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Finnish Newspapers in Ohio

John I. Kolehmainen

The possibilities which Ohio offered for Finnish journalistic enterprise attracted, shortly before the year 1884, the attention of two ambitious typesetters, Fred Karinen and Alex Wirtamo of the New York Mills (Minnesota) Uusi Kotimaa. In the spring of l884 the pair arrived in Ashtabula Harbor, the largest Finnish settlement in the State, and shortly afterward they launched, with the assistance of Charles Stenroos, Sr., and Asser Anson, a publishing concern.1 The company, as Stenroos later recalled, was capitalized at either $800 or $1000 with shares at $25 each.

The small firm immediately began to issue a four page weekly, the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat, the first Finnish language newspaper to the published in the State. Under the joint editorship of Karinen and Wirtamo the organ shortly had over a thousand readers. When the latter resigned to join a rival paper, his editorial chair was filled by August Edwards who had arrived in the community in 1885.2 Karinen, on the other hand, continued his connection with the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat until 1889 when he left for Ishpeming, Michigan, to found an organ for the Finnish National Temperance Brotherhood. Edwards, who had been gradually buying up the outstanding shares of the concern, became editor, publisher, and owner. In the fall of the same year the newspaper was moved to the Harbor from Ashtabula where it had been printed for several years. With a new press and as a result of his business acumen Edwards raised the circulation of the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat to about 3500; at the same time it was made a bi-weekly. For a time the Ashtabula Harbor newspaper had more readers than any other contemporary Finnish language organ in America. The paper was in the possession of a Rafael Reinius for a short period but soon fell back into Edwards' hands who continued to publish the pioneer sheet until 1893. In that year he migrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he united the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat with the Työmies, the organ which Karinen had begun for the temperance brotherhood; the resulting journal was known as the Amerikan Uutiset.3

A pioneer preacher, John W. Lähde, had conceived, shortly after his arrival in Ashtabula Harbor in early 1884, the idea of using the available printing facilities of the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat to publish a religious periodical. Within a short time the Valvoja, the first Finnish language spiritual publication in America, began to make its appearance as an eight-page monthly.4 When its editor was studying at the Rock Island, Illinois, seminary of the Augustana Synod in the spring of 1885, the Valvoja was printed there; upon his return to Ashtabula, it was again issued from the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat press. Lähde was later assisted in his editorial duties by the Revs. J. J. Hoikka and J. K. Nikander. When Lähde departed from the community in the fall of 1885, the Valvoja continued to appear from the local press although editors Hoikka and Nikander were far removed from the local settlement. While the Valvoja appeared until the close of 1888 it was never on secure financial ground; its circulation never exceeded 300. The last number of the pioneer religious periodical came out in December, 1888.

Four other publications appeared in Ashtabula before the 1890's. As early as 1885 editors Karinen and Wirtamo of the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat tried to capture the fancy of the reading public with a monthly devoted to humor and wit. Unfortunately the Hulivili Poika,5 as the periodical was called, failed to live up to the expectations of its founders and was soon abandoned. It was nonetheless, the first genuine Finnish humor sheet in America, far antedating such favorites as the Lapatossu and the Meikäläinen.

August Edwards, a leader in the temperance crusade, endeavored in the following year to reach the rank and file of the movement with his Perheen Ystävä.6 The new monthly was a publication devoted to the cause of "temperance and culture"; six numbers of the family magazine appeared in 1886 and three or four in 1887. But since the Perheen Ystävä showed no signs of receiving adequate support, Edwards regretfully withdrew it in the second year of its existence. The Perheen Ystävä is claimed to have been the first Finnish periodical in America enrolled specifically in the fight against "Demon Rum".

