In the seventeenth century, the parish of Pohja (Pojo in Swedish) became the center of iron manufacturing in Finland: the ironworks in Antskog were founded in 1630, the following year saw the founding of the Billnäs ironworks, and Fiskars joined the group in 1649. Not far off was Mustio (Svartå) ironworks which had been founded in 1616, and the Fagervik ironworks, founded in 1646. Even though the iron ore used at Fiskars, for instance, was mostly transported from the mine at Utö in the Stockholm archipelago, it was still financially viable to build the ironworks in Finland. The parish of Pohja had natural water power that could be harnessed, and plenty of woods to provide the raw material for charcoal, which meant the Crown could spare the forests of Bergslagen in Sweden. Furthermore, Pohjankuru (Skuru) provided a suitable port.
Most of the pig iron manufactured at Fiskars was exported back to Sweden, to the Järntorget Iron Market in Stockholm’s Old Town, but some of the iron was used to make nails, wire, knives, hoes, and iron bands to reinforce cartwheels. The ironworks also made cast-iron products, such as pots and frying pans.
The skills required to manufacture iron were not available locally. As early as the 1640s Thorwöste received permission to acquire skilled workers from abroad, not just from Sweden but also from Germany and the Netherlands.
In the eighteenth century, years of famine and almost ten years of the Russian occupation of Finland – a period known as the Great Wrath – also affected Fiskars. Nearby was a center of Russian civilian and military administration, and in 1713 the ironworks at Fiskars and Antskog were plundered and wrecked by the Russians. In 1731, the Fiskars ironworks was purchased by John Montgomerie. More foreigners were hired to work at the ironworks and in those days the list of employees included names such as Clas Pijra, Michel Gilliam and Jean Dardanell. By 1740, some 115 people lived in Fiskars Village.
Fiskars had yet another set of new owners when Robert Finlay and John Jennings bought the ironworks in the 1750s. Jennings soon relinquished his share, but Finlay kept the ironworks going and branched out into refining copper, which had been found at Orijärvi in Kisko. However, Robert Finlay’s ironworks ended in bankruptcy in 1771, and the ironworks was taken over by B.M. Björkman of Stockholm. Another war was fought between Sweden and Russia during 1808 and 1809, which in 1809 resulted in Finland becoming an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian Crown, and new laws then required foreign owners of land or industry to be resident in Finland. To comply with the new law, Björkman’s son moved to Fiskars, but he was a young man in his twenties whose liking for the fast life led to the ironworks being sold to Johan (John) Julin in 1822.
Fiskars under Johan von Julin (1822–1853)
An important period in the history of Fiskars began in 1822 when it was bought by Johan Julin (1787-1853). Under Julin, work at the ironworks focused on refining iron. Julin owned a pharmacy in Turku (Åbo), had traveled often, and was a progressive man who had Finland’s first fine forging workshop built at Fiskars in 1832, and followed it with the country’s first machine workshop in 1837. Among other things, the machine workshop manufactured the mechanical structures for the Saimaa Canal, and the Fiskars foundry supplied ninety cast-iron columns and the large water-wheel for the Finlayson cotton mill in Tampere.
While developing the industry at Fiskars, Julin also improved the farming and forestry around the ironworks village. Farming at Fiskars included keeping cattle until 1970, when there were still 104 descendants of the Ayrshire cattle that Julin had purchased in his day.
Fiskars plows contributed to the development of Finnish agriculture. After studying the design of imported plowshares, Fiskars developed new shapes that were better suited to the Finnish soil. At the end of the nineteenth century, the range included more than forty different plows. Over the years more than a million horse-drawn plows were manufactured at Fiskars.
Fiskars Village was ahead of its time in both healthcare and education. As early as 1860 the ironworks village had its own doctor. In 1892, a hospital with ten beds was inaugurated. In 1826, Julin had a school built (now the oldest part of the Clock Tower Building), and from 1833 the school followed the progressive teachings of the Bell-Lancaster system. For the people living in Fiskars Village, various associations offered a lively choice of leisure time activities, ranging from sports to music and the volunteer fire service.
