Timeline of Oulu

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A brief history of Oulu has been assembled on this timeline. The timeline begins from 1323 when the Treaty of Nöteborg (Pähkinäsaaren rauha) was signed between Sweden and Novgorod. Significant events and changes of Oulu are presented under each time period below. The population at the time is also presented beginning from 1649. 

Oulu from the 1300s to the 1700s 

Year 1323 

Treaty of Nöteborg (Pähkinäsaarenrauha) is signed between Sweden and Novgorod. When drawing state lines, Oulu falls under the Novgorod side. The most important communication channel between Novgorod and the Karelians they defeated is the Oulujoki river. A small number of Karelians move to and settle in Oulu.  

Year 1375 

Kastelli Castle is built in the mouth of Oulujoki river to militarily support Sweden against Novgorod. People move into Oulu especially from the southwest, perhaps encouraged by Swedish authorities. Swedish power begins to establish. 

Year 1590 

Pietari Bagge establishes the castle of Oulu in the mouth of Oulujoki river, in the spot that was already fortified. 

Year 1595 

Treaty of Teusina (Täyssinän rauha) was signed between Sweden and Russia. Russia recognizes Sweden’s ownership of the regions of Oulu and Oulujärvi lake.  

Year 1605 

King Charles IX of Sweden founds the city of Oulu on the mainland facing the castle of Oulu and Linnansaari.  

Year 1610 

King Charles IX offers Oulu the city rights. 

Years 1649-51, population: about 400 

The oldest known maps of Oulu are created. The map made in 1651 shows the old town area and how it would change according to a new building method (grid plan). Mapping and land use planning is made by Klaus Claesson. 

Year 1654, population: about 500 

The town hall destroyed in a fire is rebuilt. The town hall is the centre of governance and administration of justice, one of the most important public buildings in a city. There is an hour clock in the town hall tower, and below is a jail. Other public buildings are churches and schools.  

Year 1682, population: about 800 

The pedagogio of Oulu is expanded into a trivial school with actual classes and four teachers. Continuing studies in university becomes possible for pupils. The first principal of the trivial school is Olavi Olavinpoika Lauraeus.  

Year 1721, population: about 400 

Treaty of Nystad (Uudenkaupungin rauha) preceded by the Great Wrath (isoviha) 1714-21. At the start of the Great Wrath, Russians attack deep into Finland and the country is under Russian occupation 1714-21. Oulu end up between the fighting Swedes and Russians as “no-man’s-land” which is repeatedly pillaged and destroyed by Cossack patrols. The city of Oulu and the castle of Oulu are burned in 1715. After the war, 40% of Oulu’s buildings were deserted. The enemy kills civilians and captures valuable work force into forced labor. The population dwindles.  

Year 1724, population: about 400 

The flooding Oulujoki river erupts so powerfully into the open sea that Toppila strait is formed. The sheltered strait is extremely suitable for a harbor, and it quickly becomes the city’s most important harbor. The old, shallowed harbor by Hahtiperä market becomes an inland harbor and goods from Toppila and the roads are stored in storage sheds there. 

Year 1737, population: about 1 000 

“Emme epäile väittää, että meikäläisiä kunniakkaan elämänsä ja mielen jaloutensa puolesta ei kukaan voita” 

(“We do not hesitate to claim that nobody can beat us when it comes to prestigious life and nobleness of mind”) 

A quotation from the doctoral thesis of Johannes Snellman which was accepted by the University of Turku in 1737. Johannes Snellman was from Oulu. 

Year 1765, population: about 1 400 

Oulu is given the right to become a Tapulikaupunki (a city with the right to make international trade). International export becomes freer but international ships are not allowed to dock in the city. The most important exported items are tar, lumber, salmon, and butter, and the most important imported items are salt, tobacco, liquor, sugar, and colonial products (fruit, coffee, tea, cocoa). 

Year 1776, population: about 2 400 

Oulu becomes the capital of the Oulu province, a city governed by a provincial governor. Lieutenant colonel Karl Magnus Jägerhorn is selected as the first provincial governor. 

