Gustaf Adolf Serlachius
Gustaf Adolf Serlachius established a ground wood mill on Mäntänkoski in 1868. Despite the serious problems, he was able to build a economically profitable industrial company. Infamous for his irritable personality, mill owner Serlachius loved art. He lead the society constructed around his paper mill with paternal hands.
Gustaf Adolf Serlachius was born in Ilomantsi, eastern Finland in the family of district police chief Gustaf Serlachius on 5 November 1830. The father died when his son was 13. After her husbands death, his mother moved with her children to Kuopio. There Gustaf Adolf was enrolled at a secondary school in 1843. Due to the family’s straitened financial circumstances, however, he had to leave the school only three years later.
Pharmacist by profession
His school days over, Gustaf Adolf took his mother’s advice and decided to make pharmacy his profession. He worked as a trainee, apprentice and pharmacist in several places. Finally at the age of 23 qualified as a dispensing chemist in Turku. From there he moved to Tampere. He became the manager of the Tennberg Pharmacy, which he bought using borrowed money in 1858.
He married Alice Eufrosyne Maexmontan the following year. They had seven children, the first four of which died in infancy.
Pharmacy was not G. A. Serlachius’ only business during his time in Tampere. Other interests included running the business side of Fredrik Idestam’s ground wood mill. That is where he quickly grasped how profitable this business could be. Subsequently, he decided that his future career would be in a ground wood mill.
New Beginning at Mäntänkoski
In 1868 Gustaf Adolf Serlachius sold his pharmacy and moved to Keuruu. Most importantly, he bought the western bank of the Mäntänkoski Rapids, together with a share of the hydropower rights. As a result, beside the rapids he built a ground wood mill, which was completed in March 1869. Then followed three decades of intense work, at the end of which his industry and unyielding resolve had brought two ground wood mills, two steam sawmills, a paper mill, a cardboard converting factory and a bag factory into being.
Mänttä was a remote place, far from the main transport routes of those days. As a result, the ground wood mill had to overcome a multitude of practical and financial difficulties in its early years. For example, the pulp that the mill produced had to be drawn by horses to Hämeenlinna and from there on to St. Petersburg via Viipuri.
His other major achievements included arranging for the new railway line between Helsinki and the north-western region of Ostrobothnia to run east of Lake Näsijärvi and building a branch line between Mänttä and Vilppula. To achieve that, he contacted directly members of Finnish Parliament. Furthermore, he wrote diligently in newspapers on themes mainly relating to providing effective transport infrastructure. As a result, he managed to influence public opinion so that the route of the railway was directed from populated areas to the wilderness.
His aim was naturally to get his own products to the market faster and cheaper than before. With the same will power he carried through a project to arrange winter shipping services. This was to take goods from the Finnish port of Hanko to Copenhagen and Britain. It was also on his initiative that Finland’s first icebreaker was acquired. He was awarded the prestigious honorary title by the Senate of Finland in 1896.
Mill owner of Mänttä
G. A. Serlachius believed that Finland’s future lay in education and culture. So, he worked in many ways to promote the Finnish language and Finnish culture in a period of growing national awareness. One of the ways in which his patriotism manifested itself was his support for “Finnish-minded” visual art. Thanks to his generosity, an elementary school and a library were opened in Mänttä in 1871.
Although the circles of business men considered Serlachius a petulant and hazardous business partner, the inhabitants of Mänttä appreciated him well. The mill owner of Mänttä organized the services that the industrial society needed but that the municipality did not organise. The mill in Mänttä meant work and livelihood. People understood as much to be grateful for it.
Friend of the artists
G. A. Serlachius personally acquainted with several artists and prominent cultural figures. The most important of these contacts was with the painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela. The two met in 1884 and their friendship continued until G. A. Serlachius’ death in 1901.
G. A. Serlachius followed closely the sculptor Emil Wikström, whom he encouraged to dedicate himself to art full-time. Serlachius demonstrated that he understood the essence of creative work, and he encouraged and guided the young artist in many ways. Both Gallen-Kallela and Wikström visited Mänttä several times and they met each other later also abroad.
G. A. Serlachius died at the age of 71 on 13 June 1901. The company he founded, G. A. Serlachius Ltd., carried on his lifework. Later it became, however, part of the Metsä-Serla Group. Nowadays it is Metsä Tissue. Gösta Serlachius, the nephew of G. A. Serlachius carried on his uncle’s interest in art. Today the museums of Gösta Serlachius Fine Arts Foundation preserve the legacy.