The history of VTT: 1950s
1950s: the post-war era
The Laboratory of Construction Technology develops new building materials
After the war VTT was the only concentrated research centre capable of serving reconstruction and the war reparations industry. However, VTT’s continued success demanded changes in its management and administration. In order to fulfil its continuously expanding role, VTT had to allocate its resources and target its research more effectively than in the past. Immediately after the war the number of people employed at VTT rose sharply owing to the demands of reconstruction and the payment of war reparations. In fact, VTT expanded soon after it was founded when the Laboratory of Construction Technology was established. This new laboratory significantly broadened VTT’s research field and clarified many of the problems of the day, e.g. the construction costs of housing for the displaced population. The laboratories of VTT’s Construction Department played a big part in Finland’s post-war reconstruction, for instance, by developing new substitute building materials.
Edvard Wegelius appointed Director-in-Chief
In 1947 the Board of Directors appointed Professor Edvard Wegelius to serve as the new Director-in-Chief of VTT following the resignation of Martti Levón. Professor Wegelius was given the task of supervising all the functions of the research institute. Actual responsibility for planning and carrying out research work was assigned to the laboratory heads, most of whom were university professors who performed their duties at VTT in addition to their own academic work. This arrangement worked quite well in practice as VTT’s main building and the University of Technology were located side by side.
VTT migrates to Otaniemi
VTT’s work was hampered by the fact that its main building was too small right from the very beginning. However, the City of Helsinki did not look favourably on the expansion plans that VTT proposed. In the end the State purchased the Otaniemi estate in January 1949. In the following year Alvar Aalto won the town planning competition organised for the area’s development. However, initial enthusiasm for Otaniemi’s development peaked quickly and construction work was delayed for several years.
The first teaching and research facilities were not completed at Otaniemi until 1954. The first VTT unit to move to Otaniemi was the Laboratory of Mining Engineering (photo). The Laboratory was equipped with a complete test plant at Otaniemi in 1956. The test plant enabled the study of full-scale ore crushing.
Research needs of industry grow
From the end of the 1940s onwards, the original 10 laboratories were gradually split up to form new units. In 1950 VTT already consisted of 15 laboratories employing a total of 242 research scientists. In the mid-1950 VTT was already conducting over 6,000 tests a year as commercial assignments. The figure clearly shows that the emphasis in VTT’s activities was very much on testing and inspection work. The volume of such work was largely due to the fact that industry saw a need for different kinds of testing services but not for knowledge from basic research. The situation changed, however, in the late 1950s, when industry’s need for research began to grow. Because of international competition, industry had to invest increasingly in product quality and manufacturing methods.
VTT redefined its mission and goals in 1952. VTT’s new mission was primarily to do general research that promoted the development of the country’s economy and to engage in research that had purely scientific objectives. Testing continued to be a part of VTT’s mission, but it was deliberately relegated to the bottom of the list of priorities. In 1956 VTT’s unrestricted research funds fell to less than ten million Finnish marks, while at the same time income from testing rose seven fold. Clearly, even though VTT wanted to lessen the importance of testing and focus more on scientific research, it was actually moving in the other direction.
Many new laboratories were established in the 1950s. Each new laboratory brought with it new knowledge and expertise.