200 years in Helsinki

Helsinki 1812–2012

By the start of the eighteenth century, Helsinki had become the fourth most important port of importation after Stockholm, Gävle, and Gothenburg. The town had grown into an important military centre also. The fortification of Sveaborg – Viapori in Finnish – was the home port of the Swedish coastal fleet. Between the town, Sveaborg fortification, and the town garrison, Helsinki had a population of almost 8000. Turku had about 10,000 residents at that time.

The Sweden-Russia War was waged on Finnish soil from 1808-1809. Russia occupied Helsinki on 3 March 1808, with Sveaborg surrendering in a bloodless siege on 8 May 1808.

Helsinki burned down on Thursday 17 November of that year – the last great fire it endured, which destroyed a quarter of the town. The fire started on the site owned by the widow Dobbin in the eastern part of the town, which is nowadays the beginning of Aleksanterinkatu.

The Diet of Porvoo took place from 25 March until 19 July 1809, during which Emperor Alexander I of Russia granted his sovereign pledge to Finland’s estates. The King of Sweden ceded his kingdom’s eastern provinces, which constituted Finland’s Grand Duchy, in the Treaty of Fredrikshamn (Hamina in Finnish) on 17 September 1809. Alexander I thereby became Grand Duke of Finland, until 1825.

The Committee for Finnish Affairs was formed in November 1811, operating under the principle that all its members had to be Finns. R.H. Rehbinder was chosen as State Secretary, and G.M. Armfelt as the committee’s chairman. 1811 saw the establishment of a host of central bureaus: the State Medical Collegium, the postal authority, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Works and Loans Bureau. The Vyborg Governorate became part of Finland in 1812. Viipuri and the Karelian isthmus had been lost to Russia in the Treaty of Nystad in 1721.


8 April 1812 Emperor Alexander I promotes Helsinki to the capital of the Grand Duchy. (read more)


The Helsinki committee for reconstruction is appointed and orders given for the city to be built in accordance with the plans approved on 2 April 1812. (read more)


The Guard of Finland is established. Helsinki is an outpost of St. Petersburg. (read more)


The Government Council, later renamed the Imperial Senate of Finland, and all its central bureaus are relocated to Helsinki.


From the 1820s onwards the city administrative court leases land bordering the Turku and Häme roadways for agricultural use, grassland, and for building sites for factories and villas. (read more)

1825 – 1855

Nicholas I is Grand Duke of Finland.

1826 – 1827

The Church of Ulrika Eleonora is demolished. (read more)


Keisari määrää vuonna 1640 perustetun Kuninkaallisen Akatemian siirtymään Turusta Helsinkiin. (read more)


The seat of the county governor is transferred to Helsinki. The province of Häme-Uusimaa is divided into two separate provinces in 1831.


1830-luvulla aloitetaan Kluuvinlahden kuivatus. (read more)


Koleraepidemia riehuu kaupungissa. (read more)


Emperor Nicholas I and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna visit Helsinki. (read more)


Steamboat traffic begins, connecting Stockholm, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg.


The Heidenstrauch merchant’s house is purchased, to become the Emperor’s palace. Moving work is completed in 1843. The building is nowadays the President’s Castle.


Ullanlinna sea spa and Kaivohuone are opened in Kaivopuisto – tourism begins in Finland. (read more)


First public performance of Maamme (Our Country), at the spring festival in Kumtähti park in Toukola. (read more)


St. Nicholas’ Church – now Helsinki Cathedral – is consecrated.


A twelve-horsepower steam engine – the first steam engine in Helsinki – comes into use, at the Ramstedt workshop in Hakaniemi. (read more)

1853 – 1856

The Crimean War or “Eastern War”, as it was also known in Finland. Russia at war with Turkey and its allies, England and France.


A telegraph connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg comes into operation.

1855 – 1881

Emperor Alexander II becomes Grand Duke of Finland. A period of political reform gets underway.


The first gasworks is founded, and the first gaslight is lit at the inauguration of the New Theatre.


Finland receives its own currency. The Finnish mark is valued at one-quarter of a gold rouble.


Gas lamps are used for street lighting, and remain in use until as late as 1945, when the last gas lamps were removed.


Finland’s first railway line is opened between Helsinki and Hämeenlinna.


The first regular parliamentary sessions of the Grand Duchy of Finland are held in Helsinki. In the newspapers, they are heralded as “the birth of national liberation”. The Finnish language is accorded equal status with Swedish.


The Finnish mark is index-linked to the price of silver, and delinked from the rouble.

1867 – 1868

The last years of severe hunger in Finland. During the famine years, eight percent of the Finnish population died of hunger.


