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Kalm, Pehr (1716 - 1779)

explorer, professor of economics

The naturalist Pehr Kalm achieved international fame with his account of a voyage to North America. After his appointment as professor of economics at Turku Academy, he strove to find ways of improving the national economy. His work involved experiments with exotic plants, such as the mulberry tree required for silk production, but most of these plants did not thrive as had been hoped.

"A professor of economics can make incredible contributions to promoting the measures introduced by the High Estates of the Realm to increase the prosperity of Finland". Thus wrote Pehr Kalm when he applied for the first professorship in economics, established in 1747, at Turku Academy (University). He was appointed to the post and held it until his death. During his tenure, the hard-working Kalm strove to promote the attempts of the 'Age of Pragmatism' to improve the national economy, and he even managed to be a pastor as well. Kalm's best-known achievements are associated with his expeditions. The most important of these was his voyage to North America in 1747 - 51; his description of it was translated into German, English and Dutch.

Pehr Kalm was born in Ångermanland, Sweden, in 1716; his family, who came from Korsnäs in the Närpiö district of Finland, had fled there during the Great Northern War. His father Gabriel Kalm, who had been assistant pastor in his home parish, died during their flight at the time of the boy's birth, and Pehr's mother, Katarina Ross, who came from a merchant family in Vaasa, returned after the war to Vöyri in Ostrobothnia. The young Kalm entered Vaasa Grammar School in April 1730, and in 1735 he enrolled at Turku Academy. He studied mineralogy under the professor of medicine Herman Diedrik Spöring and attended lectures in natural history given by Johan Browallius and Carl Fredrik Mennander. Spöring, Browallius and Mennander had all been exposed to the new trends in empirical scientific research, and they passed on their knowledge at Turku.

On Browallius' recommendation, Kalm enrolled at the University of Uppsala on 5 December 1740. His studies there were made possible by support from Baron Sten Carl Bielke, Justice of the Turku Appeal Court, who considered Kalm a suitable person to look after his lands at Lövsta near Uppsala. Bielke was closely involved in the activities of Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences, founded in 1739; this institution was to be of great importance to Kalm's career as well.

Kalm became interested in empirical natural science quite early on; in 1737/38 he was already making meteorological observations while tutoring at Lieksa and Kitee. His obvious talent and his thirst for travel suited Bielke's plans well: research trips to various parts of the Swedish Realm could provide useful information on natural conditions and the economy, and Uppsala University's plant collection could also be extended. Bielke himself financed Kalm's journeys, the first of which was to Savo and Karelia in spring 1740. Two years later Kalm made observations on the "natural history, physics, medical science, economic doctrine and antiquities" of West Gothland and Bohus Province, as his subsequently published account of his travels promises on its cover. Kalm's last domestic research trip was again to West Gothland - to its southern regions in 1745.

The Academy of Sciences was planning to send Kalm further afield to look for new plants suitable for cultivation. At first there was talk at least of Greenland and the Cape of Good Hope, though Bielke considered Siberia more useful. Bielke's interest in Siberia stemmed from a trip to Russia with Kalm in 1744; the two had journeyed to Moscow via the Baltic provinces and St Petersburg and had also travelled about in the Ukraine. However, at Linné's emphatically expressed wish, the Academy decided to send Kalm to North America.

Kalm made careful preparations for his research trips. Especially in the winter of 1741/42, when talk of a large Academy project began, he started reading accounts by his predecessors and making a list of the things to be observed during his travels. Guided by Linné, he immersed himself energetically in botany, and he studied the determination of latitude and longitude, attending lectures by the astronomy professor Anders Celsius. Despite his broad range of studies, Kalm never completed a Master's degree. The lack of a formal qualification did not, however, prevent Turku Academy from giving him a lectureship in natural history and economics in 1746. In the spirit of the era, economics was being promoted as a university subject, and the appointment of a magister docens was the first step. The actual professorship of "Natural History and Economics" was financed by scrapping the Chair of Poetry. On 31 August 1747, with the support of Browallius and Linné, Kalm was appointed to the new post.

Kalm's appointment as Professor of Economics was associated with the planned trip to North America, which had to be funded in part from Kalm's salary. He started out by ship early in October 1747 with his hired hand Jungström, travelling from Gothenburg to London. Kalm spent some six months in England waiting for a suitable onward passage. He used this time to advantage learning the language, meeting people who had visited America and familiarising himself with English agriculture. It was not until 5 August 1748 that Kalm sailed for Philadelphia from Gravesend aboard the Mary Gally. The trip took just under six weeks, the ship reaching its destination on 15 September.

Upon his arrival in the New World, Kalm first stayed in Philadelphia, where there were many descendants of the Swedish colony established in 1638. Kalm relates, however, that the first person with whom he became acquainted was Benjamin Franklin, who was then Postmaster in Philadelphia. On the advice of his acquaintances, Kalm delayed his departure for the North because of the advent of winter. News of this did not please Linné and other members of the Academy of Sciences, because they wanted Kalm to familiarise himself with areas where the climate was similar to that of Sweden. Kalm spent most of the winter of 1748/49 at Raccoon, but he also acquainted himself with the vegetation of New Jersey and visited New York.