In December, 1886, Alex Wirtamo, who had left the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat, joined hands with Ino (John) Ekman in establishing the Pohjan Tähti in Ashtabula.7 Within a short time Ekman became sole owner and editor of the bi-weekly. For a while the Pohjan Tähti seemed to be on the road to success despite the keen competition of the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat. In late August, 1887, Ekman purchased a new cylinder press and boiler; two months later he told a reporter from the Ashtabula Telegraph that he was about to make the Pohjan Tähti a five column daily.8 But his plans came to naught; while the circulation of his paper reached 2000 in the fall of 1887, a decline set in shortly. Sometime in 1888 Ekman abandoned the Pohjan Tähti, moved to Calumet, Michigan, where he began to publish the Kansan Lehti in 1889.

Contemporary with these early publications was the weekly Joutuhetket.9 This organ, featuring prose and poetry rather than news, appeared only a few months. Within the years 1884-87, thus, not less than six publications - two newspapers, three monthly periodicals, and a miscellaneous weekly - had risen in the Finnish settlement at Ashtabula Harbor. Of these only two manifested any signs of longevity; the Valvoja, which appeared for nearly five years, and the Yhdysvaltain Sanomat, which was in existence for nine years.10

After August Edwards' removal to Minneapolis in 1893 the Ohio Finns were without a newspaper of their own for nearly four years. In the spring of 1897, however, the pioneer newspaperman returned to Ashtabula and began to issue a weekly, the Amerikan Sanomat.11 The circulation of the new paper increased very rapidly; by 1903 it had almost attained the nine thousand mark. In that year, moreover, Edwards bought the Calumet, Michigan, Suometar and united it with the local organ; thenceforth the newspaper was known as the Amerikan Sanomat ja Suometar. Edwards, however, had retired from active editorial work two years earlier; his desk was filled in turn by J. Jaatinen, Julius Saastamoinen, and Emil Saastamoinen, the latter serving for over eight years. The circulation of the newspaper continued to increase; in 1909 it reached a high of 11,120 and in 1910 was 11,000. But after the turn of the decade the circulation of the Ohio journal took a sudden drop; in 1911 it was only 6900 and two years later, 5000. Near the close of 1913, the mild and easygoing Amerikan Sanomat ja Suometar was withdrawn from competition with a more aggressive Finnish press; it could no longer compete with a strong, political language press situated in the metropolitan centers. Thus perished in 1913 a newspaper whose influence had extended far beyond the confines of the State.

After the abandonment of the Amerikan Sanomat ja Suometar an interval of eleven years elapsed before the Ohio Finns established another newspaper. In July, 1924, the Interstate Publishing Company was organized at Fairport, largely through the efforts of A. J. Hinkkanen. The leaders of the concern included, in addition to Hinkkanen, George Wahlstrom and J. G. Aho. This company, having purchased the rights to the old Edwards' paper the Amerikan Sanomat, began to publish a weekly under that name in the late summer of 1924. It appeared in Fairport and was under the editorship of Hinkkanen. Two years after its initiation the Amerikan Sanomat had a circulation of only 2500. In 1930 the newspaper became the property of the Pastors Gabriel Lipsanen and Frank Pelkonen, who had formed the Fairport Publishing Company. After having been in the clerics' hands for about two years the Amerikan Sanomat and the printing concern were sold to Henry Karhu in 1932. The latter acted as editor and publisher until November, 1933, when he returned the paper to the Rev. Lipsanen. About the same time the Amerikan Sanomat began to appear twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays with four pages per issue; the printing establishment was also moved from Eagle Street to more commodious quarters on High Street. The paper continues to appear under the guidance of Mrs. Gabriel Lipsanen, a capable newspaperwoman. But despite her prodigious efforts the circulation of the Amerikan Sanomat has never been high; in 1932 it was only 1500 and claims 800 readers at the present time. The only surviving Finnish language newspaper in Ohio has been vigorously independent in politics and somewhat clerical in tone.12