Uspenski Cathedral is completed.


The Russian-language Alexander Theatre is founded.


The railway connection to St. Petersburg is completed. (read more)


Helsinki has a population of 28,519. Finns, Russians, Germans, Balts, Poles, Jews, and Tatars. (read more)


In the 1870s, Helsinki had begun to grow in earnest as a capital city. (read more)


A Finnish-language theatre is founded.


A new local government act and the first session of Helsinki City Council, chaired by Senator Leo Mechelin.


The Finnish Mark is index-linked to the gold standard.


The Industrial Exhibition in Kaivopuisto. The Exhibition showcases Finland’s homegrown industry, and is also a broad overview of developments in the arts. The Imperial family visits the Exhibition.

1881 – 1894

Emperor Alexander III is Grand Duke of Finland.


Finland’s first cross-country skiing competition, from the front of Valkosaari to Harmaja and back. A ski jumping competition is held at the same time, on the hill behind Uspenski Cathedral.


The electricity company is founded. The city is developed and modelled after cities in Central Europe, Germany in particular. Urban conveniences such as gas, water, electricity and public transport are quickly adopted in Helsinki and other major cities.


6 May 1885 The statue of national poet J.L. Runeberg is unveiled on the Esplanade.


Omnibus Aktiebolaget i Helsingfors (Helsinki Omnibus Ltd.) is founded, marking the beginning of public transportation in Helsinki. (read more)


12 June 1890 The so-called Postimanifesti (“Postal Manifesto”) marks the beginning of nationalization attempts, in contravention of Finnish law.


28 August 1890 A freak storm levels most of the trees in Helsinki, removes roofs, and demolishes the scaffolding surrounding St. John’s Church, which was still under construction at the time. (read more)


The statue of Alexander II is unveiled in Senate Square. (read more)

1894 – 1917

Emperor Nicholas II is Grand Duke of Finland.


Publication of the February Manifesto, the purpose of which was to Russify Finland and put an end to the period of autonomy the country enjoyed under Alexander II. Nikolai Bobrikov is appointed Governor-General. (read more)


The turn of the century was the period of Jugendstil architecture in Helsinki. (read more)


The census shows that for the first time, the Finnish-speaking population is in the majority in Helsinki.


18 April 1902 Cossacks violently disrupt a protest against the army draft.


The coastal railway connection (Rantarata) between Helsinki and Karjaa is completed.


General strike, “the Great Strike”. There are large protests and gatherings in Senate Square and at the Central Railway Station. The unrest in Russia spread to Finland, and even more so to what are nowadays the Baltic countries.


The Emperor issues the November Manifesto, in which he retracts his earlier decrees that are contrary to Finnish law.


The Sveaborg Rebellion and the Hakaniemi strikes. (read more)


Parliamentary reform. The four Estates of the Assembly of the Estates were replaced with a unicameral parliament.


Meilahti and Toukola become part of Helsinki.


Parliamentary elections. Women and men are granted universal suffrage and equal and universal eligibility to stand as candidates in State elections.


The population of Helsinki crosses the 100,000 mark; it is now a miniature metropolis. (read more)


Pasila becomes part of Helsinki.


The new town plan is completed. (read more)


The new programme for the Russification of Finland is made public.

1914 – 1917

The Great War, World War I. (read more)


Emperor Nicholas II relinquishes power. Russia’s interim government abolishes the illegal measures put in place by the March Manifesto.


6 December 1917 The Senate of the Grand Duchy of Finland declares Finland an independent republic. Helsinki is the capital of the new-born Republic. (read more)


26 January 1918 Civil war breaks out in Finland. Helsinki is the capital of “red” Finland, and Vaasa the capital of the “whites”. (read more)


12 April 1918 German forces assist the Whites in freeing Helsinki from Red rule. (read more)


12 May 1918 The flag of the Republic of Finland with a crest in red and yellow depicting a lion was raised for the first time, on Sveaborg (Viapori). The name of the military fortification was now changed to Suomenlinna. (read more)


16 June 1918 The blue-and-white flage of the Republic of Finland is raised on the roof of the Senate for the first time.


9 October 1918 The Parliament of Finland declares Frederick Charles Louis Constantine, Prince of Hesse, the King of Finland. (read more)


The form of government is confirmed: the newly independent Finland is to be a parliamentary republic.

1919 – 1925

K. J. Ståhlberg is appointed as the first President of the Republic of Finland.

1920 – 1939

Construction of Töölö, Vallila, Käpylä, and Torkkelinmäki. The wooden houses of the city centre and Kallio are demolished to make way for modern stone buildings. (read more)


Finland accedes to the League of Nations.


