon Cooking Oil

Ng Keng Soon established Lam Soon Singapore in 1929 to trade copra and canned food. In 1950, the family business was incorporated as Lam Soon Cannery Pte Ltd, with a new manufacturing plant built at Jalan Jurong Kechil two years later. In the fifties, Lam Soon was the most modern plant that manufactured cooking oil, margarine, soap and other cleaning products.

50 made in singapore products exhibition31

Popular household brand Knife cooking oil was first introduced in Singapore in 1948. With the introduction of fractionation in 1970, Lam Soon was able to manufacture cooking oil from palm oil. Recognising the palm oil’s potential, Lam Soon invested in many plantations in East and Peninsula Malaysia, and South Thailand.

In 1992, Lam Soon relocated its productions to Malaysia, and the office at Singapore focused on marketing and distribution. Knife brand cooking oil remains a household staple and in 2005, it was recognised as a “Heritage Brand” at the Singapore Prestige Brand Awards.

23. Woh Hup Dried Noodles and Oyster Sauce

Chou Yeng Lan left China for Singapore in the early 1920s and established the Woh Hup Noodle Shop at North Bridge Road. As his business thrived, Chou Yeng Lan received requests from his customers if they could take home dried noodles in packed forms. After learning the process in Hong Kong, Chou Yeng Lan returned and started manufacturing dried noodles using a charcoal kiln. The dried noodles soon became hugely popular, and Chou Yeng Lan set up a factory at Everton Road.

50 made in singapore products exhibition32

Another Chou Yeng Lan’s popular products were his sauces. Back then, most noodle sellers and cooks would use sauces imported from Hong Kong. Chou Yeng Lan brought in sauce-making and food preservation experts and started blending his own style of sauce, and it proved highly popular with the restaurants in Singapore.

In 1971, the family business was incorporated as Woh Hup Noodle House (Pte) Ltd, and its first sauce factory was established in Jalan Senang. Chou Yeng Lan decided to focus on sauce-making, and by the eighties, Woh Hup was the largest oyster sauce manufacturer in Singapore. In 1995, Woh Hup Food Industries Pte Ltd was acquired by good giant Cerebos.

24. Tiger Brand Soya Sauce

Chuen Cheong Food Industries’ founder was Chia Hou, who arrived at Singapore from China in the 1930s and established a shop named Chop Chuen Cheong at Smith Street. Later, he also set up a manufacturing plant at Geylang Road Lorong 17. The plant was relocated twice during the seventies, first to Lorong Ayam Beroga in 1971, and then to Defu Lane in 1980.

50 made in singapore products exhibition33

Cheun Cheong Food Industries was perhaps most famous for its various grades of light soya sauce and dark soya sauce. Using fermented soya beans and roasted mixed grains, Cheun Cheong was able to produce its soya sauces in the traditional Chinese methods. The company later established the Tiger brand, which consists of soya, tomato and chilli sauces, as well as vinegar.

25. Star Brand Jaggery Sugar

In 1947, Cheng Keng Kang founded his company named Cheong Yew Heng Candy Factory Pte Ltd, which started as a small firm with only five staff and was housed in a shophouse at Upper Serangoon Road, selling canned preserved fruits and Chinese candies such as dried plums and hawthorn.

During the fifties, Cheong Yew Heng Candy Factory switched to the manufacturing of traditional sugar products such as rock sugar, black sugar, red and black jaggery sugar. The company moved to Chin Bee Drive in Jurong in the eighties, and with the larger premises, it was able to increase its storage and production capacity.

One of its products, the Star Brand Red Jaggery Sugar, is unique to Singapore as it is found only locally and is commonly used in the local Indian dish Putu Mayam.

26. Yeo Hiap Seng Drinks

Yeo Hiap Seng (YHS) was founded by Yeo Keng Lian in 1900 as a purveyor of quality soya sauces. He set up his first factory in Singapore in 1938, and followed with a second one at Bukit Timah in 1951. In 1953, the company became the first in Southeast Asia to produce bottled soya bean drinks.

50 made in singapore products exhibition34

The chrysanthemum tea was Yeo Hiap Seng’s another popular drink, contributing to the company’s success as a household name. In the sixties, Yeo Hiap Seng was the first company in the world to use the Ultra High Temperature (UHT) process to package their beverages, making their packet drinks light and compact.

27. Boncafé Coffee

Inspired by an expatriate wife who commented that it was difficult to find a decent cup of coffee in Singapore, Werner Ernst Huber established Boncafé Pte Ltd in 1962. Started as a subsidiary of Anglo-Swiss Trading Co Ltd, Boncafé Pte Ltd specialised in roasting 100% pure gourmet coffee beans using a battery-operated coffee roaster.

