Tvärminne lecture: The Construction of Sveaborg – Geographic Perspectives of the Economic Impact

Abstract also of  my Tvärminne participation in 24.3.

My research focuses on the economic consequences of the construction of the sea fortress of Sveaborg, mainly during the first intense construction period in the 1750s. The fortress was one of the biggest economic investments in 18th century Sweden and the Crown purchased tons of materials and equipment. In which regions did people benefit economically from the construction works?

Whether we are talking about agricultural products, industrial goods or services, accessibility is of outmost importance. Accessibility is not only connected to physical distance and land formations, but also to transport systems. (Camm & Irwin 1979:11ff)The construction works led to the development of an enormous logistic system, but in the 18th century the possibilities were scarce; in summertime water transports or horse drawn carriages, in wintertime horse drawn sledges. The accessibility thus limited the area that could benefit from the construction works. Transport costs limited it even more; even if goods were possible to transport, it was no longer profitable. However, this depended on the products; how bulky, perishable or valuable they were. The geographer Alfred Weber has developed a model for manufacturing location around a central city; this model can also be applied on the case of Sveaborg. (Camm & Irwin 1979:209ff; Fouberg, Murphy & de Blij 2009:389)

In Weber´s model, the best location for a factory depends mainly on the transport cost. There are two possible optimal locations: near to the source of the raw material or near to the market. The choice depends mainly on two things: is the raw material evenly distributed and will the manufactured product being easier or more difficult to transport than the raw-materials? (Camm & Irwin 1979:209ff; Fouberg, Murphy & de Blij 2009:389) In the case of Sveaborg, the accounts are indicating that some of the most important industrial products purchased were saw-mill products, bricks, lime, bread and alcoholic drinks.

For the saw-mills, there were plenty of raw materials in the interior; the timber could either be driven down along the rivers or transported by land. The manufactured products were easier to transport than the raw-materials, so a location near the routes from the forest were better than in Helsinki. The saw-mills often used water power, which also limited the suitable locations. Most of the saw-mills were situated by rivers some 20-30 km from Helsinki.

The brickworks required mainly clay and water, common in many places, but not at the rocky fortress islands. The bricks were difficult to transport, but it would have been even worse to transport the clay. Since bricks were cheap, transport costs had to be low. The best was to transport them directly by ship, without transshipment. Therefore the brickworks were usually located along the coast, near good harbours and not very far from Sveaborg.

Limestone again was a rare raw-material, only found in particular places. Usually it was processed to lime at the spot, since it lost weight, thus making transport of the manufactured product cheaper. Lime was valuable and worth transporting over long distances, quite much if it came to Helsinki from Gotland by ship.

Bread and alcoholic drinks again were usually manufactured at the market. It was easier to transport grains or flour than the manufactured products; water and other ingredients could be added in Helsinki as well. The bread or the booze was also more perishable than grains, it was better to produce them nearby the consumers. Also services were usually produced at the market (Camm & Irwin 1979:339ff; Fouberg, Murphy & de Blij 2009:405), especially inns and taverns had prosperous days. However, the only market was not Helsinki or the islands of Sveaborg. The construction works were spread out over the region, as forestry works, storehouses or hospitals and soldiers were commanded to several places in Espoo, Sipoo and Helsinki (Helsinge) parish.

Around the fortress of Sveaborg, different more or less semicircular economic zones can be identified. Helsinki was producing services and perishable manufactured goods. Outside the city there was a region with factories, along the coast brickworks and along the rivers in the interior saw-mills. Further away, there was a region providing raw-materials like timber and grains. The exception was lime, worth bringing all the way from Gotland.


Krigsarkivet, Stockholm: Helsingfors fästningsarkiv, Kassaböcker 1751-1756.


Camm, J C R& Irwin P G (1979): Space, people, place: economic and settlement geography. 3rd edition. Longman Cheshire, Melbourne 1979.

Fouberg, Erin H.; Murphy. Alexander B. & Blij, H.J. de (2009): Human Geography. People, Place and Culture. 9th edition. John Wiley & Sons Inc. Hoboken, 2009.