Updated: Apr 25, 2022
This page goes over the general history of the Helly Hansen gas mask production.
The beginning - 1959 - 1960's
The production of the Helly Hansen gas masks began in 1959 and the early 60s. The production was initated by the Norwegian government as part of a plan to protect all industry against CBRN attacks. The governments goal was to keep all industry safe in the case of war. It was actually not the governemnt that came up with the idea to start producing gas masks at Helly Hansen. It was Helly Hansen themselfs that came to the government with the idea, and it was very much welcome as all projects to protect the country was accepted at that time. The first mask was designed in a collaboration between Helly Hansen and Jon Norman.
Helly Hansen wanted to produce a civilian gas mask that was completely different and superior to older models and others around the world. They wanted to create a completely new way of creating gas masks. They wanted to create masks using PVC, but they had trouble sewing the mask together using old methods. It just didn't work. Then, just by chance they discovered a new way of putting together the masks. Using a method they called PVC welding, they could now create a whole new type of gas mask. A PVC mask with a completely open visor. The mask was also constructed to withstand very cold weather.
Parts from all over Norway
The Helly Hansen mask were made in a way which made it possible to only use Norwegian made produced parts or materials for the masks, filters and filter contents. The pupose with this was that in the case of war, Norway would still be able to produce the masks because none of the materials or parts were imported from other countries. For example, the first filters were made using sardine cans from Sardine can factories in Norway.
The first mask - A59
The first mask to be made by Helly Hansen in Moss was the A59. This was to be issued to the civilian population at a cheap price. The goal was that every household would have one for each family memeber.
The production continues
After the creation of the A59, Helly Hansen kept on making newer models for the Civilian population, Civil defence and the Norwegian military. As mentioned earlier, the purpose of this production was also to secure all of Norways industry and civilian population. Therefore, alot of different variants of the Helly Hansen masks exsist. Some masks are marked "NSB" (Norwegian National Train Service), Postverket (Postal Service), and more.
The Helly Hansen production fails.
The Norwegian governments goal was to supply every industry and household with gas masks. Therefore the government put a huge amount of money into the production. but there was one big issue, noone would buy the masks. One of the dealerships which were trying to sell the masks told "Moss dagblad"(Moss dagblad is a local newspaper in Moss) that he had only been able to sell around 20-25 masks.
The article also mentions that by January 1st 1970, the Norwegian civil defence had 300 000 masks in storage and around 500 000 civilian masks were in storage. The photo below shows A59 masks in storage and the title says "300 000 civilian gas masks in storage, the century's greatest sales failure".
Even tough the production ended in failure, the thought and plans behind the production were great. The work of everyone who participated either in the government, the Norwegian military or Helly Hansen themselfs did a great job on the project which was of great importance, and their work must not be forgotten.