50 made in singapore products exhibition35

Boncafé’s first factory was set up in Jurong in 1962. Its first products included Boncafé Swiss Blend and Extra Blend Ground Coffee Retail Pack, which were roasted using the best beans from around the world. From 1972 to 2003, Boncafé Pte Ltd opened offices in countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia, Cambodia, China and Dubai. It was rebranded as Boncafé International Pte Ltd in 1989.

28. Tiger Beer

The Malayan Breweries, now known as Asia Pacific Breweries (APB), first launched and marketed Tiger Beer as its flagship brand in 1932. The name was inspired by the vigour and vitality of the tiger, and the coconut palm tree in the logo signified its tropical origins.

50 made in singapore products exhibition36

Using a modified fermentation process, Tiger Beer was successfully brewed in Singapore, even though the brewing of lager beer typically required cool temperatures. The fermentation process was known as “tropical lagering”, in which vertical tanks with conical bottoms were used to create a brew rich in flavour. The signature taste of Tiger Beer was its balance of medium bitter beer and sweet malt.

29. Amoy Canning Canned Products

Amoy Canning was originally founded in Amoy (Xiamen) of China in 1908 by Ng Teng Guan. In 1949, a Singapore office was established at Cross Street, and three years later, a $1-million food and beverage factory was set up at Bukit Timah Road.

50 made in singapore products exhibition37

When the Amoy Canning factory first opened, it bottled non-carbonated Green Spot orangeade. It was only in 1954 that the company ventured into the manufacture of local food products such as curry, redang and sambal products. Its best known Singapore food products were perhaps the Curry Chicken canned food.

Amoy Canning also developed and produced combat rations for the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) between the late sixties and eighties.

30. National Aerated Water Company Bottled Drinks

The National Aerated Water Company was established in 1929 by Yap Shing Nin, Cheng Sze Boo and Tan Kah Woo. Its first factory was located at Hamilton Road and during the Japanese Occupation, it was kept in operation even though the sugar supplies were low.

After the Second World War, National Aerated Water Company acquired the rights to manufacture and distribute Sinalco, a soft drink originally from Germany. It was a huge hit, especially in Singapore and Malaysia. By 1954, the company was able to build a new factory at Serangoon Road, which cost $500,000 in construction and had a production capacity of almost 48,000 bottles of soft drinks daily.

Between the sixties and eighties, the company also manufactured several other popular brands of soft drinks such as Kickapoo, Singacol and Fanta. However, the company gradually went into decline and was shut down in the nineties, partly due to the stiff competitions from other soft drink manufacturers.


31. Double Prawn Brand Herbal Oils

In the fifties, Chinese physician Yeoh Liew Kung developed a home-made herbal oil to treat common aliments such as minor wounds, bites and scabies. His herbal oil proved to be effective and popular, which led to Yeoh Liew Kung’s establishment of a company named Tai Tong Ah Company.

50 made in singapore products exhibition39

During its early days, Tai Tong Ah Company peddled its traditional Chinese medicinal products through itinerant salespersons and a van which would make stops at different villages. Such methods of sales and distribution were used by Yeoh Liew Kung until the seventies.

Tai Tong Ah Company opened its first factory at Genting Lane in 1979, and relocated to Pasir Panjang Industrial Estate in 1993. During this period, Tai Tong Ah Company focused on two main products; Herbal Oil and Rumagon Oil, used for relieving muscle aches and pains, which it continues to manufacture and distribute today.

32. Chop Wah On Medicated Oils

Tong Chee Leong, a merchant from Guangdong who arrived at Singapore in the early 20th century, founded Chop Wah On at Pagoda Street in 1916. The shop sold medicated oils such as Red Flower Oil, Kayu Puteh Oil and Citronella Oil, which were popular with the local Chinese community who would often give them as presents to their relatives from Hong Kong and China.

50 made in singapore products exhibition40

After Tong Chee Leong passed the business to his son Tong Seng Mun, Chop Wah On developed more new medicated oils, notably the Crocodile Oil for the treatment of skin-related aliments. In 1987, the Tong family leased a factory at Alexandra DistriPark to increase its production capabilities. It later moved to its own premises at Eunos TechPark in 2007.

33. Tiger Balm

Tiger Balm was developed and marketed as an ointment for aches and pains by the famous Aw brothers, Boon Haw and Boon Par, who were the sons of a Chinese herbalist called Aw Chu Kin. In 1862, Aw Chu Kin moved to Myanmar to establish a medicinal shop named Eng Aun Tong.

50 made in singapore products exhibition41

After the death of their father in 1908, the Aw brothers inherited Eng Aun Tong and developed the paste formula to perfection. Aw Boon Haw carried out extensive marketing of his products with success. By 1920, he was the richest man in Myanmar.

In 1923, Aw Boon Haw set up a Tiger Balm shop in Singapore, and three years later, built a factory at Jurong. The family business was agglomerated in 1969 in a holding company known as Haw Par Brothers International Limited, and in 1971, they awarded the franchise of Tiger Balm to Jack Chia Group for 20 years.

