The rubber industry took its first steps in Finland in the late 19th century. After the experiments of a group of industrialists from Hämeenlinna ended in bankruptcy, a new factory was founded on Lastenkodinkatu in Helsinki. In the founding shareholder meeting on 11 March 1898, the company was named Suomen Gummitehdas Osakeyhtiö. The owners were leading figures from the fields of commerce, industry, and culture.
Eduard Polón (1861-1930) was appointed Managing Director. Polón, the son of a rural police chief with Polish roots, was at the helm of the factory until 1929. Antti Antero, formerly Aalberg and the brother of actress Ida Aalberg, was appointed technical director, and he managed the factory until 1939.
On the shore of Nokianvirta
Suomen Gummitehdas manufactured footwear and technical rubber products, with galoshes being the number one article. Growing production in the centre of the capital was problematic, so the company started looking for a new location. After reviewing options, and partially by coincidence, the company settled in Nokia, where the beautiful scenery, the available power from the Nokianvirta river and local workers managed to convince landlord Antero and shareholder Birger Pentzin. Gummitehdas and its forty employees moved to Nokia in 1904.
Suomen Gummitehdas received electric power from the nearby wood processing plant Nokia Oy, and Gummitehdas became its principal owner in 1919. In 1922, the company acquired a majority share of the stock in the Suomen Kaapelitehdas cable factory that also operated along the Nokianvirta river.
Together for the future
In 1928, the rubber factory experienced a long strike. Most of the workers resigned for nearly a year. At the end of the strike, Managing Director Polón took the initiative in constructing a house for the festivities, meetings and clubs of the factory workers. The Kerhola building, designed by architect W.G. Palmqvist and representing classicism, was inaugurated in the spring of 1930. The Gummitehdas band and the Kumikuoro choir were started during the same year.
In the 1930s, the rubber industry in Finland was heavily centralising. Suomen Gummitehdas bought the Nurmi rubber factory, the Denffer rubber mat factory and the Helsinki rubber factory. The company also acquired the Savio rubber factory and Kumiteollisuus Oy from Tampere. Polón's successor as Managing Director was Torsten Westerlund.
In 1938, Suomen Gummitehdas Osakeyhtiö was the 20th largest company in Finland. It had 1,500 employees in Nokia; the Nurmi and Savio factories raised the total to 2,000. Technical products already exceeded footwear in volume, and new ground was covered by car tire manufacturing. Eino H. Liljeroos started as technical director in 1939.
Gummitehdas took care of its employees and their families in many different ways. A baby nursery and day care operated near the factory. The factory canteen “Töpinä”, opened in 1941, served the entire personnel daily. The company also participated in the foundation of the Nokia vocational school in 1935.
Thirty-six employees of the Nokia factory lost their lives in the battles of World War II. The children of the fallen became the godchildren of the company. After the war, company house production increased further. Housing for ex-soldiers and war widows was offered in the Ruskeapää and Lauttala areas.
A rubber factory for the new age
After the war ended, both uncertainty and faith in the future were in the air. Due to increased costs, the company raised its share capital on two occasions. In 1949, the Nokia factory had over 2,000 employees.
Motorisation soon became a reality in Nokia as well: parking places for cars were reserved in front of the factory for the first time in 1955, whereas earlier, workers had arrived by bicycle or on foot.
Torsten Westerlund retired in 1958 and Ensio Salmenkallio became the new Managing Director. In 1959, the name of the company was modernised to Suomen Kumitehdas Osakeyhtiö. Soon, the value of tire production exceeded that of rubber footwear, and car tires became the leading product line.
The 1960s were a time of company mergers. In 1963, Kumiteollisuus Oy and Nokian Kutomo were merged into Kumitehdas. The great merger on the shores of Nokianvirta was decided on in 1966, when Suomen Kumitehdas, the wood processing company Nokia Oy and Suomen Kaapelitehdas merged. The merger came into effect in 1967. Oy Nokia Ab became the second largest company in Finland, after Enso-Gutzeit. The number of employees was 8,000. Väinö Richter started as director of the rubber industry.
