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Lucky Goldstar and the Rockets – one country’s journey from poverty to prosperity

The start was modest in developing textile, footwear, toy and wig industries. But the result was the development of large-scale conglomerates, the chaebols, modelled on the Japanese zaibatsu, of the likes of Samsung and Hyundai. Seoul’s outstanding National Museum of Korean Contemporary History details the transformation from an agrarian to high-tech society, displaying the first attempts at a Korean radio in Lucky Goldstar’s white plastic A501 of 1959, the agricultural Kia three-wheeler truck and Hyundai’s early, clunky 1982 Pony sedan through to the Baekgom missile produced under the Yulogok military modernisation programme.

Lucky Goldstar became LG, and Kia and Hyundai are now global brands. Hyundai’s car factory in Ulsan is the world’s largest, where 34,000 workers can produce 5,600 vehicles daily, a big jump from assembling Ford Cortinas under licence in 1968. Such chaebols, family-managed conglomerates, started small but were responsible for two-thirds of the growth in the South Korean economy during the 1960s.
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