34. Three Legs Cooling Water

Using traditional Chinese herbs, the Wen Ken Group, founded in 1937 by Foo Yin, Foo Yew Ming, Chan Seng Koon and Chong Tang Seong, developed Three Legs Cooling Water, once used to treat common aliment such as headaches and ulcers.

Wen Ken Group set up its first office and factory at Choon Guan Street during the pre-war years. When the demand of their Three Legs products rose between the fifties and seventies, the group expanded overseas and established six factories in Malaysia. In the eighties, Wen Ken Group repackaged their Three Legs Cooling Water, replacing its glass bottles with plastic ones.

50 made in singapore products exhibition42

The rhinoceros artwork featured on the Three Legs Cooling Water caused some misunderstanding among the consumers in the nineties, when the public thought certain rhinoceros parts were used in the production of the cooling water. As a result, the Ministry of Health requested Wen Ken Group to remove the rhinoceros artwork from its products.

35. Axe Brand Universal Oils

In 1927, Leung Yun Chee arrived at Singapore from Shunde, China, and became an agent for a German pharmaceutical company. A German whom he met gave him the formula for medicated oil. Leung Yun Chee, in 1928, established Leung Kai Fook to manufacture the medicated oil commercially. Leung Yun Chee named his medicated oil Axe Brand, and would embark on a bold advertising campaign. Axe Brand Universal Oil soon became a household name in Singapore.

50 made in singapore products exhibition43

In the sixties, the Axe Brand had a major breakthrough. After Leung Heng Keng, son of Leung Yun Chee, realised that many Muslims suffered from seasickness after travelling on ships for their haj pilgrimages, he decided to give out Axe Brand Universal Oil as samples for the pilgrimages. It was a big success, as pilgrims from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and India began buying boxes of medicated oil to bring back to their countries.

In 1976, the company started to distribute Axe Brand Universal Oil in Hong Kong, and entered the vast market of China when it opened up in the eighties.


36. Micro Ball-point Pens

In 1978, Singapore became the first Southeast Asian country to manufacture ball-point pens. It was started by a Hong Kong company called Foo Wah Industries (S) Pte Ltd, which set up a $3-million factory at Jalan Pemimpin that was equipped with a European machine for making tips and refills.

Unfortunately, the company ran into trouble almost as soon as it started production, as the supply of ball-point pens far exceeded the demand. By 1979, Foo Wah Industries was on the verge of bankruptcy, and had to sell four floors of its six-storey building. In 1981, Foo Wah Industries’ business was able to rebound and it soon began to export 10 million ball-point pens to Britain, Spain, American and Hong Kong.

Foo Wah Industries later diversified its business to plastic container manufacturing. In 1982, it won a contract to manufacture plastic cups and toothpaste sets for the in-flight service of the Singapore Airlines.

37. Diethelm Furniture

In 1921, Diethelm & Company was founded by Wilhelm Heinrich Diethelm who had arrived at Singapore in 1871. The company mainly dealt with imported goods until 1928, when it acquired a Swiss firm and switched to manufacturing.

50 made in singapore products exhibition09

During the Second World War, Diethelm & Company suffered enormous losses in its manufacturing business. It decided to venture into furniture making in 1943. After the war, Diethelm & Company set up a furniture showroom at Market Street, and started manufacturing fittings for its furniture. It opened another showroom at Orchard Road in 1972.

Today, the company is known as D Furniture, and is specialised in office system furniture.

38. Eveready Batteries

The first Eveready dry battery was produced in Cleveland, United States, in 1890. In 1946, an American firm called National Carbon Company established a factory at Hillview Road to manufacture Eveready dry cell batteries. The factory, with its 10m-tall tower with a silver Eveready battery model at its apex, became the vicinity’s landmark. In 1957, the company’s Singapore branch was renamed Union Carbide Singapore Ltd.

50 made in singapore products exhibition10

In the eighties, cheaper Japanese batteries provided stiff competition to the Singapore manufactured batteries. As a result, the Union Carbide battery factory at Hillview was shut down in 1985. A year later, the company sold its battery division to Ralston Purina Company, which later became Energizer Singapore in April 2000.

39. Kiwi Shoe Polish

In 1906, an Australian named William Ramsay developed an effective boot polish that could conserve footwear buckskin, create a shine and reinstate lost colour to boots. He named his trademarked product Kiwi as a tribute to his wife who was a New Zealander.

In 1952, Kiwi International established its seventh overseas factory at Bukit Timah, which was later known as the Hillview Industrial Estate. The factory began production in 1954, including a wide range of Kiwi products from water-proof shoe polish to white polish and waxes.

By 1979, almost 80% of the Kiwi products were exported to Japan, Hong Kong, Burma and Taiwan. The brand was acquired by Sara Lee Corporation, an US conglomerate, in 1984. Kiwi’s Singapore factory closed down in 1992 and was relocated to Tebaru in Johor Bahru.

