Department of Mechanical Engineering

Rudolf Kolster

Rudolf Kolster was a German teacher who came to Helsinki in during the 1860s and is considered the founding father of mechanical engineering in Finland.
Rudolf Kolster
Portrait of Rudolf Kolster, Aalto University collections. Photo: Rauno Träskelin.

Rudolf Kolster (b. 13 March 1837) began his studies right at the time when formal teaching in mechanical engineering was being introduced to German technical schools. Kolster took to the field and began studying in the Hamburg region by becoming an assistant in the engineering firm J. Lohse & Son.

After spending some time in several engineering firms around northern Germany, Kolster was admitted to the rapidly developing Hanover Polytechnic School. The director of the school was Karl Karmarsch, who worked to promote a theorisation within the engineering sciences in the German engineers' association VDI. Karmarsch's school became known as a centre for applied technology and natural sciences. The school's way of thinking suited Kolster well, since he was a talented mathematician.

Endre Lekve, another Hanover student, had been hired to teach engineering in Helsinki and was visiting Germany in 1860 to handle personal affairs. During the visit, Lekve convinced Rudolf Kolster – who had spent time with Scandinavians as a student – to accompany him back to Finland. Helsinki Technical School director Anders Saelan had already heard of Kolster's abilities during his own visit to Germany a year earlier, and thus Kolster was hired as an assistant teacher in the area of mechanical engineering and engineering drawing.

Rudolf Kolster's role in developing technology student culture and engineer culture in Finland is undisputed. With him, a strong foundation of mathematics and natural sciences was built for what would become the culture of mechanical engineering.

In addition to his work as a teacher, Kolster was responsible for the inspection of steam engines and the training of steam engine operators in Finland together with Martin Wetzer.

In his capacity as an engineer, Kolster participated in many industrial development projects in the late 1800s. These included developing machinery at the industrial plants of Finlayson Co. and Serlachius, equipping the Student House in Helsinki with heaters and designing a mechanism for turning the telescope in the new Helsinki Observatory. At the end of the century, Kolster inaugurated a patent office together with his sons in Helsinki.

Kolster was the first of the Polytechnic Institute's teachers to receive a personal professorship. He was a practical engineer, not an administrator: While he did serve as the institute's deputy director during 1880–1883, the totality of his work cannot be contained in an archive of administrative decisions. Kolster was a cultivator of mechanical engineering.

The polytechnic student association commemorated the professor's sixtieth birthday with a stern-faced portrait in 1897. Rudolf Kolster passed away in 1901.


Herman & Fr. Kolster. Rudolf Kolster. Finlandssvenska tekniker. Biografiska anteckningar under medverkan av flere författare utgivna av Jonatan Reuter, III. Söderström & Co Förlagsaktiebolag, Helsingfors 1925.

Karl Evert Palmén. Katsaus korkeamman teknillisen opetuksen syntyyn ja kehitykseen Suomessa. Teoksessa: Matrikkeli sisältävä elämänkerrallisia tietoja Helsingin teknillisen reaalikoulun, Helsingin Polyteknillisen koulun ja Suomen Polyteknillisen Opiston opettajista ja oppilaista 1849–1897, sekä historiikit oppilaitoksen, teknoloogisen yhdistyksen ja Polyteknikkojen Yhdistyksen toiminnasta. Julkaissut Polyteknikkojen yhdistys. Kotkassa, J. E: Nyleniuksen kirjapainossa 1899.

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