Idman – the complete story of a lighting company

This is a shortened and translated post that originally appeared in the magazine Valo (2,2011), written and illustrated by Tiia-Maarit Loisa.

Karl Hjalmar Idman

Karl Hjalmar Idman

Karl Hjalmar Idman was born on 11 December 1872 in Helsinki, and he died in the same city on 23 September 1924. Life took him to Pori, a smaller city in Finland. 25-year-old Hjalmar founded his shop in a wooden house in 1897 and it also served as his home. He started to sell lamps, glass and porcelain goods. According to some sources he also imported German restaurant supplies, and decorative lighting fixtures as oil lamps were a hit at the time. Although business was good, Hjalmar Idman wanted to expand into the wholesale sector. In 1919, he sold his shop and stock and moved back to Helsinki.

Idman lighting timeline

In 1920 Hjalmar teamed up with Einar Ahlström, who had a big glass and china shop on Roobertinkatu in Helsinki. The company was named Oy E. Ahlström & Co Ab. Hjalmar Idman did however, continue with his own company at the same time – Hjalmar Idman Oy was born, registered in June 1920. Hjalmar Idman was CEO, shareholders were Einar Ahlström and Jalmari Ahlström. They opened a shop on the corner of Aleksanterinkatu and Mikonkatu and the house still stands today. There were also shops in Kuopio and Tampere.

ldman mainly sold crystal glass, while Ahlström concentrated on selling their own compressed glass. Mrs. Astrid Idman was also actively involved in the business. When Hjalmar Idman died in 1924, she sold her and her children’s shares to Ahlström and continued working for the company. The name of the company was kept and the official name switch to Idman Oy took place in 1928.

Table lamps by Mauri Almari. Image by Hagelstam & Co

Table lamps by Mauri Almari. Image by Hagelstam & Co

The wholesale of electrical supplies, imported from Germany, began in the early 1930s, and at the same time they stopped selling restaurant supplies. At the end of the decade Idman started selling self-made decorative lamps and began manufacturing incandescent lamps. In 1932, the subsidiary Neonteho started making neon signs. It was owned by Jalmari Ahlström and Idman Oy together. The clients mainly drew their own signs, but if needed the artist Mauri Almari could help in the design. After Jalmari Ahlström’s death in 1944 the plant was closed, and the company was merged with Idman Oy. Both Idman’s lamps and neon lights were produced on the same premises and all material was carefully used, especially during the war in the 40’s.

Idman had its own shade and woodwork factory at the Meritulli square. Its first owners were Mr. and Mrs. Holman. Their cooperation with Idman began in 1946. Immediately after the war it was difficult to get fabrics needed for the production. Mr. Holman had contacts, and he managed to acquire raw material in the shape of parachutes, which were washed and colored. It can be noted that the renowned designer Gunnel Nyman, worked at the woodwork factory. She designed primarily for the glass factory in Riihimäki, but she also designed furniture and lamp shades. These were constructed at the factory but only a few tables and shelves were produced. At the same time she also designed lamps for Orno, Idman’s fierce competitor. The woodwork factory was small and it eventually faded away.

Paavo Tynell pendant light. Image by 1stDibs

Paavo Tynell pendant light. Image by 1stDibs

In 1918, Taito Oy was established, and it would become Paavo Tynell’s life work. The shareholders were Gösta Serlachius, professor Emil Wickström, artist Eric Ehrström, silversmith Franz Nykänen and Mr. Tynell. Taito Oy did a wide range of work using many different metals: General Mannerheim received a sword, the King of Spain a silver bowl, and all around Finland there are still metal gates and railings by the company. Taito Oy also made lamps from the start and that is what interested Paavo Tynell, it eventually becoming the thing he’s renowned for. His influence on Finnish light manufacturing and design has been significant and Idman Oy also worked with Taito Oy.

In the 1930s Taito focused on the production of lamps. The small shop grew into a factory, which soon employed more than a hundred people. Before the Second World War, the factory moved to Vilhonvuorenkatu, where it was located until the end. Taito Oy made a wide range of light fixtures, both standard and custom designed as well as “art” lamps for public spaces. After the war, Paavo Tynell began to design using brass. It was the only metal which was immediately accessible as it was a genuinely domestic product thanks to the mining company Outokumpu. Brass light fixtures became Paavo Tynell’s trademark and it would take him all the way to the US. His lamps were presented there in 1948 and they immediately received much attention.

