A history of continuous change and innovation
First impulses for the development came from the outside. First, Swedish king Gustav III visited the banks of Tammerkoski rapids and established the town in 1779. In 1819, Tsar Alexander I of Russia visited the still modest town and was so impressed by the potential created by the rapids that he set up systems of considerable customs and tax relief for entrepreneurs and industrialists that would locate to the town. This marked a phase of rapid development. The first important industrialist to come to Tampere was the Scottish engineer James Finlayson, who founded a cotton mill in the 1820s. In the hands of the Nottbeck Family, who came from Russia, this cotton mill came to represent one of the cornerstones of the Finnish industrialization process.
One of the young Nottbecks brought an electric light to the town immediately following its invention. He was working as an engineer in New York for Thomas Alva Edison’s laboratory and was impressed by the potential of electricity, especially in terms of its impact on factory safety. This young man was able to convince his father, who was then the director of the Finlayson factory, of the same, and so the Edison generator No 3. was shipped from New York to Tampere. The generator and the first 150 incandescent light bulbs were installed in the weaving hall in March 1882, and the first electric lights were lit in the Northern Europe. Today, the city of Tampere’s slogan reflects this legacy – “Tampere all bright”.
The first paper machine in Finland began to operate in 1842, in the paper mill of J.C. Frenckell & Son, in Tampere. In general, Tampere was industrialized before other cities in the country. In 1870, about 40 per cent of all industrial labourers were to be found in Tampere, although the city housed less than 10 per cent of all the inhabitants of the country. By that time, the industrial base of the town had already become considerably extended and diversified: wood and textiles processing had been followed by shoe and clothing industries and, somewhat later, by chemical, metal and machinery industries. For many of the companies within the town it was typical to invest in product and process development marking the beginning of the innovation tradition. Of those many companies founded in Tampere, one happened (in 1865) to be Nokia…
Even though there was no higher education institution in the city before the 1960s, the significance of education and training was already well understood in the 19th century. Accordingly it was more than 150 years ago that Tampere College of Services, Tampere Worker’s Institute, Varala Sports Institute and Tampere Technical College were established, again as the first in Finland. Education and diversified skills were much appreciated, to illustrate which a short anecdote can be provided: the Soviet leaders Bulganin and Khrushchev made a visit to Tampere in 1957 (Stalin and Lenin had already visited in 1905 to discuss their vision of a certain social innovation…). They also toured the Lokomo factories, one of the largest sites with a diversified product range. Soviet leaders suggested to the director that the factories could focus on only one kind of product. The proud reply was that “our workers are so skilled that they can build any kind of products”. What was perhaps lost in economies of scale was gained in the tradition of empowerment and a “can-do” attitude still typical today.
However, the heyday of manufacturing was to reach its summit in the 1960s, with a total of 37,000 employees. After 1962, employment in manufacturing went into a slow decline due to internationalization, automation, rationalization, outsourcing and other factors.