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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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