Floor lamp by Tapio Wirkkala. Image by Bukowskis

Floor lamp by Tapio Wirkkala. Image by Bukowskis

In 1953, Idman Oy, acquired the majority of shares in Taito Oy, and – contrary to Paavo Tynell’s wishes – decided to combine ldman’s and Taito’s factories. The production remained at Vilhonvuorenkatu, but all the business was transferred to ldman. This was a bitter time for Paavo Tynell, but he stuck with his company and most of his skilled workers did likewise. Paavo Tynell continued to work on a freelance basis, through his own design firm. He worked directly with both Finnish and American architects producing the lamps at Taito’s factory. Idman Oy moved in a different direction duing this time as it was primarily interested in Finnish market, and investing in the development of series production. This led to the closing of Taito’s factory in the early 1960s and moving the production to Mikkeli. It should be noted that designers such as Tapio Wirkkala, Mauri Almari and Maria Lindeman made light fixtures for Idman before and during this time.

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Christmas party at Idman. Present is among others artist Gunnel Nyman, seated on the right side.

The manufacturing of flight obstacle lighting, or so-called chimney lamps, started after the war. The CEO Pentti Väisänen was a former pilot, and it was he who initiated the production. The decision decisively influenced the development of halogen lamps and their entry into the market. At the time runway surface  lamps were only produced in the United States. Idman managed to get a cooperation with the American company and developed the first European surface light system together with the Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

Idman Oy was an electrical wholesaler in the early 1960s and that included components for refrigerators, freezers, radios, televisions, and washing machines. However, in 1965 Idman abandoned the electrical wholesale department and focused on lighting products. These measures enabled the company to concentrate on street light fixtures, fluorescent, industrial lights, searchlight, and airport surface lighting.

The Nokia Corporation bought Idman Oy in the spring of 1981. Things started changing. A new CEO was brought in and there came new ways of working. Idman’s research and development got momentum from Nokia’s larger resources and it resulted in new products and a larger staff. Things were looking up.

Mauri Almari table lamp. Image by Liveauctioneers.

Mauri Almari table lamp. Image by Liveauctioneers.

METALLIVALMISTE TO SLO-METALL

Lennart Arala (Achander) founded Metallivalmiste in Helsinki in 1939. At first they made water line light fixtures and wartime materiel. After the war they started making decorative lamps which were sold through wholesalers. There might even have been cooperation with Idman and some rivalry with Taito. SLO came onto the scene in 1946, when they asked to start selling Metallivalmiste’s lamps. Lennart Arala was a bit suspicious, as SLO was a small company and they already sold Taito’s products. They did however eventually start working together. The first fluorescent lights were made in nice looking nickel-plated brass, and had a striped glass plates. the industry called for better, more splash-resistant and water-proof fluorescent lights. Lennart Arala developed models and tested them in his own bath tub. In 1963 the company moved to Mäntsälä and in 1968 the ownership changed when SLO bought a majority share in the company.

Tapio Wirkkala hanging lamps. Image by 1stDibs.

Tapio Wirkkala hanging lamps. Image by 1stDibs.

In the 1970s the company expanded and they were now manufacturing, among other things, printed circuit boards, smoke alarms, wardrobes, electric heating radiators and aggregates of the armed forces,. In 1985, the name changed into SLO-Metal Oy. In 1983, SLO bought the plastic lighting fixture company Sanka’s (in Loviisa) entire share capital and through the deal they got much needed knowledge of how to make lamps using plastic.

FROM MERGERS TO TODAY

The Nokia Corporation acquired a majority share in SLO in 1986. Idman Oy and SLO-Metal Oy now had the same owner and even more mergers were on their way. In 1988, the company was renamed SLO-Idman Oy, and that was the official end of the old Idman company and brand. SLO abandoned their industrial production in 1989 and sold their shares to Nokia. In the following year, it was announced that Valasinpaja Oy, a light company in Kirkkonummi, would merge with Idman (completed in 1995) and the company was again named Idman Oy. Valaisinpaja Oy was founded in 1967 and it had mainly produced custom lamps for architectural and design projects, among them many of Alvar Aalto’s works.

Nokia sold its stake in ldman in the end of 1993 to AEG Holding Finnland Oy and thus Idman became a part of the AEG Corporation. The changes continued in 1994. AEG sold out its lighting business including ldman and it was bought by the Dutch company Philips Lighting, making Idman a part of the Philips Group in the autumn of 1994. In early 2007 Philips merged its operations in Finland, including Idman Oy, into one company, which was renamed Philips Oy. At the end of 2008, the Swedish Gate Safe Group bought the Philips airport lighting functions but the production continues continues at Idman Airfield Lighting Oy factory, close to Helsinki-Vantaa airport. Production at the factory in Mäntsälä was discontinued in 2009.

As you can see, Idman has been at the heart of the Finnish lighting industry from the start. If you want to read more about other lighting companies in Finland, take a look at my post on four smaller ones that no longer exist.

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