40. Blue Box Toys

In 1952, Hong Kong entrepreneur Peter Chan Pui founded Blue Box Toys. Its company soon became the leading toy manufacturer in Hong Kong, thanks to its best selling “drinks and wets” dolls. In May 1968, Blue Box Toys opened its first factory, also Singapore’s first toy factory, at the Kallang Industrial Estate.

50 made in singapore products exhibition11

In 1969, Blue Box Toys received an order to produce 40,000 toys to Holland and the Scandinavian countries for Christmas. One of its signature products produced in the sixties was the Knights in Armour figures set. Blue Box Toys’ Singapore factory was eventually closed down in 2003, but today, it still continues to produce toys in China, and is distributing them through Toys R Us, Target and Wal-Mart.

41. Nippon Paint

Goh Cheng Liang, owning a humble paint shop in 1955, was acting as the main distributor for Nippon Paint in Singapore. A decade later, Nippon Paint set up its first Singapore factory at the Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate, and quickly became one of the leading paint manufacturer in the country. The first product produced by the factory was Matex emulsion paint.

50 made in singapore products exhibition12

In 1974, the company introduced the Super Vinilex 5000, an affordable and quality interior paint that soon made Nippon Paint a household name. In 1976, the company opened its new facility at First Lok Yang Road, which continues to operate today.

Nippon Paint also launched another of their products in 1997, called the Express Kote Polymeric Plaster Protector which offered a fast-drying base coat for concrete building.

42. Singapore Glass Manufacturers Glass Containers

The Singapore Glass Manufacturers (SGM) Co Ltd, popularly known as the Singapore Glass Factory, was a pioneer in the manufacture of glass containers in Singapore and its factory at Henderson Road was an iconic landmark between the forties and seventies. It was established in 1948 as a subsidiary of Australian Consolidated Industries (ACI). During the sixties, most of its glass containers were produced in Singapore and Malaysia and were exported to Hong Kong, Fiji, Iran and South Africa.

In 1981, the company was relocated to Jurong Industrial Estate, but the intense competition and declining demand of glass containers in the eighties led to heavy losses suffered by SGM. The Singapore factory eventually closed down in 1985, and its operations were shifted to Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

43. KING’s Safety Shoes

King’s Shoe Manufacturing was founded by Chan Kee Tong in 1965, which started as a small shop at Dakota Crescent with 20 staff. In the early seventies, the company focused on the manufacturing and distribution of industrial safety footwear under the KING’s brand, which proved to be popular in many industries such as oil and gas, ship repair, aviation engineering, mining and automotive industries.

50 made in singapore products exhibition26

King’s soon expanded its business to overseas and set up manufacturing plants in Malaysia, Indonesia, Europe and Australia through both direct and joint ventures. It also expanded its range of products to include non-footwear related personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety goggles and helmets. In the 2000s, the company was renamed King’s Safetywear (KSW) Limited to reflect its progress from the manufacture and marketing of safety shoes to include other PPE items.

44. UIC Detergent

The UIC detergent, a household brand in Singapore, was one of the many cleaning products produced by the United Industrial Corporation (UIC) Pte Ltd, established in Singapore since 1964. Besides the laundry detergents, the company also specialised in dishwashing detergents.

50 made in singapore products exhibition25

In 1974, UIC’s detergent manufacturing division was transferred to its subsidiary called UIC Chemicals Pte Ltd. The company was later bought over by the SALIM Group and was renamed Universal Integrated Corporation Consumer Products (UICCP) which continued to produce household detergents and fabric care products in Singapore and Malaysia.

45. Royal Selangor Pewter Products

In the 1880s, three brothers – Yong Chin Seong, Yong Wai Seong and Yong Koon Seong – settled at a tin mining town in Kuala Lumpur. As experienced tinsmiths, they produced and sold a variety of household items made of tin. The Yong brothers later went into the manufacturing and sale of pewter products.

In 1968, Yong Poh Shin, the grandson of Yong Koon Seng, opened the first overseas Selangor Pewter factory in Singapore next to the Paya Lebar Airport, first producing simple tin cups to later other household items such as vases and tourist souvenirs. The company changed its name to Royal Selangor Pewter in 1979 when the former Sultan of Selangor Royal Highness Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah appointed Selangor Pewter as his royal pewterers.

50 made in singapore products exhibition27

Royal Selangor Pewter’s Singapore factory was relocated to the Jurong Industrial Estate in 1993, but it later ceased its operation due to rising production costs. It continued to maintain its retail presence by importing its products from its Malaysian factory.

46. Lea Hin Butterfly Brand Kerosene Lanterns and Stoves

Lea Hin started in 1935 as a sole proprietorship selling mainly kerosene stoves, pressure lanterns, pressure oil tanks and burners. The company, located in a Mosque Street shophouse, was established by Woo Kai Lea. In early Singapore, Lea Hin’s kerosene-related products, under the Butterfly trademark, were popular as electricity supplies were not always available or dependable. Thus, many street hawkers, fishermen and industrial workers used to buy kerosene lanterns and stoves from Lea Hin.

