From the founding of Mariehamn in 1861 it has been a maritime town. This is were the professional shipping industry developed and this is were successful master mariners build their splendid homes.
Mariehamn was founded in 1861 by Tsar Alexander II. A customs house and pilot station were quickly set up and loading piers and warehouses were built – all to promote shipping. Soon there followed register offices, a seamen’s mission, sailors’ hotels, insurance companies and maritime academies. With the founding of Mariehamn, professional shipowners emerged, among whom Nikolai Sittkoff, Robert Mattson, Mathias Lundqvist and August Troberg were the first and most influential.
Many more shipowners followed; some were active only a few years while others
founded companies that passed on from generation to generation. One of the most prominent shipowners of the 20th century was Algot Johansson, who in 1972 owned 25 per cent of Finland’s merchant tonnage.
There are plenty of sailors’ wives and children on Åland today, not surprising given that seafaring is still one of the most common occupations among Åland men. Despite improvements, the fundamental aspects of any maritime family’s life are the same as they were a century ago; physical separation, concern for the wellbeing of loved ones, children missing their fathers and for everyone involved, a sense of living two different lives – one where the sailor is at home and one where he is at sea.
Sailing vessels were a common sight in Mariehamn during the interwar period. After having discharged their Australian grain cargoes in Britain, the tall ships returned to Mariehamn’s Västerhamn for the summer. Here they laid in wait until the autumn, when a new voyage around the world began. The summer stays gave the shipowners opportunity to inspect their ships and the crews time to visit their families.