The Second World War breaks out in Central Europe in September 1939, and Finland begins to prepare for the worst. There are plans to relocate government agencies and major industrial plants from the Helsinki region to elsewhere in Finland. Orion is relocated to Keuruu, a municipality in central Finland – as it happens, Erkki Leikola, President and CEO of Orion, is from Keuruu.
“On Saturday, 14 October 1939, a column of vehicles, consisting of four lorries and a bus, started its trip from Orion to Keuruu,” explains Niilo Toivonen, professor of chemistry and member of the Orion management board, in the 1950s. “After a 17-hour-drive, we arrived in Keuruu, and the hungry employees of the pharmaceutical plant started queueing for pea soup, alongside soldiers based in Keuruu. Enjoyed outside from the lid of a metal container, it tasted excellent.”
A factory is established immediately: a parquet factory that has been discontinued because of the war is converted into a tablet and ointment department, and an ampoule department is started in a cooperative dairy. The dishes are washed outside, where the temperature varies between -30 °C and -40 °C.
Production is off to a good start: the first tablets are ready for delivery after a week. Then, for a moment, the threat of war seems to have dissipated, and the departments return to Helsinki in mid-November. However, the Winter War breaks out a week later, and an even larger number of departments than before needs to be relocated to Keuruu.
“Operating a pharmaceutical plant under strange, inadequate circumstances presented challenges that often seemed insurmountable. However, we always came with a solution of some sort, and we worked hard, in three shifts at times,” says Toivonen.
Finland and the Soviet Union make peace on 13 March 1940, but Orion continues to operate in Keuruu until mid-April.
Pictured in the article is Sigurd Gyllenbögel supervising work in the ointment department.