The Treaty of Tartu is signed between Russia and Finland. The borders of the Finnish republic are confirmed.


The first Finnish Trade Fair is held, in Helsinki. The first Finnish-made film, Ollin oppivuodet ,“Oliver’s Apprenticeship”, is premiered in the Bio-Bio cinema in Helsinki.


Through the diplomatic intervention of the League of Nations, a peaceful settlement is reached between Sweden and Finland regarding the Åland Islands.


Rationing of foodstuffs is brought to an end, as is rent control. There is a severe housing shortage in Helsinki.


14 February 1922 Minister for Internal Affairs Heikki Ritavuori is murdered on Nervanderinkatu in Töölö.

1925 – 1931

Lauri Kristian Relander is President of Finland.


Finland’s state-run broadcasting service Suomen Yleisradio is founded.


24 November 1930 Stockmann’s new continental department store opens for business. (read more)


7 July 1930 Farmers stage a protest in Helsinki. The right-wing Lapua Movement mobilizes a 12,000-strong protest march in Helsinki to further its political demands.


24 September 1930 The Graf Zeppelin airship arrives from Germany and flies over Helsinki.


9 March 1931 The new Parliament Building is inaugurated.

1931 – 1937

P.E. Svinhufvud is President of Finland.

1937 – 1940

Kyösti Kallio is President of Finland.


1938 Malmi airfield and the Olympic Stadium are completed. Helsinki is selected as host of the 1940 Summer Olympics, which are later cancelled when war breaks out.


The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact is agreed between Russia and Germany. According to the agreement, Finland and the other countries of the Baltic region come within the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.


30 November 1939 The Soviet Union conducts an aerial bombardment of Helsinki, killing almost one hundred civilians. War begins on the Karelian isthmus, and the Finnish town of Viipuri is also bombed.

1939 – 1940

30 November 1939 – 13 March 1940 The Winter War is fought between Finland and the Soviet Union, which results in the deaths of 23,000 soldiers and 1000 civilians.

1940 – 1944

Risto Ryti is President of Finland.

1941 – 1944

The Continuation War. The Soviet Union bombards Helsinki through the entire duration of the war, with the worst damage being caused by three large-scale bombardments in February of 1944. (read more)

1944 – 1946

Carl Gustaf Mannerheim is President of Finland.

1944 – 1947

The Soviet-led Allied Commission is based in Helsinki.

1946 – 1956

Juho Kusti Paasikivi is President of Finland.


1 January 1946 Through land acquisitions the Helsinki region increases in size fivefold, and its population grows to 341,563. Reconstruction begins. (read more)


In the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, Finland loses twelve per cent of its territory to the Soviet Union. Eleven per cent of the population lose their homes. (read more)


Helsinki is 400 years old.


The XV Olympics are held in Helsinki. (read more)


Finland pays off the last of the 300 million US dollars in war reparations to the Soviet Union.


Ration stamps are taken out of use, and rationing of coffee comes to an end.


The Soviet Union’s lease on Porkkala ends and the region is returned to Finland.

1956 – 1982

Urho Kekkonen is the President of Finland.


General strike.


The age of prefabricated buildings. (read more)


Architect Alvar Aalto unveils his town plan for the centre of Helsinki. (read more)


1965 For the first time, the population of Helsinki exceeds half a million. The population then dropped slightly, but soon after a new wave of growth began, which continues still. (read more)


There are 1138 registered unemployed in Helsinki, all of whom are put to work for the City.


Helsinki hosts the conference of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). (read more)


The Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) network is built in Helsinki.


1 June 1982 The first section of the Helsinki metro line, from Itäkeskus to Hakaniemi, comes into operation.

1982 – 1994

Mauno Koivisto is President of Finland, for two consecutive six-year terms.

1994 – 2000

Martti Ahtisaari is President of Finland.


A referendum on EU membership is held, as a result of which Finland joins the Union.


The Kiasma Museum of Modern Art opens.


Finland adopts the European Union’s common currency. The Euro comes into use in cash form on 1 January 2002.


Tarja Halonen is elected to her first term of office as President of Finland. For the first time ever, a born-and-bred “Helsinkian” becomes President.


Helsinki celebrates 450 years, and is also a European Capital of Culture.


The new Vuosaari Harbour comes into use. (read more)


Parts of Vantaa and Sipoo are amalgamated into Helsinki.


1 September 2011 Helsinki Music Centre opens. (read more)


8 April 2012 Helsinki, now 462 years old, has been the Finnish capital for 200 years.


World Design Capital Helsinki 2012. (read more)