At the end of the 19th century, public transport in Helsinki ran on oats. Omnibuses, operated by horses, had their defined routes, but one could hop on at any place - if there was room. The word omni means all, and the routes were planned for the labourers. However, the transport was so expensive in practice that a newspaper article from the era described the passengers as "mostly people going on an outing". The photo presents the first omnibus in Helsinki.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1889
The horse-powered tram traffic was modelled after transport in America, European metropolises and Saint Petersburg. The first horse-powered tram route finally began its operations in 1891. The cars drawn by the horses travelled on tracks. However, there was only one pair of tracks on one street: the cars had to pass each other on special bypass places, which required punctuality. The working days of horses were usually limited to three hours, and, sometimes, they were taken to rented pastures for holidays.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1890s
Electricity on rails! "Yesterday, the wonder started to travel between Töölö and Hietalahti - for now, only as a temporary test. I am talking about the electrical tramcars that hurry onwards without any help from horses or power from steam. -- Ever faster it drives, while people stand around all over the pedestrian lanes, gaping at this novelty. Dogs bark and the driver rings his bell harder and harder." A letter from the pseudonym Timoteus in the Päivälehti newspaper, 4 September, 1900.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, early 1900s
Trips by one-track tramcars were so expensive that they were mostly used by the upper class. In 1909, the tracks were renewed and another pair of rails added. The ticket prices came down enough to establish the tram as a form of transport for all the Helsinki residents.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1910s
Dreaming of a metro, Eliel? Already in the 1910s, architects Eliel Saarinen and Bertel Jung drew suburban tracks on their Helsinki city plans, as the city began to expand beyond the inner city districts.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1910
In 1917, a step towards equality was taken, when the first female conductors in Finland - and for a long time, in Europe - took up their posts. At those times, however, people feared that the female conductors would tempt their male colleagues to partake in "cuddling and mischief".
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, photographed by Runeberg, 1941
In 1919, the average Helsinki resident took one trip by tram, five days a week, and trams started to become a permanent piece of the city landscape. In 1922, the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper wrote "The first thing that attracts the attention of the country people in Helsinki are the tramcars. On their part, they help to make the capital city of our country a true metropolis."
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1920s
The wartime also changed the public transport system. In 1939, the following Order of the Day was issued to the Transport Director: "The following instructions compiled by the civil defence department of City of Helsinki concerning air-raids will be communicated to the personnel: 1. The tramcars must be stopped immediately and the lights switched off. 2. Power must be cut down. 3. The passengers must be guided to the nearest safe place, a stairway or gateway, and the personnel should seek shelter from the same place, while maintaining peace.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1939-44
When the men were at war, women took the drivers' places for the first time. These women did not become permanent workers, however, since the first female drivers were only trained after the war times, as late as in 1966.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1941-42
Since the 1st of January 1945, travels continued by HKL! The main reason for establishing the Helsinki City Transport public enterprise was to bring the decision-making processes of public transport under the city management, as the City Board thought that "the tram tracks are part of the infrastructure that is essential for considering and fulfilling the shared needs of the municipality's residents." During the same year, monthly tickets were decorated with star signs.
Photos: Helsinki City Museum
Discussions about the metro lines were brought up at regular intervals during the entire first half of the 20th century. During the war, people talked about underground speed routes to Käpylä and Pohjois-Haaga, which could also act as population shelters. As cars became more popular during the 1940s, new solutions for easing the rush hour traffic were sought more vigorously. The metro still remained somewhat suspicious. For example, the Managing Director of HKL had the following reservations in 1949: "It would be more comfortable and healthier for the passengers to use forms of transport that travel in daylight, instead of travelling daily in carriages that pass through dank, underground tunnels."
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Fotoma, 1938
Trams, too, were criticised, especially when cars became more common and the streets busier. After the wars, the city could not modernise its fleet as fast as the needs grew. The pseudonym "Pennanen" sent a letter to Helsingin Sanomat in 1959, in which he called the tramcars "ancient contraptions" and said that "if the tram transport was to be gradually demolished, it would make traffic in Helsinki smoother and help to decrease the losses of HKL. Furthermore, people could take buses and get to their destination quicker."