Lea Hin set up its factory at the junction of Alexandra Road and Leng Kee Road in the fifties. It later ventured into the production of steel casement windows, marketed under the Star brand, and supplied them to HDB projects that required window grilles, roller shutters and aluminium sliding windows.

50 made in singapore products exhibition28

In 1977, Woo Siew Hin, the son of Woo Kai Lea, took over the business and diversified the company’s business to include epoxy powder for industrial coating application and a range of electrical products marketed under the Farfalla brand. Its Butterfly brand kerosene lanterns and stoves are now produced in Indonesia and exported to the African, South Pacific and North American markets.


47. Mercedes-Benz

Cycle & Carriage was first founded by the Chua brothers at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1899. It was formerly called Federal Store which mainly dealt with trading of nutmegs and other sundries. The brothers later expanded their business to include the sale of bicycles and motorcycles, and established its first Singapore branch at Orchard Road in 1916. By 1926, Singapore became Cycle & Carriage’s headquarters.

In 1951, Cycle & Carriage acquired the franchise for the Mercedes-Benz marque, but the sales were slow as cars were very expensive then. By the sixties, the business was picking up and Cycle & Carriage set up a $2.5-million assembly factory at Hillview Avenue. The new factory, which also assembled Daihatsu and Isuzu trucks, as well as Volkswagen cars, had a production capacity of 3,000 vehicles yearly. In the same year, Cycle & Carriage also opened a $5-million showroom at Liat Towers.

The assembly plant eventually closed in 1980 due to high production costs, and Cycle & Carriage diversified its business to food and property markets. It became a subsidiary of Jardine Matheson Group in 2002.

48. Bridgestone Tyres

Bridgestone Tyres, whose main customers included General Motors and Ford, was founded in 1931 by Japanese Shojiro Ishibashi. The tyre-making company expanded overseas in the sixties and established its first post-war overseas factory at Jurong in 1965 in a joint venture with Pan-Malaysia Rubber Industries. 31 Bridgestone staff were dispatched from Japan to assist in the operations while 25 local personnel were sent to the Bridgestone factory in Japan for trainings.

50 made in singapore products exhibition38

Bridgestone Singapore recorded healthy sales in the sixties and seventies, but the abolition of import duty on tyres in 1980 eventually led to the stop of production and cease of operation of the Bridgestone factory in Singapore. The company continued to thrive globally, and became the world’s largest manufacturer of tyres after it acquired Firestone Tyre & Rubber Company in 1988.

49. Elephant Brand Bicycles

In December 1967, Southeast Asia’s first bicycle factory was opened in Jurong by the Malaysia Associated Industries Ltd, partnered by both Malaysian and Singaporean industrialists. At the start, the factory manufactured 40% of the parts required for the production of bicycles, while importing the other parts from Japan and Europe. The factory’s production was designed by A. Helmboldt, a German technical expert who personally supervise the training of the factory workers.

The factory manufactured and sold bicycles to both the local and oversea markets, under several brands such as Elephant, Flying Horse and Golden Eagle. But the production lasted only five years, and came to a halt in 1971 as it could not compete against the lower-cost bicycles made in China, Japan, Taiwan and India. The company was the renamed Swiss Associated Industries and switched to the manufacture of watch cases.

50. Ford Motorcars

The Ford Motor Company of Malaya was established in Singapore in 1926, serving as the company’s headquarters in Southeast Asia, which supplied and distributed Ford automobiles in British Malaya, Dutch East Indies, Thailand and Borneo. The company set up its office at Dunlop House on Robinson Road, and its assembly plant was located at Tanjong Pagar’s Enggor Street, which later shifted to a railway warehouse along Prince Edward Road.

In 1941, the company moved to its new building along Upper Bukit Timah Road. That was the famous Ford Factory, which became the site where Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Percival, the British General Officer Commanding Malaya, signed the document surrendering Singapore to Japan on 15 February 1942. During the Japanese Occupation, the factory was taken over and used to produce Japanese military vehicles.

After the war, the British took over the factory and used it for repair and precision works. It was only returned to Ford Motor Company in 1947. The plant continued its production and assembly works until 1980, when it was closed due to rising production costs.

Editor’s Note: All contents of the products are taken and summarised from the “50 Made in Singapore Products” Exhibition.