Year 1784 

Apothecary Johan Julin flies a hot air balloon as the first person in the Nordic countries, only one year after the first people ever tried the same; the Montgolfier brothers Joseph and Étienne.  

Years 1798–99, population: about 3 400 

The Italian explorer Giuseppe Acerbi comes to the Nordic countries and among other places visits Oulu which has the second largest population after the capital, Turku. In Oulu, Acerbi meets the provincial treasurer Erik Tulindberg who is a magnificent musician (violin and cello) and the pioneer composer of Finnish “art music”. Acerbi (clarinet) and Tulindberg (cello) often perform chamber music in a quartet for the people of Oulu.  

Oulu in the 1800s 

Year 1809, population: about 2 000 

Treaty of Fredrikshamn (Haminan rauha) preceded by the Finnish War 1808–09. Finland becomes a Grand Duchy with autonomy under Russian power for the next one hundred years, after Swedish Finland loses the war. The most significant battles of the war were fought in Ostrobothnia and Oulu becomes one of the most important supply centres of the Swedish Finland’s military.  

Year 1822, population: about 3 300 

A fire destroys Oulu which consists of wooden houses. According to sources 330 houses are burned down to their foundation, only 65 houses survive the fire. The population decreases by 260 the following year.  

Year 1829, population: about 4 100 

Oulu’s first newspaper is in Finnish, even though the educated class mostly speaks Swedish until the latter part of the century. Oulun Wiikko-Sanomat begins to be published by Evert Barck as the third Finnish newspaper in the country in 1829. 

Year 1832, population: about 4 230 

The church (Oulun tuomiokirkko) that was damaged in the fire is rebuilt around the old stone walls according to the architect C. L. Engel’s blueprints in the Empire style. The tower is finished in 1844 and the following year a city-owned clock is built into it by the master clock maker Johan Yli-Könni from Ilmajoki. 

Years 1836–37, population: about 4 300 

Finland’s first magazine, Mehiläinen, is printed in Oulu, in Barck’s printing house. The magazine’s editor, Elias Lönnrot, lives in Kajaani at the time. He lives in Oulu in the years 1832–33.  

Year 1854, population: about 5 800 

France, Sardinia, and England join Turkey to fight against Russia in the Crimean War between Russia and Turkey. The war touches Oulu in early June of 1854 when an English navy unit anchors in Oulu. Citizens of Oulu surrender instead of raising armed resistance against the English and deliver all food produce the English demand among other things. The English damage the city by setting a lot of finished and unfinished merchant ships and storehouses on fire.  

Year 1863, population: about 6 630 

A tannery run by the Åström brothers begins operations in Myllytulli. The tannery expands quickly. In the beginning the tannery produces mostly sole leather, but soon also produces vamp leather, machine straps, shoes, bags, and harnesses. By the end of the century, the tannery becomes the Veljekset Åström Limited and has almost 600 employees. Export is mostly directed to Russia and the production keeps expanding. The old factory buildings still stand, and different activities are produced in them such as museum services and a learning restaurant.  

Year 1869, population: about 6 870 

Bridges over the Oulujoki river between Linnansaari and Raatinsaari are finished.  

Year 1870, population: about 6 900 

The biggest merchant ship built in Oulu, “Toivo”, is finished. Oulu exports lumber and tar. The load is unloaded in England or in some other harbor and after unloading the product is delivered aboard between many different harbors. US freighters begin to move product in the 1870s, but steam ships do not undermine the dominance of sailing ship yet. The US exports agricultural products, among other things, to Europe. A ship might spend 3 to 4 years on the seas before returning home. 

Year 1874, population: about 6 980 

The common school of Oulu begins operation. The school is divided into primary school and middle school. In the Fall, 189 children become pupils and four teachers begin working. The new school building, Heinätori School, is finished in the Fall of 1876. It is spacious and one of the most impressive school buildings at the time.  

Year 1875, population: about 6 950 

The first municipal council of Oulu is established as a new municipal decree orders. There are 24 councilors. Voting rights are tied to tax-paying ability. Additionally, from the beginning of the year the Chamber of Finance (later City Board) begins operation as well as six committees and boards: Health Board, Harbor, Fire, and Accommodation Committees, and School Board and Factory Board. Immediately after the first elections, party conflicts arise between Oulu’s language parties. Pro-Finnish groups have started activities already in the 1850s and the pro-Swedish in the 1870s.  

