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Orijärvi Copper

The story of the Orijärvi mine began in 1757, when copper was found in the mountains of the area. At the time, the kingdom of Sweden-Finland invested heavily in mining. Mining companies were allowed tax reliefs, the crown was active in the business, and people were encouraged to observe their surroundings for interesting stones. According to legend, Johan Isaksson, a resident at a stable in Kisko, did indeed find a rare stone on his land. Close inspection found it to be copper, and so began the test digs at Orijärvi. A mining company was established in 1760, and was headed by the owner of Fagervik, Johan Hisig, vuorineuvos (a title given a person for merits in industry) Jakob Kijk of the Teijo Ironworks and the owner of Strömfors Ironworks Johan Forsell. Soon after, Hisig began to doubt the profitability of the mine. Transports on sleighs during winter were expensive, and the refinement route to Avesta factory in Sweden was long. So he sold his share of the mine in 1764 to one of the most important men in iron industry in Sweden, Robert Finlay.

Only a few years earlier, Finlay had taken possession of the Fiskars Ironworks. Now three thirds of the Orijärvi mine shares were added to his wealth in industry. It could even be said, that Finlay laid the foundation for the copper period in Fiskars, because he began processing copper by building a copper workshop in Kärkelä, near the Orijärvi mine. The cost of transportation was reduced. (Later, copper was also refined at the Fiskars and Antskog Ironworks.) In Finlay’s time, copper industry was, however, uncertain. Profits were modest, the work was done by less than ten people, and in the 1760’s the mine was only 10 metres deep. Water pooling in the mine also made working more difficult, even though Finlay had had a roof built over it. Water was first lifted with the help of a jack, and in 1766, a horse-drawn jack was built because the mine got deeper. The same year Finlay asked a district court chairman to inspect the mine. He applied for, and received a twenty-year exemption from taxes, but this was not enough, and in 1771, Finlay went bankrupt.

The next owner of the Orijärvi mine, and simultaneously of the Fiskars and Antskog Ironworks, was a merchant from Stockholm, Bengt Magnus Björkman. From 1783, he improved the mine’s operations by having more ditches dug. The mine’s profits did not, however, go up. The copper market was very sensitive for changes in economic trends. The changes in the world market prices for copper were particularly influenced by political changes, and especially wars brought up prices for the strategically important raw material. On the other hand, mining costs were not directly proportional to ore yield, and, for example, building shafts did not increase the yield. The amount of copper, in turn, was not directly proportional to the ore mined, since the copper concentrations in the ore varied greatly.

Another inspection was carried out in Orijärvi in 1787, the exemption from taxes was granted for ten years this time. The inspection concluded that the big mine was half-filled with water, and middle and Western mine did not yield expected profits. But Björkman believed in copper, and noticed demand for it to grow as the turn of the century got nearer. At the same time, the price for copper went up and reached its peak. This was in large part due to the Napoleonic wars. Björkman made a radical decision, and opted to concentrate on copper at the expense of iron processing. So Björkman stopped producing wrought iron at the Koski Ironworks, replacing it with a copper workshop. In addition, a copper processing facility was built in Koski with all of its furnaces. In the 1798 inspection, the Orijärvi mining activities had improved radically, and tax exemption was only granted for three years. In 1802, the blast furnace at Fiskars was also closed, and one of the hammers was taken down to build a copper workshop. The peak of Orijärvi copper production was 1799-1808. At the time, the rich core of the ore was worked on.

The Hamina peace treaty in 1808 put in motion another change in ownership at the Orijärvi mine and the whole Fiskars Ironworks. This time ownership remained in the family, when Bengt Magnus Björkman sold his industry to his two sons. In the background was also a newly implemented rule which prevented Swedish citizens from owning anything in Finland. Changes in ownership happened in many other Finnish ironworks as well. Björkman, who was already 70 years old, didn’t want to change citizenship, and resolved the situation with the help of his sons in 1815. Bengt Ludvig Björkman, who had recently become of age (24 years), moved to Fiskars. In his time, activity at Orijärvi remained as it was, although profits clearly lagged behind those of the previous years. Bengt Junior soon proved to be an extravagant and moody owner. He had to go to prison for abusing a worker. The foundation of the Fiskars copper workshop is, however, credited to him. He also built the grand Kivimuuri, which is still in use today. Thanks to him, though, the Ironworks was driven to economic trouble, and his father finally sold everything to an apothecary from Turku, Johan Jacob Julin, in 1822.

With Julin, began the third age of the Orijärvi mine. Like his predecessors, Julin first concentrated on copper. Copper was the main product of the Ironworks, and it had to be made profitable. Julin visited the mine often, and went on trips to Swedish copper mines to learn from them. His energy resulted in considerable savings in transportation costs. The river was dredged between the mine and Koski, as well as the Antskog Ironworks. Also, canals and locks were built for summer transportation. Julin also had the pump and air conditioning and lift devices at the mine fixed. Copper discs were further processed into ingots. Julin also had a new map drawn of the mine.

By the 1830’s, the Orijärvi mine gave good yields of copper, and Johan Julin dominated Finnish copper markets. Copper production exceeded domestic need, and so Julin aimed for foreign markets. The copper ingots of Orijärvi were deemed high quality, and it was shipped to Stockholm and St. Petersburg, as well as Tallinn, Riga, Lübeck, Hamburg and Bordeaux. Little by little, copper reserves began to dry out. Deepening the mine also brought up the costs, and quickly worsened mining conditions. Profitability went down already by the end of the 1830’s. Finally copper production became unprofitable, and it could only be continued with the help of the vast lands belonging to the Ironworks. The Orijärvi mine enjoyed tax exemption until the 1840’s. In 1843, the situation was so difficult that Julin applied for permanent tax exemption. He also offered the mine to the state at a low price, so that the livelihood of its 630 workers could be guaranteed. Because of the conditions, Julin had to again concentrate on iron. Iron was not produced at the Fiskars Ironworks the way it had been done, but instead the focus shifted to refining it.

After the death of Julin in 1853, the Orijärvi mine quieted down. The new Finnish coinage was made out of Orijärvi copper. Mining stopped in 1873, only to be resumed in 1883. In the beginning of the 20th century, a group of American Finns tried to revive its operations, but to no avail. Outokumpu bought the Orijärvi mine in 1945, and continued mining it for a while. In 1956, the last water pump was taken up from the mine, and it was allowed to fill up with water. Divers have later filmed the mining shafts to a depth of 100 metres. The pictures show signs of mine cars and different tools left in the abandoned, water-filled mine.

Despite its colourful past, the Orijärvi mine has been important to the industry of our country. The mine with its processing facilities was for a long time the biggest employer of industrial workers in our country. At its best, it employed almost 200 workers. The mining community itself was much larger. In the beginning of the 19th century, Orijärvi’s copper production brought more taxes to the crown than the whole Finnish iron industry. Every 30th kippunta of produced pure copper had to be paid as tax for the city.

Despite the hard and sometimes dangerous work, the miners had relatively good living conditions. The mine offered mine cottages for its workers, with small plots of land for farming and pasture. Women and children were used in sorting, boys also showed light to workmen in the mines. Workers were also tempted to the mine from the surrounding areas by offering free meals.

In 1825, the mine had the following workers:

1 inspector
1 bailiff
1 bookkeeper
2 overseers
2 mine aldermen
74 mining hands
5 haulers
6 lifters
8 sorters
2 bearers
7 mine smiths
2 pump guardians
2 shingle splitters
1 stable boy
1 fire watcher
11 corvées
8 labourers

à 134 men


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