Gustaf Erikson was at the time Finland's largest shipowner. Erikson became famous for the fleet of windjammers he operated at a time when steam and motor vessels had already taken over most of the ocean traffic. When Erikson passed away after World War II, sailing ships also practically disappeared from the ocean traffic. 

The formation of the shipping company

Gustaf Adolf Mauritz Erikson (1872-1947), born in Lemland on Åland, came from a humble background. He attended school for four years and went to sea when he was only ten years old. He started as a cabin boy, later became a cook, a steward and able seaman. Erikson finished his education to became second mate at the age of 20, and seven years later he became a sea captain.

Erikson spent almost three decades at sea apart from the years he spent in marine schools in Mariehamn, Oulu and Vaasa. In 1913, at the age of 40, he returned to Åland and settled in Mariehamn to start his career as a ship owner. Erikson's first purchase was the Dutch-built, three-masted barque Tjerimai. In the same year he also bought a stake in Renée Rickmers, a four-masted iron barque built in Port Glasgow, which he renamed Åland and lost on her first voyage.

World largest sailing fleet

Many famous ships whose names are forever inscribed in the history of sailing sailed under Erikson's flag: Lawhill, Herzogin Cecilie, Pommern (which later became a museum ship in Mariehamn), Pamir, Passat, Archibald Russell and Moshulu. The sailing vessels sailed mainly on the grain route between Europe and Australia. Gustaf Eriksson's ships were known around the world, and as sail traffic decreased, he became known as the world's largest shipowner for sailing ships.

Gustaf Erikson, who was awarded the Finnish honorary title of merenkulkuneuvos ("Maritime Counsellor") in 1931, owned a total of 46 sailing vessels during his shipping career. All in all he owned 66 merchant ships between 1913 and 1947. During the time of his death in 1947, the shipping company owned eight steamers, four motorboats and only two sailing vessels. With Erikson's passing the sailing vessels practically disappeared from the ocean traffic.

An archive of national significance

Gustaf Erikson's significance what comes to spreading information about the new republic of Finland and its autonomous region of Åland cannot be underestimated. Åland and Finland were noticed on maps and sea charts in foreign countries all the way to the continents of the Southern hemisphere, and this was due to the global business and extensive operations conducted by the Shipping Company Gustaf Erikson.

To protect his shipping company operations financially, Gustaf Erikson founded separate shipping companies for most of the ships he owned, as was the usual rule. He was the sole shareholder in these companies. In 1936, Erikson converted his shipping company into no less than 25 separate companies to minimise the financial risks associated with economic circumstances as well as shipwrecks.

Due to this, the archives have been organised using the principle of secondary provenance, which means that the last form of the organisation is also the name of the archives. This organisation method is supported by the fact that founding these 25 companies was a mere technicality for Erikson. The archives clearly show that he led all the operations himself.

The shipping company's archives consist of a business archive which dates back to the founding of the shipping company in 1913 and ends with the passing of Gustaf Eriksson in 1947. The archives consist of business letters, contracts, account books, letters to and from the commanders, ship's journals, ship documents, blueprints and more - over 20 shelf meters of documents all in all. The Åland Maritime Museum has received part of the archives, and part of it is owned by the Provincial Archives of Åland. The Åland Maritime Museum and the Provincial Archives of Åland signed a deposit agreement over the shipping company's archives on January 23, 1985.

The shipping company's archives received international attention when it was inscribed into UNESCO's Memory of the World National Register on April 18, 2017. The register is maintained by the Memory of the World Programme's National Committee of Finland. 

Published 29.3.2019
Updated 8.11.2021