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Poutiainen, 1950s
"Residents of Helsinki are excited by the thought that they could have an underground, too. It would be fun to slide underground in Ritarinpuisto and pop up again in Töölö," an article in the Uusi Suomi newspaper said in 1958. During the 1960s, the possible metro line was a hot topic for both the decision-makers and the citizens. The constantly busier inner city, as well as the construction of new residential districts, gave momentum to these discussions.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Unto Laitila, 1960s
On the 7th of May 1969, at 9 pm, a discussion by the City Board on the construction of a metro line in Helsinki was launched. The evening was full of presentations, voting and speeches. At 3:30 am, the President stated that they had a result. With votes 49 to 25, it was finally decided that a metro would be acquired for Helsinki. The photo presents the metro committee standing over their plans.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1970s
1971: The City of Helsinki arranged a competition for the emblem of the future metro network. From among 4,000 suggestions, the public selected its favourite, the Mole, but it was not used, in the end. A list lobbying for the Mole suggestion was signed by 5,000 people. When the first metro arrived in Helsinki for test drives, someone attached the Mole emblem on its prow on the first night. The pictured metro mole was found near Susitie, painted to the metro track's noise barrier.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Mattsson, 1970s
On Helsinki Day in 1972, Helsinki residents could take their first trip by metro. The test drive was one of the day's biggest attractions and over 4,500 free tickets were distributed to the people. The city wanted as much feedback on the metro transport as possible, and several test drives were arranged for the public during the 70s and 80s.
Photo: Vapriikki Museum Centre, 1971-72
Reforms also took place on tram routes. The first articulated tramcars entered the city landscape in 1972, decorated with all new colours. However, the citizens were not overjoyed by the orange and white colours, and a little over decade later the trams, upon the residents' requests, were given back their yellow and green colouring.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, 1975
Ratikka, raitsikka, spora and skuru: The beloved tram goes by many names. By the 1970s, it would have been difficult to imagine Helsinki without the public transport by rails.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Unto Laitila, 1978
After a long wait, the metro operations between Hakaniemi and Itäkeskus were finally started in 1982. The Kansan Uutiset newspaper summarised the first days of the metro as follows: "The novelty of the metro and the strangeness of the transport system were still clearly visible in the public's actions. Some of the passengers had obviously not read the HKL's notification about how to use the ticket machines, forcing them to practice this skill on the spot." HKL had hired 17 metro guides to help the passengers to take their first trips by metro.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Unto Laitila, 1982
The official opening of the metro took place a few months after the virgin run. The Ilta-Sanomat newspaper described the joyful occasion: "There it is! Bright red, looking close to unused, like a blushing bride ready for a wedding, before rude, thoughtless people have scratched their names on its shiny surfaces. -- Helsinki residents are becoming familiar with the metro and can now feel a little more urban. Country cousins go on a tour to Itäkeskus and back."
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Unto Laitila, 1982
1987 saw the end of one era, as the last conductors left the tramcars. The act on inspection fees had already been passed at the beginning of the decade, as its intention was to make the passengers' journeys faster and smoother.
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Bertel Okkola, 1957
Although the metro brought forth plenty of different feelings during its early years, young families, for example, showered it with praise. The pseudonym "Mutsit metrolla maailmalle" (Mothers reaching the world by metro) wrote to Helsingin Sanomat in 1998: "There is a way from Meri-Rastila out to the world, after all. The Vuosaari metro takes mothers and prams to the Itäkeskus or Columbus shopping centres in just a few minutes. Before, women taking care of their children at home were forced to remain in the neighbourhood, if they had no car. Sure, there were bus routes, but busses cannot take on many prams."
Photo: Helsinki City Museum, Unto Laitila, 1982
In 2013, the new tramcar models specifically designed for Helsinki were introduced to the city. Eco-friendliness was the leading principle of their design: Compared to the old fluorescent lighting, LED lighting reduces the energy consumption by up to 60 percent, while the lighting level remains the same. Energy released during braking is used to heat the car in winter conditions.
The new metro carriages that will be introduced between 2015 and 2016 resemble the old carriages internally, but the passengers may now walk from the one end of a 90-metre train to the other.