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Online Exhibition

Our Nation-Building Years Told Through Artefacts


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Ordinary Items, Extraordinary Stories

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Keep Them Coming

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Mr Dan Teo’s Keep Singapore Clean campaign pamphlet and poster

The Keep Singapore Clean and Pollution-Free campaign was inaugurated on 1 October 1968 by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. The month-long campaign reminded Singaporeans of the need to work together in order to achieve a cleaner, greener Singapore. In 1969, the campaign called on Singaporeans to Keep Singapore Clean and Mosquito-Free, which was the start to similar efforts we see today.


Telok Kurau East School’s Admission Registers which contain Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s name as a student

Throughout his life, Mr Lee was steadfast in his focus on education and ensuring that there was equal opportunity regardless of race or religion, as he saw it as an enabler to of success. For Telok Kurau Primary School, the register shows how Mr Lee, even as a young boy, was resilient in his school attendance as he knew its importance from a young age.


Mr Tan Teck Lee’s vocational institute lunch pass from the early 1980s

Vocational training was an important factor that contributed to Singapore's success in industrialisation. Mr Tan recalls that students in the institutes had to follow a strict training programme, which included having lunch within the training institute. The lunch pass was important to Mr Tan as he wasn't able to afford lunch at the institute and it allowed him to return home for lunch. 


Mr Edmond Wong’s story of founding leader and then MP of Joo Chiat Dr Fong Kim Heng and Kim Choo Kueh Chang

Mdm Lee Kim Choo, Mr Edmond Wong’s grandmother, started out selling rice dumplings under a banyan tree in 1945. In the 1960s, Mdm Lee received help from MP of Joo Chiat Dr Fong Kim Heng, who insisted that she get a loan and helped her to find the right people to relocate to a shophouse. Founding leaders like Dr Fong inspired Mdm Lee to embody the spirit of service to others before self and the importance of one’s community in being resilient.


Mr Au Seck Ngee and HDB documents from his family’s first flat

Mr Au and his family moved into their first HDB flat before he enlisted into National Service. As the eldest son, he and his mother co-signed their lease. Moving away from the familiar surroundings of their kampung was a big step for the family. Before upgrading to a 4-room flat, they applied for a 3-room flat due to financial concerns. As a family that conversed mainly in dialect, they relied on the representatives from HDB to explain the clauses printed in English.


Mdm Lin Ming Ju with one of the graduating cohorts of Happy School

Dr E Tai recalls her mother Mdm Lin Ming Ju as a form teacher at Happy School from the 1950s to 1970s. Mdm Lin also initiated and taught classes in performing arts for students at the school. The school was set up by two cabaret girls of Happy World to bring education to the children of Geylang.


Mr Tan Kim Soo and his Long Service Award from National Iron and Steel Mills Pte Ltd

National Iron and Steel Mills Pte Ltd was the first factory that opened at Jurong Industrial Estate. Being a technician there was a dangerous job. Mr Tan had to climb heights and witnessed many workplace accidents and to protect his lungs, he used to breathe through a moist towel during work and took regular walks at MacRitchie Reservoir, and swam at the East Coast Lagoon after work. He also took on extra shifts to support his family and never talked about his accomplishments at work. Until today, his daughters look up to him for his grit and humility, and the care he showed his family over the years.


Mdm Zainab and her soldering tools

Mdm Zainab joined Rollei when she was just 16 years old, where she ensured the quality of camera parts were in order before they were assembled. As Singapore’s economy grew and evolved, experience at Rollei proved very useful as she transitioned to other companies such as Asahi, Team and Connor Peripherals, where she quickly adapted and picked up new skills like wire bonding and soldering on the job.


Our Nation-Building Years Told Through Artefacts

The 1950s to 1970s was a time of transformation for Singapore.

Our founding leaders envisioned a multicultural Singapore. They dreamed big, boldly turned challenges into opportunities, and exemplified integrity and service to others before self.

Our fledgling nation would not have been built if not for the contributions of Singaporeans from all walks of life who rallied behind our leaders and adapted to changes, living out the founding values themselves.

The artefacts you see in this exhibition bear witness to these founding stories. They reveal how values from more than 50 years ago continue to stand us in good stead for challenges of our generation, such as COVID-19. Look out also for the National Day songs we sing that capture the spirit fo these values. 

Chapter 1

Stand Up for Singapore

Our nation-building years saw countless acts of selflessness and sacrifice. Students, housewives and labourers, among other groups, demonstrated a spirit of gotong royong (community cooperation), standing up in response to various calls to clean up the city, build roads or contribute to building funds.

This sense of community and togetherness lives on today in our battle against COVID-19. We see this – whether in individual acts of adhering to safe management measures, in essential service workers soldiering on, or in the many ground-up initiatives to support others.


Defending Singapore

As a newly independent nation, Singapore faced pressure to build up its defence fast and early generations of Singaporeans bravely stepped up to the plate. 


Caring for the Community

Initiatives like the Keep Singapore Clean campaign and Gotong Royong project were just some ways people came together for their community and country.



One People, One Nation, One Singapore

Multiculturalism has been foundational to Singapore ever since we attained self-government in 1959, and helped us navigate through times of communal tension in the lead up to independence.

Our founding leaders rallied Singaporeans to set aside differences and stand together as one united people.


Defining Our Nation

The first of our National Symbols was introduced in 1959. They remind us of the values we stand for as one Singapore and bring us together.


Fostering Racial Harmony

During the race riots in the early 1960s, Singapore relied on our founding leaders and the community to champion multiculturalism and bring people together as one.


Cultural Concerts for All

Performances were a way to introduce the different cultures in Singapore to the people and promote greater appreciation of our diversity.


Chapter 3

We're going to show the world
what Singapore can be

Our founding leaders had the vision of transforming our economy and showing the world that Singapore was open for business. The dream of industrialising Singapore was easier said than done. To achieve this, our founding leaders and the people had to be bold, innovative and open.

This set our foundation as a country and continues to shape the way we respond to change today.


Goh's Folly

What was thought to be Goh's Folly turned out to be a successful effort to grow Singapore's economy.


The Future of Shipping

The announcement of the British military withdrawal in 1967 was not only a challenge to Singapore's defence but economy too. Singapore had to pivot quickly and our shipping industry became even more important than before.


Proudly Made In Singapore

With multinationals and manufacturing companies setting up operations in Singapore, made-in-Singapore products soon became household names and became recognised for their quality.


Opening Our Doors to the World

While Singapore actively sought foreign investments, our leaders never compromised on pollution control.


Chapter 4

Tomorrow's Here Today

What would our neighbourhoods look like without our HDB flats? What would this City in a Garden be without its roadside trees?

Our founding leaders paid close attention to the details of Singapore's landscape and worked together with Singaporeans to shape much of these familiar sights that we enjoy today. Those early years of our nation's development required taking bold steps to deliver on home ownership at a scale never seen before. All of this helped realise Singapore's vision of a Garden City, bringing the cities of tomorrow to Singapore today.


Homes for the People

Independent Singapore's public housing programme was an ambitious one. Many had to adapt to new ways of living and found homes in new towns.


Turning Singapore into a City in a Garden

Safeguarding our natural environment and the greening of Singapore was always a priority, even during our early nation-building years.


Enrich Our Memorial with Your
Stories and Artefacts

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