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Arvi Lehti – The inventor

In the early 50’s farmer Arvi Lehti (1912–1972) from Pertteli bought an injection moulding machine for his barn, which he used to produce plastic homewares and reflectors which could be installed at the back of trailers. With his friends in the Traffic Police, Arvi pondered whether the methods used to make trailers more visible to traffic could also be used with pedestrians. He had the idea to glue together two reflective panels for trailers and to use a safety pin and a piece of string to hang from a jacket – the very first pedestrian reflector was born. 

Arvi Lehti died quite young, and his son, Taisto Lehti (born 1945) took over Talousmuovi Oy when he was only 25 years old. The business grew and turned into TALMU Oy, which at its peak employed 450 people. TALMU produced many kinds of plastic products, but Taisto always saw the reflector as his baby. 

Arvi’s idea has truly saved millions of road users in the dark!

Taisto Lehti – The Pioneer

The popularity of the reflector soared after Taisto brought galvano prisms over from England in the 70s, allowing the company to make reflectors in different shapes. The snowflake reflector, which has been called a Finnish classic, was designed by product designer Kalervo Suomela in 1973.​

Taisto Lehti has had a strong influence not only on the Finnish culture of wearing reflectors; today half of all Finns wear a reflector, but traveling the world with his fathers invention, Taisto’s work led to the development of one of the worlds most successful road safety campaigns. Finland, Sweden and Norway, amongst many countries in the world, started targeted information and education programs to encourage its citizens to road safe behaviour. And it have worked! Today we see that about 50 percent in Norway, Sweden and Finland people wear a pedestrian safety reflector while walking in the dark. A habit has been created, a personal and private initiativ to make themselves safer road users in the dark. 

Facts: 

– Taisto is the one who has used the pedestrian safety reflector for the longest time in history

 – Taisto performed a demonstration of the effect and the properties of the pedestrian safety reflector for a group of people back in the 60’s. The demonstration was carried out in a dark parking tunnel i Oslo, using a flashlight to light up the reflectors, Taisto left the group stunned of its effect. That was constructivist pedagogy in its purest form! Among them was the Norwegian Prime Minister and it’s safe to think that what the politicians and the legislators experienced in that tunnel worked as a catalyst on the Norwegian road safety work and the distribution of the safety reflector. We consider Taistos demonstration the very first «Road user in the dark» course in Norway. Today a «Road user in the dark» course is mandatory for everyone who gets their driver license in Norway.

Kevin from Reflectors from the ocean talking with Taisto about the early years of the pedestrian safety reflector on Taisto’s farm in Finland in May 2022.

Kalervo Suemola – The Designer

The Talmu company produced many different reflectors and where always inventing new designs. Kalervo Suemola being a creative and highly valued product designer working both as a technician and a designer at the Talmu factory he loved designing functional and visually pleasing products. Kalervo had many reflector designs but had for many year thought of a snowflake-shaped reflector chip. He made a number of different snowflake sketches and kept them in his notebook on his desk, but the perfect design for the snowflake reflector he felt still were developing in the back of his mind.

This particular winter Taisto came to Kalervos office and they talked about getting a new design for a reflector chip they could produce. Kalervo thought it should be a reflector wich design was influenced by the nordic nature. He was thinking about several designs from birds and forest animals but his thoughts always came back to his unfulfilled designidea: the snowflake-shaped reflector. This winter was especially cold even for finnish winters. With temperatures dropping to under minus 25 degrees celsius the dry snow forms the most stunning snowsflakes on the factory windows and on the snowcovered ground outside. Inspired from what he saw looking out from his office window Kalervo took his notebook, his led-pencil and his magnifying glass and went out into the biting, crystalclear finnish winterair. Determined to find the perfect snowflake as a base for his reflector design he stood out to his knees in snow, even crawling on all fours looking for the perfect shape, his workmates becoming a bit worried for Kalervo looking out from the warm factory at him. Should they be worried? Absolutely not: They soon find out it ended up with a stunning design of a lifesaving reflector product that many of us remembers from the early 70s. The pure design of the original snowflake reflector stands out with its brilliant simplicity, timeless, effective, aesthetic and uncompromising. Uncomprimising because its design did not allow to print company-logos on its surface leaving the original snowflake-reflector from the 1970s refreshingly uncommercial and pure. Sadly that is why this rare piece of applied art soon went out of production and was replaced by other designs. However the use of reflectorchip as a giveaway product with logo for thousands of companies and organisations is a keyfactor to the succes of the pedestrian reflector as a safety measures in many countries. It has saved millions of lives.

The iconic 1973 Talmu Snowflake Pedestrian Safety Reflector designed by Kalervo Suemola. A Finnish Classic!

(Source: Safetyreflectors Finland and interviews with Taisto Lehti and Kalervo Suemola)

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