The growth of the flourishing ironworks village attests to Julin’s hard work and vision: in 1818 there were 196 villagers, in 1823 there were 253, and in 1852 the number had increased to 661, 156 of whom worked at the ironworks. If all the institutions and land owned by Fiskars are included, the number of employees rises to 425 (and the total number of inhabitants to 1,384).
Julin was ennobled in 1849 and changed his name to John von Julin. For his motto he chose, surprisingly, the Finnish Toimi, Totuus ja Toivo which translates roughly as Enterprise, Truth, and Hope.
At Julin’s death in 1853 the ironworks was run by a guardianship administration, and in 1883 the Fiskars limited liability company was founded. Within the limited company, the ironworks also became part of a bigger whole, which also influenced its later development.
Fiskars survived the recession of the early twentieth century thanks to its forest and agriculture, which fuelled a favorable financial development that lasted until the beginning of World War I. After the war the prospect looked bleak for heavy steel industry in Finland.
The financial development of the company during the years between the two world wars was unstable as it followed the general instability of the Finnish economy. Through successful investments and acquisitions of other companies the company’s finances were in excellent shape again by the end of the 1930s, when World War II put an end to a period of profitable development in Finland’s economy. During the war, the Fiskars production units were working at full capacity. Getting orders was not a problem, but practically everything else, such as raw materials, fuel, and labor, was in short supply.
The post-WWII problems in Finland, such as war indemnity, finding homes for the displaced people from Carelia, and the regulation economy caused difficulties for both Fiskars Village and the company.
Throughout the period from the 1920s and into the 1960s, Fiskars purchased several works and companies in the steel business.
Some of the changes and reorganizations carried out in the 1950s were to increase the profits from the company’s forests through the acquisition of other companies, and the construction of forest roads, the latter of which made it possible to fell older forests. The network of forest roads still exists.
In the late decades of the last century the company’s development followed the general trends of the economy. In the 1970s, the international oil crisis caused problems for the economy and industry in Finland, after which the rapid economic growth of the 1980s ended abruptly at the start of the 1990s. At the end of the twentieth century Fiskars was a multi-branch company which, in addition to its stake in the metal industry, was involved in the manufacture of cranes, flagpoles, and electronic goods, among other things. The focus on consumer goods and a big step towards becoming more international came with the founding of a scissor-manufacturing plant in the United States of America in 1977, and the subsidiary Fiskars Brands, Inc. in 1984.
In the 1980s the operations in Fiskars Village were also reorganized. Historically, ironworks villages have been virtually self-sufficient, and this had left Fiskars with a heritage of its own departments for forestry, electricity, construction, etc. However, because the industrial operations required more up-to-date facilities, production was moved to Billnäs. As the industry moved from Fiskars Village, its inhabitants followed and many of the buildings were left empty. The operations that remained in Fiskars Village were streamlined and modernized, but Fiskars Corporation never forgot its roots or the important role Fiskars Village had played since 1649. Various development plans were created for Fiskars Village with the intention of keeping the place and its traditions alive. Under the slogan ‘A Living Ironworks Village’ a search for new inhabitants and operations was begun. The beautiful setting and surrounding countryside was a unique environment and the old buildings offered opportunities that appealed in particular to crafts people, designers and artists. By 1993, professionals from more than 20 fields of the arts had moved to Fiskars Village and the idea of a joint exhibition had begun to grow among them.
The first exhibition was an immediate hit, both with the public and critics. Their positive response inspired the villagers to keep working and to develop the exhibition work in subsequent years.
In April 1996, the Artisans, Designers and Artists of Fiskars Co-operative was founded. Over the years its membership has increased, and today the Co-operative has more than a 100 members whose work represents most areas of the arts, crafts and design. The largest professional groups are artists, cabinetmakers, ceramicists, and industrial designers.
Fiskars quickly established its position as a showcase of high-quality Finnish art and industrial design. The annual exhibitions, which are now among the biggest events in Finland, receive a lot of media attention and visitors. The number of visitors increases with each exhibition, and these days the annual Fiskars exhibition attracts some 25,000 visitors.