Year 1886, population: about 9 540 

A railway finishes construction in Oulu. The railway’s inauguration takes place in the brand-new hotel restaurant Seurahuone’s banquet hall. Much later, the Seurahuone would turn into the city hall building. 

Year 1887, population: about 10 260 

The population finally exceeds 10 000 for the first time according to the district registrar’s statistics, which have been mostly used to report population numbers on this page. The parish register reports that 10 000 was exceeded already in 1883, when the population is reported to be 10 557.  

Year 1898, population: about 13 040 

The Worker’s Society becomes the Worker’s Assocation by changing the rules. The goal of the Association is to become a link between Oulu’s workers and professionals to promote their mental, moral, and material interests. The worker’s status in promoted and the educated class dwindles. It acts as the beginning for worker’s party and association activities. By the end of the century, women’s movements and professional movements act under the Worker’s Association. 

Oulu in the 1900s 

Year 1907, population: about 16 000 

The first single chamber election is held in which public and equal voting right is implemented. Women were able to run as candidates first in the world. 19 women are elected to the first parliament. The citizens of Oulu give 4 514 votes and about half of them are given to the Social Democratic Party. The next largest number of votes are given to the Young Finnish Party, Swedish People’s Party, and the Agrarian League. The voter turnout was 59,2. Members of parliament elected from Oulu are Kalle Hämäläinen, Juho Alfred Komu, and blacksmith Matti Hoikka representing the Social Democratic Party, and farmer Otto Karhi representing the Agrarian League. 

Year 1917, population: about 17 850 

The parliament declares Finland independent 6.12. Soon after, the country falls into civil war. Troops of armed home guard (whites) and the Red Guard (reds) fight battles in Oulu in January and February of 1918. The battles end in victory for the whites and a prisoner camp is set up in the Raatti island. The battles and the prisoner camp claim 90 lives (68+23). On top of this, the whites carry out at least 10 executions. The number of deaths is low in Oulu compared to other population centres in the country. The Raatti prisoner camp is closed in August of 1918.  

Years 1919-21, population: about 15 200 

The first city council of Oulu elected with public and equal voting rights begins operation. There are 36 councilors, five of them women. 18 members are chosen from both conservative parties and the Social Democratic Party. In the first meeting, city physician G. Borg, a representative of the conservatives, is chosen as chairman and chief executive Otto Karhi, a representative of the left, is chosen as deputy chairman.  

Year 1931, population: about 19 030 

Toppila Oy’s sulphite cellulose mill established by the English Dixon family-owned business begins production. The blueprint for the mill is drawn by Alvar Aalto. The Dixons sell the mill in 1973 to Kajaani Oy, which fires all 320 workers and shuts the mill down. Today, the area is a residential neighborhood and businesses operate in the mill building. 

Year 1937, population: about 20 770 

Oulu Oy’s sulphite cellulose mill begins production in Nuottasaari. Kajaani Oy and Veitsiluoto Oy, who established the mill together, both own 49% of its shares and the Finnish Bank owns 2%. Oulu Oy owns and operates a timber house factory and Pateniemi’s sawmill on top of the sulphite cellulose mill.  

Years 1939-40, population: about 24 700 

During the Winter War, there are many air-raid warnings in Oulu, but only two Soviet bombings on 1.1. and 21.1. in 1940. The bombings kill five people. The damages caused by the incendiary bombs are estimated to be over 3 million Finnish marks.  

Years 1941-44, population: about 27 000 

During the Continuation War, there are many Finnish and German training, supply, and staff centres far from the front line in Oulu. Oulu is a German garrison city and the Germans establish a local commandant office in the Seurahuone. The city is still governed by Finnish military and civilian authorities. German authority is limited to their own matters.  

At most there are over 4 000 Germans in the city and more German pass through. There are Finnish and German military hospitals in Oulu and many front-line soldiers on leave. 