Published: 25 July 2015

Posted in Cultural, Historic, sglocalflavours | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Former St Matthew’s Church and its Kindergarten at Neil Road

former st matthews church at neil road1

Passersby at the Tanjong Pagar vicinity would have noticed an abandoned church at the junction of Neil Road and Everton Road. It was formerly used as the premises of St Matthew’s Church, and had a long history back to the 19th century. The original church building was first established as a place of worship for the British sailors who arrived at Singapore in the 1890s. Prison wardens from the nearby Outram Prison also used the church for their prayers. The premises, however, fell into disrepair by the 1920s, and was left vacant for years.

former st matthews church at neil road2

In September 1929, the Anglican Diocese of Singapore took over the vacated building as a place of worship for its Cantonese Congregation, which were inaugurated in September 1902 and had to share with the Hokkien, Foochow, Malay and Tamil-speaking congregations at St Peter’s Church at Stamford Road. The new church was named St Matthew’s Church, and was fondly known as Sing Mah Tai in Cantonese. During the Japanese Occupation, the church continued to operate, although much of its activities were halted.

While the Anglican Diocese of Singapore was established in 1909, the Anglican establishment in Singapore started much earlier. It officially began in 1826 with the appointment of Reverend Robert Burns as the Resident Chaplain. A decade later, the first Anglican Church was built. The building was, however, closed in 1852 after it was struck twice by lightnings. After its demolition, another church was constructed at the original site. The new church, named St Andrew’s Cathedral, was funded by Scottish merchants, designed by Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald MacPherson (1817-1869) and built by Indian convict labourers.

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road1

After the war, St Matthew’s Church carried out plans to repair its aging building and at the same time, expand its premises, including the construction of a vicarage. A kindergarten was also built in the early fifties for the young children living in the nearby Chinatown. The new kindergarten was designed in simple Art Deco-style; it had a sloping roof laid with terracotta Marseilles tiles and timber windows with louvers. Named St Matthew’s Church Kindergarten, it was well-equipped with a Memorial Hall, classrooms and offices. By the sixties and seventies, it would become one of the largest and most famous kindergartens in Singapore, having nourished many generations of young children.

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road2

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road3

In the late fifties, St Matthew’s also embarked on a re-building plan of its main church building. Designed with a distinctive Modern style, the new double-storey building consisted of a prayer hall on top of a large function room. It also possessed an unique vertically protruding roof that looked like a ship’s prow, and a tall concrete bell tower that was erected beside the main chapel. In 1963, the new church building was completed and dedicated by Rt. Rev C.K. Sausbury, the former Bishop of Singapore.

In 1996, the land where the church was standing on was gazetted for compulsory acquisition by the government. It was planned to be used for the construction of a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) station of the Northeast (NE) Line. Affected by the redevelopment plans, St Matthew’s Church Kindergarten was shut down, and St Matthew’s Church began looking for alternate sites to be relocated. The church secured a plot of land at Tiong Bahru’s Eng Hoon Street in 2000, and moved to its new premises five years later.

st matthews church neil road 1963

The old premises of St Matthew’s Church at Neil Road was then returned to the authority. The new MRT station, however, was not built at its site; the Outram MRT Station of the NE Line, located 150m away, was opened in 2003. The church was left abandoned and faced the possibility of demolition. Fortunately, it was gazetted as a conserved building on 6 June 2014, after almost a decade of abandonment.

With the conservation status, it will continue to be an important landmark at Neil Road, together with the neighbouring former building of Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School (operated at Neil Road between 1912 and 1983), which is conserved in October 2000 and has been integrated with the Police Cantonment Complex.

former st matthews church kindergarten at neil road4

Published: 11 July 2015

Posted in Historic | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Singapore Trivia: When a Tree’s Not a Tree

It looks like a tree, yet it looks a little odd in its appearance and shape.

If you have seen this kind of artificial trees at Old Choa Chu Kang Road or other parts of Singapore, usually at the western side, and you wonder about the oddness of it, you are not wrong in your observation. It is known as a cell phone tree, which are commonly used in the United States.

cell phone tree at old choa chu kang road1

Designed to be inconspicuous and “blend” into its surroundings, the cell phone trees are usually shaped like pine or palm trees, probably due to their simpler shapes as compared to other types of trees. Local tropical trees with large crowns such as Rain Tree, Angsana or the Yellow Flame are not suitable for the designs of cell phone trees due to the wind loading effect and the high manufacturing cost of the plastic and fiberglass branches and leaves.

In Singapore, cell phone trees are not common, and are usually used by the military and the telecommunication companies to disguise their antenna towers.

cell phone tree at old choa chu kang road2

Published: 28 June 2015

Posted in General, sglocalflavours | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Forgotten Former Schools at Pasir Panjang

Mention Pasir Panjang, and the impression that comes to mind is that it is now a busy strip of land occupied by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) Container Terminals, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre and the rows of warehouses, offices and industrial buildings.

However, before development, Pasir Panjang was largely a place made up of kampongs and rural school. In fact, there were four schools existed at this southern part of Singapore that provided necessary primary and secondary educations to the students living at Kampong Batu Berlayar, Kampong Sultan, Buona Vista Village, Kampong Jagoh and Heap Guan Village. The schools were mostly built in the fifties, and lasted until the eighties and nineties when the declining student enrollment led to their eventual closure.