A competitor appeared, to be sure, in late 1928 to harass the Fairport Amerikan Sanomat for a short time. A group of Finns headed by Otto Massinen, Oscar Anderson, and Julius Laurila began to publish a weekly, the Kansan Lehti, at Cleveland in December, 1928. The paper soon became the property of the new Finnish Publishing Company whose largest stockholders were Kustaa Nevanperä, Jacob Ritola, Matti Saari, and Ely Koski. The concern persuaded Onni Syrjäniemi of Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to take over the editorship of the eight-page weekly; the veteran newspaperman arrived in Cleveland in April, 1929, to assume the editorial duties heretofore performed by Laurila and others. For the following two years the Kansan Lehti was distributed from the metropolis with fair regularity; circulation was good, averaging perhaps 2000 copies a week and often reaching 5000 on special issues. In 1931 the Finnish Publishing Company was moved to Ashtabula Harbor in an attempt to stave off financial ruin; the change was made in vain for in December, 1933, the Kansan Lehti made its last appearance. The untimely death of the new organ left the Amerikan Sanomat as the only surviving Finnish newspaper in Ohio. The Kansan Lehti joined the company of those publications - Yhdysvaltain Sanomat, Valvoja, Hulivili Poika, Perheen Ystävä, Pohjan Tähti, Joutuhetket, and Amerikan Sanomat ja Suometar - which had once spoken a familiar language to the Finns of Ohio but which could speak no longer.

1 A good general account of the Finnish press in Arnerica is F. Tolonen, "Muutamia Historia-tietoja Amerikan Suomalaisista Sanomalehdistä", Amerikan Suometar, Muistojulkaisu, 1899-1919 (Hancock, Michigan, 1919), 78-92. See also S. Ilmonen, Amerikan Suomalaisten Sivistyshistoria (Hancock, Michigan, 1930), I, 189-90; and F. J. Syrala, Historia-aiheita Amerikan Suomalaisesta Työväen-liikkeestä (Fitchburg, Massachusetts, n.d.), 30-2 The history of the early Finnish press in Ohio is treated in Kalle H. Mannerkorpi, Ashtabula Harborin Betania Seurakunnan 25 Vuotis Julkaisu, l89l-l9l6 (Hancock, Michigan, 1916), 45-8.

2 August Edwards, "Hajanaisia muistiinpanoja Harborin ensimäisestä hengellisistä ja raittiuspyrinnöistä", included in Mannerkorpi, Betania Julkaisu, 130-2.

3 Tolonen, "Historia-tietoja", 84; Edwards, "Hajanaisia muistiinpanoja", 181-2; Mannerkorpi, Betania Julkaisu 45-6; Ashtabula Telegraph, September 13, 1889.

4 J. W. Lähde, "Muistelmia Ashtabula Harborin ensimäisiltä seurakunta ajoilta", included in Mannerkorpi, Betania Julkaisu, 127-9. See also Ilmonen, Sivistyshistoria, I, 189.

5 This monthly is listed in John Hubbard, comp., Ashtabula City Directory for 1885-1886 (Ashtabula, 1885), 813. The Hulivili Poika has eluded the scrutiny of Tolonen and Mannerkorpi while Ilmonen incorrectly dates it as of 1887.

6 Edwards, "Hajanaisia muistiinpanoja", 181.

7 Painesville Telegraph, December 16, 1886. See also Tolonen, "Historia-tietoja", 84; Mannerkorpi, Betania Julkaisu, 46-7.

8 Ashtabula Telegraph, August 26, September 30, October 14, 1887.

9 Ilmonen, Sivistyshistoria, I, 189-90.

10 The writer has been unable to find any physical survivals of these early publications.

11 Mannerkorpi, Betania Julkaisu, 46-7; Tolonen, "Historia-tietoja", 88-9; Ashtabula Beacon Record, September 26, 190l; Conneaut Post Herald, April 8, 1904. The circulation figures are chiefly from Ayer's American Newspaper Annual and Directory (Philadelphia).

12 Information regarding the Fairport Amerikan Sanomat has been given the writer by the Rev. and Mrs. Lipsanen. See also the Painesville Telegraph, July 24, 1924; November 8, 14, 30, 1935.

Published in The Ohio State Archaeological and History Quarterly, Vol. XLVII, No. 2, April 1938, p. 123-128.

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