Estonian Bike IndustryThe second half of the 1930s

The second half of the 1930s

Large-scale local bicycle manufacturers entered in the Estonian market in the second half of the 1930s. There were actually five major bicycle manufacturers in Estonia, although only three of them were brand new.

ETK Metal Factories (ETK Bicycle Factory) in Tallinn was a brand new large-scale manufactory in the ownership of ETK (Estonian Central Consumers Cooperative) that started making bicycles in 1937 and continued operation until 1940 (possibly until 1941). The best-known models of the factory were LUX, Eteka, Olympia, Original, and somewhat improved version of the latter, Original Luxus. In total, ETK manufactured about ten thousand bicycles.

Endel Are Machine Factory (ARE Bicycle Industry) in Tallinn started operation under this name in 1938, when radio manufacturer Endel Are purchased former August Kalde bicycle industry. ARE bike models included ARE Tehased, Alfa, Sport, Kiir, Siirius, Titaan, Kotkas, and Kalju. This was a private company, and thus the Soviet authorities nationalised it in 1940 and renamed it into bicycle industry Kiir, which was soon merged with nationalised Otto Saare bicycle industry. Before the war (certainly prior to 1940, perhaps until 1941), ARE manufactured three thousand or even more bikes.

Instead of just importing and assembling the bikes, Otto Saar Metal Industry in Tallinn (Saar & Ko. Bicycle Industry) started to make bicycles (and crucial parts thereof) in 1935, which also denotes the beginning of large-scale industry. Basic models included REX, Original, and Baltic. It is interesting to note that in 1940 Saare factory started making front and rear hubs in addition to mudguards and wheels. However, the production of rear hubs (copy of Torpedo) started only after nationalisation, under the name of SÄDE (spark in Estonian). During that period, the factory also produced bicycles Famos, equipped with suspension front fork – a critical option for our uneven roads.

After nationalisation in 1940, the factory obtained new name Säde and was merged with former ARE bicycle factory. Before the onset of military action (in June 1941), the factory manufactured approximately ten thousand bicycles.

Karl Gustav Reinhold Bicycle Industry in Tartu operated as a small shop already in the 1920s. It started large-scale production in the 1930s. In the early days, the products of Reinhold factory had typically foreign (English) names – World Eagle, Columbus, Niagara, Lion Cycle, Imperator, etc. One of the most popular model on the second half of the 1930s, however, had Estonian name Ilmarine. Yet, Reinhold factory did not have large-scale production of bike details like ETK and Saar bicycle factories; most of the details were imported. Unfortunately, there is no specific information about the production volume, but according to estimation, it could have been a few thousand bikes.

There are some issues with Rudolf Niibo – it is not clear whether he was bicycle trader or manufacturer. From 1928 to 1940, he produced relatively great quantities of his best-known model Rudoni (derived from his own name). Original feature of the bicycle consisted in decorative nickeled radiant support in the front frame, which Niibo patented in both Estonian and Latvian Patent Office.

Furthermore, Niibo was associated with bicycle model Livonia, and sold Latvello bikes (probably pirated Latvello, which had several structural similarities with Livonia).

Unfortunately, there is no information about the location of Niibo bicycle industry – perhaps there was none, and he imported the bikes from other shops that preferred to remain anonymous. Another possibility is that he ordered the bike parts in batches (considering the customs policy) from foreign manufacturers, and then equipped them with own labels.

The rest of the Estonian bike makers fell in the category of small-scale manufacturers. They included e.g. August Küttim (bike models Dollar U.S.A., Idrott, Royal, L.B.C., Paladin, etc.) and Alex. Laur in Tallinn. Bike manufacturers in Tartu were Ed. Otsing (Julius Müller took over the company in 1936), K. Paurson, K. Pehka, P. Lesta, and Ed. Paabu. Besides the above-mentioned, there were J. Neemann (Estonianized name Neem since the 2nd half of 1930s), J. Reinson and Chr. Sarapuu (model The Esto) in Pärnu; Vold. Seeberg in Kuressaare; Juhan Suits in Viljandi; Gustav Leetberg (model Viru) in Rakvere. Most likely, the main activity of all the above-mentioned (and several other) companies was to assemble the bikes from imported details like in the 1920s. There were probably about a hundred or more businesses that, among other things (metalwork), manufactured a few or a few dozens of bicycles a year – after all, small-scale industry was the backbone of Estonian economy at that time.

Furthermore, the workshops of Vold. Laanberg, E. Ööpik (model Edda), and Evald Purkin in Tallinn, as well as Saare bicycle factory, also manufactured three-wheel cargo bikes.