The Alppila neighborhood’s name is derived from the German times. The fire station that still exists today is built as a German officer’s club. 

The largest damages are caused by Soviet bombings in February of 1944. Four people lose their lives, and the structural damages are estimated to be over 100 million Finnish marks. 

The Interim Peace (välirauha) is signed between Finland and the Soviet Union in 19.9.1944, Germans leave Oulu without causing any damages. The Lapland War begins in Lapland, and it lasts until 1945 during which the Germans cause massive damages to Lapland.  

Year 1948, population: about 35 540 

The first generator of the Merikoski water-power plant, which is owned by the city of Oulu and was partially constructed during the war, becomes operational in 1948 and energy production begins. Soviet prisoners of war, among other workers, are taken from prison camps operating in Oulu to do construction work during the war. During the busiest construction years, the power plant takes about half of the city’s budget. 

The biggest migration group consists of displaced population from the areas surrendered to the Soviet Union. By the end of 1948 there are over 1 100 displaced people living in Oulu. 

Year 1952, population: about 39 900 

First batches of ammonia, nitric acid, and fertilizer are produced in Typpi Oy’s factories in Laanila. The buildings are designed by Alvar Aalto’s architecture firm. After many fusions and name changes, chemical industry is practiced by Kemira Oy’s factories in Oulu.  

Year 1959, population: about 51 500 

The University of Oulu begins to operate in many facilities across the city. The university plays a significant role in the growth of industry, service jobs, and population. Today (2023) there are eight faculties operating in the University of Oulu in Linnanmaa and Kontinkangas. 

Year 1965, population: about 78 270 

In the 1965 area incorporation Oulu becomes the largest city in Finland by surface area for a time (369,8 square kilometers). The municipality of Oulujoki and Pateniemi from Haukipudas are incorporated into Oulu. The size of the incorporated area was 206 square kilometers.  

Year 1973, population: about 91 700 

The city of Oulu sells the about 24-acre area from Rusko to Nokia corporation’s daughter company Pohjolan Kaapeli Oy. The factories built by the company can be seen as a large push for making Oulu into a city of high technology. 

There are phone cables, winding wire, and hookup wires being produced for the international market in Rusko. 

Factories of Oy Nokia Ab Elektroniikka are located in the same area already in the 1970s. The increase in high-tech companies and jobs is assisted by Oulu’s Teknologiakylä which is founded in 1982 by the city, the city being one shareholder. 

The most significant representative of the electronics industry is the Nokia group which designs, and later manufactures, mobile phones and data networks among other things. 

Year 1977, population: about 93 170 

Toppila power plant begins operation producing electricity and district heating. The plant owned and built by the city is the largest user of fuel peat (main fuel source) in Finland at the time. The city is mostly self-sufficient in electricity and district heat production for its citizens. The power plant’s cost estimate of 225 million Finnish marks is nearly one third of the city’s expenses in 1997.  

Year 1990, population: about 100 350 

The city’s population exceeds 100 000 at the beginning of the year. Oulu is the sixth largest city in the country by population. 

Year 1992, population: about 102 280 

The fifth bridge carrying vehicle traffic over the Oulujoki river is finished. The last publicly operating ferry in the Oulu region ends operation as the Sanki bridges are constructed.  

Oulu in the 2000s 

Year 2000, population: about 117 680 

Population grows rapidly. In the beginning of the year the population is 117 680 but by the end of the year it exceeds 120 000.  

59 councilors are chosen into Oulu’s city council, 20 of them are women. The councilors are divided by party as follows: Centre party 14, Coalition 11, Social Democrats 11, Left Alliance 10, the Greens 7, Christian Democrats 3, and independent 3. Voter turnout was 47,7. 

Year 2011, population: about 141 671 

Oulu stands out among other cities due to the youth of its citizens. The average age of Oulu’s citizens is 37,1 in 2011. 

Year 2013 

New Oulu is born (Haukipudas, Kiiminki, Oulu, Oulunsalo, Yli-Ii) which is the fifth largest city in Finland by population. As the municipality merge comes into effect on 1.1.2013, the population is 190 891.