Employees make the company
Refreshment activities for employees were focused around Koukkujärvi, from where the Nokia branch of the trade union rented an outdoor cottage. A sauna was built nearby as a group effort in 1965. The local trade union also purchased the Kuusisto estate to be used by the factory workers.
In 1971, the Nokia local administration was established as an administrative cooperation body among the wood processing and rubber factories of the merged company. In 1972, the company moved its headquarters from Helsinki to Nokia. Pekka Unkila was appointed director of the rubber industry in 1977.
Lasse Kurkilahti was appointed Managing Director in 1988. Nokian Tyres Plc, the publicly traded company, was born in 1995. Nokian Tyres became known as a pioneer for worker well-being studies and personnel balance sheets. Director Kim Gran, who had earlier been responsible for passenger car tires, started as the seventh Managing Director for the company in 2000. The world’s northernmost tire manufacturer is currently led by President & CEO Hille Korhonen.
In the 2000s, Nokian Tyres grew from a traditional export company into a worldwide tire group. The selection of products became strongly specialised. The company's own, unique product development and winter tire testing programme have resulted in success in independent tire tests for many decades. One part of the strategy of the world’s most profitable tire manufacturer is the strong expansion of the Vianor tire retail chain. More and more Vianor outlets now operate on a franchising based partner principle.
Nokian Tyres has reached a strong position in its key market areas: the Nordic countries, Russia and the CIS countries. In addition to Russia, Central Europe and North America also support the global growth of the company. In 2010, the company’s turnover exceeded one billion euros. Nokian Tyres is the only tire manufacturer in the world that specialises in demanding northern conditions.
Today, Nokian Tyres employs over 4,000 tire industry professionals, each with their joys, sorrows, dreams, values and thoughts. They are joined together by a strong belief in their own abilities and trust in discovering things together, knowing, and rolling up their sleeves and doing. We call it the Hakkapeliitta spirit. It is the mental state of the company: tangible yet hard to define. Natural, genuine, real. Frighteningly simple. And impossible to imitate.
Pólon’s vision for tyres
While being banished to Siberia for his political views in 1916, the company’s first Managing Director Eduard Polón developed the idea of establishing a tyre department. Board members Antti Antero and Gustaf Westerlund travelled to meet Polón in Chukhloma, Kostroma Oblast, and during this trip, they made the decision to start manufacturing tyres. However, the implementation was another ten years in the making.
The Suomen Gummitehdas Oy band was founded in 1930. Onni A. Vikkula and Väinö Huuhka were long-term conductors. The musicians worked for the company, and were also paid to play. The band rehearsed in the hobby and festival house Kerhola. In 1951, the Gummitehdas band went on a concert tour to the Netherlands, where it won the gold medal in a competition for amateur bands.
Photo: During its tours, the factory band listened to the customers’ individual wishes and publicised the new Hakkapeliitta tyres.
Suomen Kumitehdas Osakeyhtiö published its new logo in 1965. It was the third logo in the company’s history. Years and abbreviations had been stripped from the round logo, and it communicated tyre manufacturing more clearly than before. When a neon sign of the new logo was installed on the roof of the factory in Nokia, it was nicknamed “Richter’s Moon” after Managing Director Väinö Richter. The round Nokia logo remained in use until 1986.