Batu Berlayar School (1950s-1982)/Former NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre

former ntuc comfort pasir panjang centre1

Along Pasir Panjang Road currently stands an old vacant building that previously housed the former Batu Berlayar School and, later, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre. Its name literally means “sailing rock” in Malay, a reference to the Dragon Teeth’s Gate (“Long Ya Men龙牙门) that stood at Keppel passageway and were used as navigation aids for boats that visited Singapore before the 19th century. In 1848, the rocks were demolished with explosives by the British to widen the water passageway allowing the larger vessels to pass through.

batu berlayar school crestBatu Berlayar School was opened until 1982, when it was shut down due to low student enrollment. It was left empty for a few years before taken over by NTUC Comfort as a training centre for its taxi drivers. It was officially opened as its new Pasir Panjang branch in July 1987 by the former Second Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Ong Teng Cheong.

Other events were regularly organised at the building compound for the benefits of its NTUC Comfort members. In 1987, a week-long Taxi Audio Equipment Fair was held at the centre, with a wide range of cassette-radios for the taxi drivers to choose and install in their vehicles. Auctions and sales of scrapped taxis, in the models of Toyota and Datsun, were also opened to interested parties.

former ntuc comfort pasir panjang centre2

former ntuc comfort pasir panjang centre3

After the NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre was shut down, the building was leased in the late nineties and early 2000s to Montessori Centre, a private school that offered Montessori education to young children. It was eventually returned to the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) and has been left vacant till today.

former ntuc comfort pasir panjang centre4

former ntuc comfort pasir panjang centre5

The Centre of Animal Welfare and Control, owned by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore’s (AVA), currently stands a lane away from the former NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre. It was previously the Pasir Panjang Polyclinic, before the premises was leased to AVA in 1995. Its location was also the former site of the famous salt-water Haw Par Swimming Pool between the 1930s and the late fifties.

With its 20-year lease ending at end-2015, the animal welfare centre is expected to be relocated to Sungei Tengah.

Pasir Panjang Primary School (1930s-1986)

Situated between Jalan Mat Jambol and Yew Siang Road, off Pasir Panjang Road 5th Milestone, the former Pasir Panjang Primary School was one of the earliest schools established at Pasir Panjang. It started as Pasir Panjang English School, a co-education experiment proposed by the British government to have a mixture of boys and girls studying in the same elementary school. The co-education, also implemented among the Chinese, Malay and Indian students at Serangoon English School and Bukit Panjang English School in 1936, was considerably successful. As reported by the newspapers, the co-education:

pasir panjang primary school crestdoes not make boys effeminate, but gives them a sense of duty and polish, and makes the girls happier by removing an element of pettiness often evident in a class composed entirely of girls.

During the imminent Japanese invasion in 1941, the records of Outram School, under the orders of the Education Department, were transferred to Pasir Panjang English School for safe keeping. Unfortunately, the school was hit by the bombings during the invasion, resulting in the total destruction of all the records of Outram School between 1906 and 1941.

pasir panjang primary school 1970s

In the fifties and sixties, Pasir Panjang Primary School produced many outstanding students. The most prominent ones were Goh Chok Tong, the second Prime Minister of Singapore (1990-2004), Dr Tan Eng Liang, the Senior Minister of State for National Development (1975-1978), and Dr Cham Tao Soon, the founding President of Nanyang Technological Institute (NTI) (1981-1990) and President of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) (1991-2002).

Other prominent figures include Tan Hwee Hock, the primary school teacher of Goh Chok Tong in the fifties and former member of the Gold Medal winning water polo team in the 1954 Asian Games, and Edwin Nadason Thumboo, the unofficial poet laureate of Singapore.

former pasir panjang primary school premises

In the fifties, the teachers would regularly provide swimming lessons for the Pasir Panjang Primary School students at the Haw Par Swimming Pool, located on the opposite of Pasir Panjang Road. When Pasir Panjang Primary School was shut down in 1986, all of its remaining students were transferred to Jagoh Primary School. The premises was later used as a drug rehabilitation centre named Breakthrough Missions.

Pasir Panjang Secondary School (1955-1996)

Another former school in this vicinity was Pasir Panjang Secondary School, one of the few secondary schools that were built at this southern part of Singapore. Pasir Panjang Secondary School was established in 1955, first sharing the premises with Alexandra Estate Secondary School until it moved to its new building at Pasir Panjang in 1958. The secondary school, mostly made up of Malay students living at the nearby villages, had functioned for almost 40 years at Pasir Panjang until its closure in 1996.

pasir panjang secondary school 1976

An interesting trivia of Pasir Panjang Secondary School was the design of its school crest that consisted of a lion and three fish. The lion symbolised Singapore, while the three fish represented duyong, which means “mermaid” in Malay but is actually a marine mammal named dugong that could previously be found at the waters off Pasir Panjang. Portrayed as courageous and determined animals that were not afraid of the fiercest storms, the duyongs were inspirational symbols for the students studying at Pasir Panjang Secondary School. They were also mentioned in the school’s anthem:

pasir panjang secondary school crestAs the duyong rides up storm, so shall we face
The future with zest and steadfast enterprise.

and was used as the name of the school’s scout group in the sixties.

