11 inventions you didn’t know were Finnish

You already know that the Sauna is Finnish, that Angry Birds are too and that the Linux operative system comes from Finland as well. Because of that, we will focus this blogpost on Finnish inventions and innovations that are not as widely known but are definitely interesting. Let’s go.

1. The Molotov Cocktail

Molotov Cocktail
This one comes with a recipe. Should I include it in our section of Finnish recipes? Source (CC: by-sa)

Known in Finnish as Polttopullo or as Molotovin koktaili – and, in some circles, as “the poor man’s grenade” -, this bottle full of flammable liquid, hand crafted in the spur of the moment, has been one of the Finnish contributions to warfare.

It was developed during the Winter War against the Russians, one of the pre-WWII conflicts in Europe. The Finns resisted the agressions of a much greater force with Sisu and intelligence, such as developing weapons like the Molotov Cocktail.

2. The IRC Chat Protocol

IRC chat protocol
A good conversation, 90s style. Source (CC: by).

Who said Finns aren’t talkative? Everyone, really. Finns included.

But even if that might be true, they still were the inventors of the first protocol for chatting on the internet: the IRC. When I was very very young, the IRC and the Messenger were everything. Meanwhile, times have changed and this protocol has lost popularity over the years. Nonetheless, the seed of the idea to communicate and chat on the Internet with short messages was Finnish. They even had a proto-Facebook called IRC Galleria (SPA).

3. The dish draining closet

Dish draining closet
Draining the dishes in a little closet. Practical. Award winning.

The “Finnish Invention Foundation” named this closet “one of the most important Finnish inventions of the millennium”. For real. A Finnish inventor called Maiju Gebhard invented this closet during the later years of the WWII to improve the drying process of dishes. It was developed within the “Finnish Association for Work Efficiency”. For real. I am not making this up.

Although we recognize here that it is very practical and – since it was an award-winning invention – important, we must admit that it hasn’t been adapted worldwide yet – unlike two Spanish inventions: the lolly pop and the mop.

4. The electric solar sail

Solar sail cruising the space
Sail away. Source (CC: by)

This new kind of solar sail hasn’t been used in a real-world mission yet, but apparently it will allow artifacts to travel much faster than usual while cruising space. To put it in perspective, this new kind of solar sail will allow space probes to reach the end of the solar system in the same time that it took old ones to reach Saturn without using an extra power source. Will Finns be responsible to for a new era of space travel? Only time will tell.

5. The first Internet Browser with a user interface

Different internet browsers
All these browsers are illegitimate children of the Finnish browser. Source (CC: by)

The first Internet browser that had a user interface (UX) – in other words, that it wasn’t all lines of text – was Finnish and its name was Erwise.

It was the final project of three students from the University of Technology of Helsinki, and it was launched in 1994. They abandoned the project once they graduated and, even though the creator of the World Wide Web encouraged them to go on developing, they presumed that without funding they couldn’t keep doing that. Nobody could pick up the project either, since all the documentation was in Finnish. Nonetheless, it was the inspiration for everything that came after it.

6. The pulk or pulka

Two pulks (or pulkas)
A couple of pulkas, taking a rest. Source (CC: by)

A sled that replaces a backpack when you travel through snow: that is the idea behind this Finnish invention. And believe me, that was a problem worth solving. People use the pulks (in Finnish: pulkka) to go hiking, when going for an excursion or for a polar expedition. It was invented to carry any kind of equipment during trips in winter easily, pulled by humans or animals.

It is also very popular with athletes in winter: you put something heavy in your pulk and do your regular training in the snow while pulling it.

7. The circular lock

A circular lock from the Finnish brand Abloy
What would a lock embedded in a brick wall open? I chose this picture to show the circular key-hole. Source (CC: by-sa)

One of the most difficult locks to pick is another Finnish invention. It was invented by Emil Henriksson a century ago and is commercialized by the Finnish company Abloy (that is why it is known in some places as the “Abloy lock”).

What makes these locks special is that they don’t have springs. Therefore they are good for any kind of athmospheric conditions (oh, Finnish inventors, always thinking of the harsh winters) and thus can be used outdoors and to protect places that are outdoors.

8.-The Bubble Chair

A bubble chair
A couple of chairs of Finnish design. Source (CC: by)

You’ll probably remember the chairs on the Episode II of Star Wars. There were extraterrestrials – technically everyone it these movies is extraterrestrial, of course – with long necks. The chairs they were sitting in were not just science fiction, but the works of Finnish designer Eero Arnio in the 1960s. The name “bubble” comes from the feeling that one has while sitting on one: being suspended from the ceiling and seeing through a sphere. They are commercialized by the Adelta company, in case you want one.

9. The satchel charge

Explosives used during the Winter War

All these toys were used during Finland’s Winter War. The satchel charges are the first ones from the left.

Another type of explosive that the Finns invented throughout the Winter War, besides the previously mentioned Molotov cocktails, were the satchel charges. The root of this invention was the need to blow up heavy static targets, such as bunkers, bridges or trains.

10. The Savonius wind turbine

Savonius wind turbine
A wind turbine of Finnish design. Source (CC: by)

These wind turbines are used to convert the wind energy to electricity, and were invented by the Finnish engineer Sigurd Savonius (thus, its name) in 1922. They are the old version of the electric windmills of today.

What make these wind turbines interesting is that they are very simple and require almost no maintenance. They are used when efficiency isn’t important, but cost is. You’ll rarely see them producing electricity, but for sure you have seen them on top of vans, as a cooling device.

11. The heart rate monitor

A heart rate monitor
Heart rate monitor and the strip to hold it to the chest. All ready to go out and do sports. Source (CC: by)

Athletes throughout the world that want to become really good – or that were already – monitor their heart rate during sports. That would be impossible without a Finnish person who invented the heart rate monitor. How many world records can be indirectly traced to the Finns who invented this device?

It is maybe the first piece of wearable tech – if we don’t count a normal watch as one. It is another of those primal ideas that have been improved over time, as we have devices today that are able to measure almost everything.


This list comes out of the category on the Wikipedia that deals with Finnish inventions. You can follow that link to learn some more, but these 11 are the ones we liked the most (and that we didn’t talk about yet).

What’s your favorite Finnish invention from the list? What is the best invention from Finland in your opinion, and the one that you like the most and use often?

Ateljee Bar & the toilet with the best view of Helsinki

Seeing cities from above always has a je-ne-sais-quoi feeling. That’s why parties on terraces and in penthouses have this aura of being the coolest.

In Berlin, for instance, you can get a view of the city from above (and for free) in the Reichstag and (for an entry fee) from the Fernsehturm – the TV tower. And they are two of the most visited spots of the city. In Stockholm I also went to the Gondolen Restaurant, an attic-bar, to check out the city from above – don’t forget to try its cocktails. But what about Helsinki? You go to the Ateljee Bar… and its toilets.

The Torni Hotel
The Torni Hotel as seen from the street. Source (CC: by-sa)

The Ateljee Bar in Helsinki, in the Torni Hotel

The first time I heard a Finn talking about the Ateljee Bar he mentioned – besides its location – specifically its toilets. But I will talk about that later. Let me tell you about the bar first.

The Ateljee Bar is on the uppermost floor of the Torni Hotel (street Yrjönkatu 26) in the center of Helsinki. It is a hotel that belongs to the well known Nordic hotel chain Sokos. What makes this hotel stand out is their bar on the 12th floor: the Ateljee bar.

The top floor of the Torni Hotel
The top floor of the Torni Hotel contains the Ateljee Bar. Source(CC:by-nd).

One thing that I like about this bar and hotel is the words in Finnish they used to name it. “Torni” is the Finnish word for “Tower”, and it is a tower indeed and for many years (1931-1976) it was the highest building in all of Finland. “Ateljee” means “Atelier”, a workshop.

The Ateljee Bar (Official Website) is divided into two rooftops that each have a panoramic view of Helsinki. This photo has been taken there and you can see a lot of Helsinki from it; for instance, the iconic White Cathedral of Helsinki.

Panorama from the rooftop of the Torni Hotel
See in different sizes. Source (CC: by-sa).

The bar is the place where Helsinkians and tourist alike meet to see the city from above and have some Finnish beer, a Lonkero (a long drink composed of grapefruit lemonade and gin), some Finnish cider or even some Koskenkorva hard liquor (or whatever they choose).

The Atelje Bar
From the ’30s until now: Ateljee Bar. Source (CC: by)

A cocktail is always a good idea in a bar with such view.

The toilets at the Ateljee Bar: the best view in town

A bar on a rooftop must have some restrooms for its guests. We do know that once we have had some beers, we are prompted to go to the toilet, and the toilets at the Ateljee Bar are famous throughout all Helsinki as the best in town: The view can’t be outmatched.

They have some panoramic windows that allow guests to attend the call of nature without the need to stop enjoying the view: If you like scenery, the hotel designers must have thought – you must take that everywhere. Chapeau.

These are the photos of the toilets for ladies and gentlemen in the Ateljee Bar. Try guessing which one is which, and I leave you the answer below both photos. These toilets are, unlike many public bathrooms in Helsinki, free to use.

Women's bathrooms in the Ateljee bar
Source (CC: by).

Men toilets in the Ateljer Bar.
Source (CC: by)

That’s right: The first photo is taken in the women’s bathroom. The wall you can’t see in the photo, to the left, is also a giant window. It makes sense: women mostly sit while using the restroom and this way they can enjoy the view while doing so. Also, the seat is down.

The second photo shows us the restrooms for men. You can see that the seat is up and a condom machine. The bad thing is that the view can be distracting and the aim might be affected.

Have you ever visited the Torni Hotel and/or the Ateljer Bar? Will you do it in the future if not?

Finnish women make marriage proposals on February 29th

Romantic relationships amongst Finns are something we already looked at from different perspectives. For instance, we talked about the Winter Relationships – boyfriends or girlfriends that last only for the coldest months of the year -, and we’ve told you about the “Carrying the wife race” competition. Following this line, we want to introduce you to another – quite cool in my opinion – Finnish custom: On February 29th, Finnish women are the ones to propose marriage (and can ask for retributions if the proposals aren’t accepted).

A classy marriage proposal.
A nice, frozen way to propose marriage. Source (CC: by-sa).

Finnish women propose marriage on February 29th

Carlos, a reader and commenter of the blog that currently resides in Helsinki, told me by e-mail that last week he overhead some Finns talking about this custom. In the leap years, on the atypical 29th of February, it is a tradition for the in-love Finnish women to kneel in front of their partners and speak the magic words: Would you marry me?

As I never heard anything about this tradition, I started researching and it is indeed something rooted in the culture and not a joke. In this Wikipedia article about marriage proposals, there is a note about Finland. The article recommends for Finnish women to propose on this day. The tradition dictates that, if the man rejects the proposal, he has to buy the brave lady enough fabric so she can make a skirt out of it, as retribution.

Another great retribution would be a trip, of course. Like this one:

Marriage proposals in other countries and more curiosities about this custom

Besides Finland, only the UK and Ireland are practitioners of this custom. The most notorious example of marriage proposal on this day was the one that Queen Victoria of England made to Prince Albert, which of course was accepted. The main difference compared to the Finnish tradition is that, in case of refusal, nothing has to be bought for the woman.

Did you know about this tradition? It would be interesting to know if it has happened to someone you know… and their response. In case of a cold “no”, was there a retribution in fabric to be paid?

As a final note, on February 29th of 1940, besides the customary marriage proposals, the date marked the beginning of the peace talks of the winter war.

Update: yesterday I spoke with several Finns and they all know stories of Finnish women proposing marriage on February 29th. They know of stories were a brave woman called the radio to do the whole ordeal live (he accepted) and more normal proposals (some accepted, some refused too… which were then indeed paid in fabric instead).

Definitely a cute tradition.

Did you know about this Finnish custom? How do you imagine such a marriage proposal to play out?

The “Restaurant day” in Finland – Ravintolapäivä

Silvio Berlusconi became persona non grata for the Finnish people for saying that, after the United Kingdom, Finland was the place with the worst food in Europe. Finns showed their pride and their sisu and wanted to prove that you can eat very well in this Nordic Country. In this spirit, the Finnish-born Restaurant Day was created. All the photos in this post belong to the Official Flickr account of the Restaurant Day.

Finnish lady participating in the Restaurant Day
A beginner of the Restaurant Day, waiting for clients. Source: Restaurant Day – Timo Santala.

What is the Restaurant Day

The Ravintolapäivä (Official Website) as it is said in the Finnish Language, is a creation of Olli Sirén, in which anyone can – for a day – set up a food stand, a little café, or a bar.

The place? Anywhere. House entrances, offices, a spot in a park, a rooftop… The type of food? Whatever you know best: it’s the choice of the eventual chef, which is you. The decoration or presentation? Can also be anything, whatever you want to bring to the table, and thus creativity can up your food sales.

Initially the Restaurant Day was born in Helsinki, and the idea was to repeat the event every three months.

In successive editions, the idea spread to other Finnish (and foreign) cities and it became international. A couple of years later it is already established as an international event, with cuisines ranging from Spanish to Indian.

Restaurant Day: Winter Endition
This family also decided to take part. In this case in the Winter Edition. Source: Restaurant Day – Timo Santala.

The celebration, up to today

Up to this point there have been 19 editions of the Restaurant Day. The first one was in May 2011, when 40 pop-up restaurants opened for that day. The second edition had that number multiplied by 5 and the number of cities was 30 in 4 different countries. The numbers of the third Restaurant Day were even more impressive: 300 restaurants and 40 locations.

The Restaurant Day was the “Cultural Achievement Prize” of 2011, granted by Helsinki’s Office of Culture.

There is no need to ask for a license to take part in the Restaurant Day. As one eater puts it, “it is food without bureaucracy, in the name of civil disobedience.” The only thing they can’t do, nonetheless, is to sell alcohol without a license. Something like that happened during our Erasmus in the house for student parties, “Skarpi”, in Joensuu: it was closed down after someone had the idea to buy beer at the supermarket and to sell it without a license during university parties (it should have been given away for free, of course).

Serving food as fast as they can, since there is a huge queue
A couple of youngsters serve food in front of a populated queue, while the wait is made more pleasant by a piano player. Where? Obviously in the Kallio Neighborhood. Source: Restaurant Day – Tuomas Sarparanta

The next edition will be on the 21st of February 2016 (see participant cities), and if you’d like to expand this event to your city or town – whether in Finland, Spain, the UK or Poland – you can sign up for it on this page.

If you live in a city where the Restaurant Day has happened: Did you see it or take part in it? How was the mood and the food you tasted? If you did take part and send us some pics, we’ll be pleased to publish them on the blog.