History in brief
1898 Suomen Gummitehdas Osakeyhtiö founded
1904 Factory set up in Nokia
1925 Bicycle tyre production starts
1932 Passenger car tyre production stars
1934 “Kelirengas”, the first winter tyre in the world
1936 The first Hakkapeliitta tyre is manufactured
1945 New tyre factory built in Nokia
1959 From Suomen Gummitehdas to Suomen Kumitehdas Oy
1959 Marketing company in Sweden, Finska Gummi AB, later Nokian Däck AB 1967 Oy Nokia Ab established - Rubber, Cable and Paper
1968 Tyre factory expansion
1978 Marketing company in Norway, Norsk Traktorkompani A/S, later Nokian Dekk AS 1980 Marketing company in Canada, Nokia Products Ltd., Canada (later Nokian Tyres North America Ltd., USA) 1981 Tyre factory expansion
1982 Marketing company in Germany, Nokia GmbH, later Nokian Reifen GmbH 1988 Joint venture company Nokia Tyres Ltd established
1989 Marketing company in Switzerland, Nokian Reifen AG, Switzerland 1995 From Nokia Tyres to Nokian Tyres Plc, listing in the Helsinki stock exchange
1996–2001 Tyre factory expansions
1998 First own retail sales outlets in Sweden and Latvia, marketing company OOO Nokian Shina in Russia
1999–2000 Own tyre retail chain expands to Finland and Russia, Vianor name used by entire chain
2003 Nokia’s ownership ends: Bridgestone Europe NV/SA becomes largest shareholder
2005 Second Nokian Tyres factory started in Vsevolozhsk, Russia.
2006 Marketing company in Ukraine,Nokian Shina TOV. Marketing company in the Czech Republic, Nokian Tyres s.r.o.
2007 Marketing company in Kazakhstan, TOO Nokian Tyres 2010 Marketing company in Belarus, Nokian Shina LLC 2011 Marketing company in China, Nokian Tyres Trading (Shanghai) Co. Ltd.
2013 New Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 and new world record for the fastest car on ice, 335.713 km/h (208.60 mph).
2013 New generation of Hakkapeliitta winter tyres. Studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 and non-studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2.
2014 The Hakkapeliitta winter tyre family grows. The studded Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 SUV and the Nokian Hakkapeliitta C3 and Nokian Hakkapeliitta CR3 van tyres
2014 The world’s first winter tyre with pop-out studs. Nokian Hakkapeliitta concept tyre.
2014 The new Nokian Hakkapeliitta R2 – The world’s first winter tyre for electric cars with an A rolling resistance rating.
2015 The renewed Nokian WR winter tyre family. The Nokian WR D4 – the world’s first winter tyre with wet grip in the EU tyre label’s best A class.
2015 Nokian Weatherproof. The Nokian All-Weather concept ensures safe driving comfort all year long.
2015 The world’s first winter tyre with wet grip and rolling resistance in the EU tyre label’s best A class. The renewed Nokian WR SUV 3.
Nokian Tyres on the global market
At the end of 2015, Nokian Tyres had a total of 12 marketing companies around the world.
Suomen Gummitehdas Osakeyhtiö opened its own sales office in Helsinki in 1900. The most famous location was on Mikonkatu, where even queues formed during the shortage years.
In the beginning, car tyres were sold through hardware stores and car dealers. Some rubber repair shops also joined in as contract resellers. From the end of the 1950s onwards, specialist tyre shops took over the sale of tyres. At the same time, the activities of the entire tyre department developed a strong sales focus. Tyre salespersons all around the country were an important link between the factory and the consumers.
Tyre retail sales became more international, as Nokia Renkaat purchased several Norwegian tyre retailers at the turn of the 1990s. At the end of the decade, retail sales were unified under the Vianor chain, which quickly expanded to Sweden and Russia. In the 2000s, the main markets for Vianor are in the Nokian Tyres growth areas: the Nordic Countries, Russia, and the CIS countries, North America, and Central and Eastern Europe. In the summer of 2011, Vianor opened its 800th retail outlet, entering the Italian market at the same time. The Vianor tyre retail chain now operates in over 20 countries. Sales activities that started with display windows and tyre salespersons have grown into a comprehensive tyre sales and service network. Vianor offers tyre changes and installations as well as car service and tyre storage.
Photo (upper): Helsinki Motor Show 1939.
Photo (lower): The 800th Vianor retail outlet opened in Montebelluna, Italy, in 2011.