Department of Mechanical Engineering

Martin Wetzer and the dawn of mechanical engineering in Finland

In 1841, a mechanical institute was inaugurated in Finland – the Senate Fine Mechanics Workshop. This marks the beginning of technology industry development in the country.

In the early 19th century, the development of technology and natural sciences depended on the development and availability of instrumentation. When the physical collections of the Royal Academy were completely destroyed in the Great Fire of Turku in 1827, Finland was lagging far behind the European level of natural sciences research.

Due to a complete lack of expertise in the manufacture of instruments and measuring instruments in Finland and the entire Russian Empire, the physicist J. J. Nervander was dispatched on a European tour in the 1830s to seek modern scientific instruments. Nervander's trip ended in failure, however, as the competition for state-of-the-art technology was too fierce, there were not enough manufacturers of fine mechanical equipment, and novel measuring equipment was not always even available for sale.

It was decided that mechanics capable of crafting the needed instruments would be trained in Helsinki.

Martin Wetzer, a mechanic at the Pulkova Observatory, was hired as the first fine mechanic in Finland. The idea of moving to Helsinki came to him during the period in which astronomer Wilhelm Struve was working with J. J. Nervander on the Helsinki Observatory, which was completed in 1834.

A drawing of Martin Wetzer.
Martin Wetzer

Senate Fine Mechanics Workshop

In the spring of 1842, Wetzer was given an apartment in Helsinki, a salary and the instruments necessary for precision work. In November of the same year, the opening of his workshop was announced to the general public. Wetzer's first major customer was the newly established Helsinki magnetic observatory, led by Nervander.

As no teacher could be found by the time Helsinki Technical School was scheduled to open in January 1849, Wetzer was appointed to the position. Thus, he could be credited with launching mechanical engineering education in Finland.

No-one else in the country could do the job. Wetzer was a conscientious teacher who, over the span of twenty years, founded the profession of fine mechanics in Finland. By the end of the 1850s, the Senate of Finland was able to state that there were other capable fine mechanics working in the country as well.

When the Polytechnic School – the former technical school – moved to premises on the edge of Hietalahti Market Square in 1877, Wetzer's fine mechanical workshop moved with it to a nearby location (Bulevardi 26).

Fine mechanics for scientific use

After the death of Martin Wetzer in 1882, his workshop was handed over to the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, which needed it to further develop physical research alongside international projects dealing with polar research.

In 1889, the workshop moved to the Arppeanum building in Kruunuhaka, then in use by the Imperial Alexander University.

At the turn of the century, the workshop produced star photography equipment for the Helsinki Observatory as well as mareographic instruments for the meteorologic institute operated by the Society of Sciences and Letters on the Kaivopuisto waterfront.

In 1917, the workshop was taken over by the state before being integrated to the Technical Research Centre of Finland (VTT) during the Second World War. VTT moved to Otaniemi at the end of the 1950s, where operations continued until the end of the millennium. The workshop was privatised in the year 2000 and named Protoshop Oy. Today, the company operates under the name Metsi Oy and still offers high-level solutions for equipment and workshop technology, in Finland and internationally.

Literature

Friedrich Georg Wilhelm Struve (15 April 1793 Altona – 23 November 1864 Pulkovo) Director in 1820-1839. https://www.muuseum.ut.ee/vvebook/pages/4_3.html. Haettu 6.4.2021.

Nuncius Band 38 (2018) Astronomie im Ostseeraum. Astronomy in the Baltic.

Sairio, Eino & Holmberg, Peter & Kõiv, Erna. Instrumenttien valmistajia 1800-luvun Suomessa, Opusculum Vol. 13 (1993) No. 2–3. s. 99–124.

Finska Vetenskaps-Societetens Förhandlingar. 1885 eteenpäin.

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