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VTT’s history – from bunker stoves to printed intelligence

VTT’s journey from the 1940s to the present day shows that science, technology and cooperation can turn even major societal challenges into opportunities for growth.

For more than 75 years, VTT has helped society and companies renew themselves with science and technology. Our history reflects Finland’s development from a poor agricultural country to one of the most advanced and prosperous welfare societies in the world. This would not have been possible without the applied research and technology in which VTT has played a major role as an expert and developer.

From bunker stoves to printed intelligence – VTT has been involved in turning the greatest challenges of each era into opportunities through science and technology.

Through the decades, VTT has been involved in turning the greatest challenges of each era into opportunities for growth, together with companies and society. That work continues to this day. 

VTT’s expertise can be found both on satellites in outer space and inside every smartphone.

1940s: Finland recovering from war

VTT – then called the Technical Research Centre of Finland – was founded in 1942 by President Risto Ryti’s decree in wartime Finland. VTT’s mission was defined as “to engage in technical research for the benefit of science and society”.

In its early years, the research institute played a significant role in supporting both the war and the home fronts. VTT developed, for example, a non-combustible wood material and bunker stoves for military use and tested the quality and safety of substitutes and food products sold during the shortage period.  

1950s: Reconstruction era

In the post-war years, VTT’s research and testing activities supported the nation’s reconstruction. Finland had to pay heavy war reparations to the Soviet Union and find homes for hundreds of thousands of evacuees and veterans. War-torn roads, villages and infrastructures were repaired and new ones built to meet the needs of a rapidly growing nation. VTT contributed to the reconstruction by developing and testing efficient construction methods and high-quality substitute materials. This also laid the foundation for Finnish construction expertise for decades to come.

1960s: Increasingly urbanised and industrial Finland

Finland changed quickly from a country dominated by agriculture to an urban industrial society. VTT’s research accelerated this industrialisation by developing more efficient technologies, methods and testing for all major industries, from the forest, paper and metal industries to construction and food production.

Industrial development and Finland’s internationalisation increased the need for research. At the same time, the importance of applied technical research began to be more widely understood. VTT grew to become the largest research institute in Finland with 26 laboratories and 400 research scientists in the mid-1960s.

1970s: Developing the energy system and rise of environmental awareness

Industrialisation and strong migration to cities shaped Finland in the 1960s and 1970s. Growing industry and the new urban lifestyle demanded more and more energy. During the energy crisis of the early 1970s, VTT developed alternatives to fossil fuels and focused on developing bio-based solutions and safe nuclear power. Today’s biofuel solutions are hence partly based on VTT’s research work. Developing clean energy systems is still one of our strongest areas of expertise.

Awareness of imminent environmental crises also increased in the 1970s, and VTT began to invest in the development of environmentally efficient solutions. Our research has helped industries lower their energy consumption and reduce emissions into local waterways and the air. We have also been involved in international cooperation to curb acid rain and ozone depletion.

1980s–1990s: Possibilities of information technology and digitalisation

Since the 1980s, the development of information technology and digitalisation have revolutionised the way people communicate and connect across the globe. VTT’s influence is visible in this shift as well. VTT was involved in creating the world’s first mobile phone and the first wireless networks in Europe. VTT made internationalisation one of its goals, and the world-famous Finnish expertise in electronics and ICT has been supported by VTT’s research work.

2000s–2010s: Focusing on global challenges

In recent decades, VTT’s research activities have been driven by two strong trends: digitalisation of information and sustainable development. Of the research priorities, for example, printed intelligence in electronics and bioeconomy technologies have proven their impact and commercial potential alike. Today, VTT’s expertise can be found both on satellites in outer space and inside every smartphone in the world.

VTT’s history shows that research and technology expertise plays an important role in turning societal challenges into success stories. In the 2010s, we have increasingly focused our research efforts on solving global challenges.

We believe that through science, technology and cooperation, the five societal challenges selected for our strategy – climate change, resource sufficiency, good life, safety and security, and industrial renewal – can be solved while also creating sustainable prosperity.