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Hanko Remembers the Epoch When Emigrants Traveled to America

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A very interesting exhibit was presented before the summer season in Hanko. People there have chosen to present the great American emigration that occurred throughout the city at the turn of the century.

On the floor of the Castle Museum in Hanko trunks used for the trip to America were lined up. In the background is an enlarged photo of F.Å.A.'s emigrant hotel on the boulevard and behind it one can see inside a doctor's reception room where in 1903 medical examinations were carried out. Those traveling to the New World had to be in good health. In another room one could admire both tomatoes and oranges. Luxury articles such as this were already available in Hanko before the turn of the century, but they became more common after the second world war.

Between the years 1865 and 1930 about 400,000 Finns emigrated to America. Foremost among those who traveled were people from Ostrobothnia, and over 250,000 of the emigrants journeyed through Hanko.

The exhibit blends facts, charts and pictures in an attractive manner where one can experience the swarm of people who went through the city during the great emigration. Before the emigrant hotel was built, Hanko residents offered lodging consisting of a small hammock with a stove to the emigrants in exchange for ample payment. The market sold soup which could be heated on the stove.

In the beginning there was concurrence between the eleven boat companies who sold tickets, but they began to fight among themselves and used physical force in the competition for the emigrants' business. Gradually the Finnish Steamship Co. received sole rights to the Hanko-Hull route and passenger traffic, in addition to the export of butter, went through them.

It was not cheap to emigrate. Tickets cost 2-3 month's pay, but often it was paid by previous travelers to America who would alleviate their homesickness by paying for a family to travel to America.

In the beginning of the 1900's F.Å.A. also advertised its passenger line in Russia. As a result of disturbances after the big strike of 1905, there was a rush for America among Russian jews. Hanko was completely unprepared for this mass emigration and there was great confusion when the people took over the city. The emigrants were placed both in the market hall and in a yard in Västerby where there was not an inch of floor space to spare. The problem eased when F.Å.A. purchased the new home of Sanfrid Friis at Nycanderinkatu 10. The Finnish emigrants would not have anything to do with the Russians.

It was a relief when Finland's first icebreaker cleared the way to Hanko so traffic could be maintained year-round. The steamer Express was Finland's first winter steamer and in 1877 opened traffic between Hanko and Stockholm. There was room for no more than 30 passengers, but over 100 crowded on.

Birgitta Ekström and archivist Marketta Wall have put together a living history about an important epoch in the city's history.


Published by Norden, May 16, 1996. Translated by June Pelo


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