From Falander to the Vaasanlaivat Shipping Company
Vaasa has always been a seafaring city whose affluence is founded on trade. The first sailing ships carried farm products to various ports along the Baltic in the Middle Ages. With the growth of the European shipbuilding industry in the 17th century, tar became Vaasa’s most important export. Tar was used as a protective agent on the hulls and rigging of wooden sailing ships, as well as pitch, which was made from tar. Tar was extracted from pine in tar-burning pits all over Ostrobothnia, from which it was transported to Vaasa in barrels. Tar merchants from Vaasa then shipped the barrels to Stockholm. Larger and larger ships were required to carry exports. Other exported products included grain, fish, train oil and timber and, on the way back, ships carried salt, among other things.
City of Merchants
In the latter part of the 18th century, the merchant fleet of Vaasa included about a dozen ships owned by Vaasa-based traders. Many of the ships were built in the city’s own shipyards or ones in the surrounding countryside, such as the Petsmo or Iskmo districts of Korsholm. The most important dockyard was the merchant-owned Svartö by the city bay. Most ships were jointly owned by several merchants; only the richest merchants, such as Abraham Falander, were sole owners. At the beginning of the 19th century, the merchant fleet began to grow substantially in both number and ship size. Falander’s best known ship was the frigate Allmänna Bästa, which was built in the Svartö dockyard in 1786 and was the largest merchant ship in the Nordic countries in its time.
Carl Gustav Wolff – richest man in Finland
Merchant Carl Gustaf Wolff began his shipping company together with another merchant, Herman Widmark, and their jointly owned brig Wänskapen was built in the Petsmo district of Korsholm. In 1836, Wolff became an independent shipowner. During the winter season, his ships and their cargos often sailed the Mediterranean or even as far as the West Indies.
By the 1850s, Wolff’s shipping company had become the largest in Finland. The secrets to his success were his well-built ships, skilful captains and the fact that Wolff never insured his ships.
He had calculated that the premiums would have been greater than the annual losses incurred by shipwreck. He had a dockyard in the Palosaari district of Vaasa where his new ships were built. He also owned a house in Palosaari and built another one in the best spot in Vaasa, on the side of the square known as Ylätori by the corner of Vaasanpuistikko. The latter was first a wooden house but it was soon replaced by a grand shop building. Known as the Wolff House, this building was demolished in 1960 to make way for the shopping centre designed by Viljo Rewell, which still stands there today.
At the time of his death in 1868, Carl Gustaf Wolff was the richest man in Finland. His sons did not do as well their father had in running his shipping company. Also, the time for sailing ships was coming to an end, with steamers becoming more popular. Nevertheless, Wolff’s widow Natalie and their son Eugéne continued as shareholders of the shipping company Suomen Höyrylaiva Osakeyhtiö.
Close to Sweden
The shipping company Wasa-Nordsjö Ångbåts Aktiebolag was founded in 1873 and it started a cargo service between Vaasa and Hull in England. The company merged with Suomen Höyrylaiva Osakeyhtiö in 1926. Passenger ships had run between Finland and Sweden since the 19th century and, after the wars, passenger traffic increased when Finnish shipping companies took over sea traffic in the Kvarken.
The shipping company Vaasa-Umeå (also known as Vaasanlaivat) was founded in 1948 and that summer started plying the route between Vaasa and Umeå on S/S Turisten, which had run the same route as S/S Pörtö the previous summer when it was owned by Suomi Shipping. The next year, the Vaasa-Umeå company acquired a larger ship and named it S/S Korsholm. Plans for a car ferry for the route were already being discussed in the late 1940s, but this project didn’t materialise until 1958 when the first car ferry in Finland, S/S Korsholm III, began sailing between Vaasa and Umeå. This was the beginning of the golden age for passenger traffic in the Kvarken, lasting until 1999 when tax free trade on ships between EU countries was abolished.