In 1987, Pasir Panjang Secondary School’s student enrollment fell to only 575, way below the average of 1,200 in other secondary schools. The continuous declining number in the enrollment led to its eventual closure in 1996. After its closure, the school premises was left empty for several years before being converted into a Ministry of Education (MOE) Adventure Centre.

ministry of education labrador adventure centre

Labrador Primary School (1961-1989)

The former Labrador Primary School, standing next to the NTUC Comfort Pasir Panjang Centre, existed between 1961 and 1989. Like the Pasir Panjang Secondary School, the primary school was enrolled by many Malay students living nearby, although it did provide four main streams in English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. Built at a cost of $350,000, the four-storey building with 24 classrooms was officially opened on 28 October 1961.

labrador primary school crestBy the late eighties, the number of students at Labrador Primary School had dropped to only 172, and the government decided to close it in January 1989. Like the Pasir Panjang Primary School students, the last batches of the Labrador Primary School students were transferred to Jagoh Primary School.

The premises of the former Labrador Primary School was not left empty for long. Six months after its closure in January 1989, it was re-opened to serve as a temporary campus for the Singapore Polytechnic’s Business Administration faculty, which required additional space due to a large jump in the number of course applicants. Shuttle bus services were specially catered to ferry the students from the main campus at Dover Road to Pasir Panjang.

Today, the former Labrador Primary School building is leased to the Philippines Bayanihan Society.

school at pasir panjang 1972

Published: 21 June 2015

Posted in Historic | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Remnants of Singapore’s Lost Roads – Kuala Loyang Road

There are many Malay-named roads or places in Singapore that are named after the island’s natural landscapes, such as bukit (“hill” in Malay), sungei, (“river”) or tanjong (“cape”). But there are not many with the name kuala, which refers to “estuary” in Malay. The definition of an estuary is “the tidal mouth of a large river, where the tide meets the stream”. One of the best known names is, of course, Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.

There was, however, one road in Singapore that possessed the name kuala. It was the Kuala Loyang Road, formerly linked to Tampines Road and Upper Changi Road, and was extended to mouth of Sungei Loyang on its other end, where “the tide met the stream”. In the maps of the 1950s, the regions labelled Tampines and Changi are the Pasir Ris New Town and Loyang Industrial Estate today. The network of roads on the eastern side of Kuala Loyang Road, already well-developed six decades back, has become the restricted premises of Selarang Camp and Changi Air Base.

kuala loyang road 1955

Kuala Loyang Road was extended in the late sixties; the original road was stretched all the way to the coastline and was linked to a jetty located between Sungei Loyang and Sungei Selarang. At its midway, a new road, also called Kuala Loyang Road, was branched off to link to Calshot Road.

The seventies saw a series of changes made to the vicinity around Kuala Loyang Road. Private estates known as Bukit Loyang Estate North and South were planned along Tampines Road in the early seventies. In 1978, drainage projects were carried out to convert Sungei Selarang into a canal, while the parcel of land between the river and Kuala Loyang Road was designated as a future industrial estate.

kuala loyang road map 1984

By 1981, a long straight main road had been constructed, cutting through both Tampines Road and Kuala Loyang Road, resulting in an interesting scenario where two Kuala Loyang Roads existed, one kilometre away from each other. As the housing and industrial estates developed in the vicinity, the long main road would go on to become an important road in the northeastern side of Singapore. It was named Loyang Avenue.

Kampong (Sungei) Loyang and Yan Kit Village were the larger villages in the vicinity. The former was located near to the mouth of Sungei Loyang, and had existed until the late eighties before it was torn down. At its former site now stands Aloha Loyang Resort and the row of condominiums at Jalan Loyang Besar. Yan Kit Village, previously situated at the southern end of Kuala Loyang Road, was also demolished in the late eighties.

development of pasir ris and loyang 1980s

Near the junction of Kuala Loyang Road and Tampines Road used to exist a Tanah Merah Besar Malay School. It was also where the former Ministry of Culture organised free movies in the sixties for the residents living in the villages nearby.

A clinic was set up beside the school in the seventies, but by the early nineties, the school premises was converted into a camp site (later renamed as an adventure centre) for the Ministry of Education (MOE) after the school ceased its operation.

kuala loyang road

As for Kuala Loyang Road, it was reduced to a short secondary road as an access to the MOE adventure centre by the mid-nineties. The road was expunged after the premises closed down in mid-2000s. Its street signage had been removed, and it was no longer listed in the official maps.

kuala loyang road2

kuala loyang road4

kuala loyang road5

Published: 14 June 2015

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments