The history of VTT began on 16 January 1942, when President Risto Ryti signed the Act on the Technical Research Centre of Finland. VTT then operated directly under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Its mission was “to engage in technical research for the benefit of science and society”. VTT also had to test materials and structures at the request of the authorities, private citizens, companies and other organisations. In addition it had the right to engage in commercial research work.
VTT was officially an independent organisation, but in practice it worked very closely with Helsinki University of Technology. VTT initially had 10 laboratories: building technology, wood technology, fire technology, metal technology, mining engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, bridge building and statics, roads, and the food industry. Construction work on VTT’s premises in Helsinki began immediately in 1942 and was completed in the autumn of the same year. The main building housed the research institute’s management and seven of the ten laboratories. The remaining three occupied premises at Helsinki University of Technology.
Martti Levón was appointed Chairman of VTT’s first Board of Directors. He also became the first Director-in-Chief of VTT. In practice, Professor Levón was assisted in carrying out his tasks and duties by the Acting Head of Chemical Engineering Laboratory, Mr.
Eino Marcus Leino, M.Sc.(Eng.). VTT’s activities got off to a faltering start. Insufficient availability of qualified personnel was a particular problem. This stemmed partly from the fact that at that time researchers could not be trained fast enough and partly from the war economy, all able-bodied men having been called up for military service.
VTT engaged in basically three types of activities during the war years. Firstly, research and testing for military purposes were done partly under the direction of the defence forces. Secondly, efforts were made to improve the nation’s civil defence. And thirdly, if the laboratories still possessed resources after these duties had been discharged, they sought to develop general research capabilities and to prepare as best they could for the post-war era.
Fire Technical Laboratory involved in military research
The Fire Technical Laboratory was the laboratory most involved in military research and testing. Amongst other assignments, it studied building fire precautions against air attack and developed a non-combustible roofing felt and wood material. The Laboratory was largely subordinated to military control.
Support for the home front
Another task assigned to VTT was to support the home front. This task was discharged during the war by carrying out research on food, fuels and other wartime necessities. For example, the Food Industry Laboratory examined the poor-quality foodstuffs that came onto the market during the years of wartime food shortage. However, it was possible to start-up some actual research projects in addition to this kind of inspection work. For example, studies on pectine, starch and preservatives were launched in 1944. After the end of the food shortage, the Laboratory started to branch out into other areas of research.
VTT conducts almost 2,000 tests during the war years
Very little genuine research work was done at first, even though VTT was established partly for the purpose of conducting military research. This was due to the fact that the research institute’s activities did not start up as quickly as had been planned. There was, however, a clear need for such a research unit because it did conduct almost 2,000 tests during the war. VTT’s personnel also quadrupled during the 1940s.