The main part of Kalm's trip began in May 1749. He travelled up the Hudson River to Albany and continued into French Canada as far as Montreal and Quebec. At Cap aux Oyes to the north of Quebec, the travellers turned back, since the region was too restless because of the Indians. The French treated Kalm almost like royalty, because the voyage had been thoroughly prepared by the diplomats. For the winter, Kalm retraced his route to Raccoon, but in summer 1750 he was offered a new opportunity to travel to Albany via the Great Lakes region. Amongst other places, he visited the Niagara Falls. His superb description of the Falls was immediately published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, of which Franklin was the editor, and later in European journals as well.

Before his Niagara trip, Kalm thus spent the winter of 1749/50 at Raccoon, working on his materials. Important things happened in his personal life as well: he married. Raccoon was the home of Anna Margareta Sjöman, the widow of Johan Sandin, who had been the pastor of the Swedish colony there. Sandin had died the previous winter, and on New Year's Day 1750 Kalm married the young widow. Anna had a daughter, then less than two years old, from her marriage to Sandin, and the young couple also had a son of their own two years later. The couple's return home was held up for several months after Kalm's return from Niagara. The stormy return voyage to London began in February 1751. Kalm did not arrive in Stockholm until late May. Before him lay the move to Turku as Professor of Economics.

Kalm threw himself energetically into the task of arranging the spoils of his trip to America during the period free of official duties which had been granted to him for this purpose. Seeds collected in America had already been distributed for sowing in various parts of Sweden, but Kalm himself now began to investigate how well potentially useful plants would succeed in Ostrobothnia. He established an experimental garden; at first this was in the grounds of his own house in Turku, but in 1752 he was also given a farm at Hirvensalo for this work. Turku did not acquire proper university gardens - the 'Bishop's House' property - until 1752, again largely thanks to Kalm.

The experiments soon showed that most of the plants did not thrive as had been hoped; especial hopes had been placed in the cultivation of the mulberry tree, as this would have enabled Sweden to start producing silk. Finnish peasants were not interested in using the birch-bark boat that Kalm demonstrated - though King Adolphus Frederick was entertained by a ride in such a boat during his visit to Turku in 1752. The publication of Kalm's report on his travels also began, and En Resa til Norra America (A Voyage to North America) appeared in three volumes in 1753 - 61. The pace was rather slow, and Kalm never succeeded in completing the last volume. His successor, the economics professor Salomon Kreander, edited it slowly, and a publisher could no longer be found. It was not until 1920 that the sections of the fourth volume that had survived the Great Fire of Turku saw the light of day.

Kalm was also a hard worker in his official capacity. His professorship saw the publication of a total of 146 dissertations, some of which - as was customary at the time - he wrote himself. A striking feature of these dissertations is the descriptions of Finnish towns and provinces. Other topics include the necessity for improved forestry, the establishment of herb gardens, domestic substitutes for coffee, animal diseases and the utilisation of weeds. In general the dissertations dealt with highly practical matters: only one discussed possible applications of mathematics to economics. Clear political views were also presented in them. Thus, for example, we find a discussion of whether war or economics contributes more to improving a country's economy and the assertion that government by a system of Estates is better than an absolute monarchy. In the 1740s permission had been granted to present dissertations in Swedish instead of Latin if the topics concerned contributed to economic improvement. Thus, for instance, about two thirds of Kalm's dissertations are in Swedish.

Kalm also turned to theology, and he was ordained vicar of Piikkiö in December 1757. As well as religious reasons, there were undoubtedly economic motives behind this appointment, as Kalm received added income from this salaried post. As vicar of Piikkiö, he also became an active member of the Turku Cathedral Chapter. In 1763 Kalm moved from Piikkiö to the congregation at Maaria, where he was later to be buried. Evidently following the example of his teachers Browallius and Mennander, he tried to become a bishop in 1775 but came only fourth in the election. Kalm died in 1779 - according to church records, of dropsy.

During his lifetime Kalm received many honours. In 1764 the Imperial Academy of Sciences in St Petersburg offered him a well-paid professorship of botany but he refused. But he also attracted opposition. "A short time ago Professor Kalm had himself ordained a pastor on account of a salaried parish post; he is quite a skilled gardener, as everything, including his black hands, shows. His erudition is very negligible. He has brought here a pernicious taste with his dissertations on the economy written in Swedish, and it is not without scholarly revulsion that one can see him bearing jellied gooseberries etc. to the lecturer's desk."

Thanks to his description of his travels, Kalm also became known to some extent abroad. His observations cover both nature and human customs and clothing. There has been continued interest in these keenly observed details, and the 20th century saw the publication of new French-language editions of his descriptions of Canada. But his name lives on most enduringly in the American genus of plants that Linné named 'Kalmia' in his honour - even if probably very few Americans know how Pennsylvania's state flower acquired its name.

Maija Kallinen

Translated by Roderick Fletcher


Pehr Kalm, born March 1716 Ångermanland, Sweden, died 16.11.1779 Maaria. Parents: Gabriel Kalm, assistant pastor, died 1716, and Katarina Ross, died 2.6.1765 Närpiö. Wife: 1750 - 1779 Anna Margaretha Sjöman, widow of Johan Sandin, pastor, born 1722 Gästrikland, died 6.1.1787 Turku, wife's father: Johan Sjöman, Commissioner of the Stockholm Arsenal. Child: Johanna Margareta Sandin-Kalm, born 14.5.1748 Raccoon.

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