Vohlonen Takes a Bearing (15 June–15 November 2006)

‘There is a saying that an inventor must be discontented, or he will never come up with any inventions. Tuomas Vohlonen was discontented. Wherever he moved, worked or came across new things, his first thought was “Is this good enough, could it be improved?” He was tireless as an inventor.’

These are words by Sulo Veikko Siitonen (S.V.S) in his article Tuomas Vohlonen – famous Finnish inventor genius in the newspaper Etelä-Saimaa in spring 1969, marking the fact that 30 years had passed from Tuomas (Tommo) Vohlonen’s death.

In summer 1939, Tuomas Vohlonen, inventor and surveyor, was 61 years old. He had been granted 39 Finnish patents and his most important inventions had been patented abroad, too. He was the managing director of an emerging company established three years earlier, but ‘just as he was about to see his efforts bear fruit, the thread of life was suddenly cut for him.’(S.V.S.).

Mrs Elli Vohlonen, his wife and business partner, took on the business after the sudden death of her husband. She was the managing director until 1952 and fought several times in court, defending patent rights that had been transferred to her after Tuomas Vohlonens death. She prevailed, the products of the company gained reputation as good and reliable merchandise, and the name of the company became well known.

Today, in 2006, the company celebrates its 70th anniversary. It is the biggest manufacturer of compasses and precision instruments globally; it is a concept and an internationally acknowledged brand.

The most groundbreaking of Tuomas Vohlonen’s inventions was the method for manufacturing a liquid-damped march compass, and the company, which he founded in 1936 together with his wife Elli and his nephew Kauko, is Suunto Oy.

‘Although not more than 30 years have passed since Director Tuomas Vohlonen’s death, his name has fallen into oblivion and a lot of the knowledge about him and his work has been lost. Where are his archives, his manuscripts, sketches, and plans? They are unique and should have been saved. The name of Tuomas Vohlonen has been forgotten, but his work lives on. His invention has put Finland on the map. May this writing be a tribute to Tuomas Vohlonen, a modest inventor genius.’ (S.V.S. 1969)

The Innogallery presents inventor Tuomas Vohlonen and his patents in an exhibition organised by the National Board of Patents and Registration in cooperation with Suunto Oy. In addition, the interesting steps of the processing of his patent applications are described. Pictures, objects and stories illustrate the history of Suunto Oy. The exhibition shows, for example, a compass that saved a young lieutenant’s life, and an archaeologist who found a treasure.

Professor Arthur Demarest, with his expedition, went into the Guatemalan rain forest and found there a Mayan ruler’s palace that had lied there, hidden by the jungle, for a thousand years. Anyone very seldom stumbles on a forgotten royal palace, but Professor Demarest happened to do so. Although it was a rare coincidence that the palace was found, the expedition was not there by chance: they found the place after years of research, and with the help of valuable clues and the right equipment.

What connects the head of the expedition, Professor Arthur Demarest and surveyor, inventor Tuomas Vohlonen? —They both think that it is vital to know exactly where you are; that it is essential to be able to fix one’s bearing and position.

Suunto Oy still produces the company’s first commercial product, the march compass M-311, but for some minor improvements with state-of-the-art technology, and a new model number M-801.

Read more: Suunto.com.

For further details, please contact
Ms Kastehelmi Nikkanen
Exhibition Assistant
mob +358 (0)40 549 2737