This article is an English version of this one I wrote in Portuguese for the blog Brasileiras Pelo Mundo.

According to the Global Innovation Index 2016, Finland ranks fifth as the most innovative country in the world. And by the rhythm of things, even in the middle of a very complex economic crisis (I wrote about it here), investments in this area are still a priority for the government.

The history of Finland with respect to innovative inventions is ancient and very diverse. There are countless Finnish contributions in the areas of biotechnology, agriculture, information technology, telecommunications, environment and health. The reason why is justified by several experts with the fact that in a country with such a small population, and with so few natural resources mainly because of the climatic conditions, innovating is a matter of survival. This is also one of the major reasons why in the 1970´s the government decided that for Finland to really develop, it was necessary to create a “knowledge-based society” under a universal education system.

I dedicate this text to some Finnish inventions that nearly everyone knows, but only a few realize they come from here. And there is much more, Google is just there to prove  I am not lying!

  1. Ice skates

In 2008, two Italian researchers, one from the University of Oxford and another from the University of Milan, discovered that the first ice skates in history were designed by the Finns 5,000 years ago! Originally made from animal bones and leather, the instrument was created to make life easier during the winter, as it was possible to cross the lakes much faster. Considering that there are 187,888 lakes in Finland, which are frozen from 4 to 6 months a year, it is easy to understand why this idea came from here.

2. Sauna


Although there are records of hot bath rooms existing as part of the culture of different civilizations, the dry wooden sauna we know of was invented and developed in Finland. Again because of the winter, when there was no piped and heated water, the sauna was the place to cleanse the body avoiding the proliferation of bacteria and diseases. A hot sauna, in addition to cleaning the pores, made it possible for people to wash themselves in cold water. The importance of sauna goes even beyond that: they were used as a delivery room, because after being warmed to 100 degrees Celsius, the environment was sterilized, reducing the risks of contamination and fatal postpartum diseases.

3. Molotov cocktail


And again the survival instinct created an innovation. During the 1939-1940 Winter War, without sufficient weapons and in the imminence of an attack by the well-armed Soviet Red Army, Captain Eero Kuitinnen, an ammunition specialist, and his team, needed to design a simple, “home-made” and efficient weapon against the tanks. Kuitinen carried out a detailed and rapid study of which the “Molotov cocktail” project came about. The artifact made from bottles and flammable liquids replaced the grenades. The name was chosen in “honor” to the Russian general Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov.

4. Heart rate monitor


This very common “gym device” which monitors real-time heart rates as a watch, was invented in 1977 by Seppo Säynäjäkangas as part of the training equipment for the Finnish ski-jump team.

5. Angry Birds


Who doesn´t know the game, created by the Finnish company Rovio Entertainment?

6. Linux operating system

In 1991, young Linus Torvalds – one of those super-bright nerds – a student at the University of Helsinki, and a curious about operating systems, got frustrated with the licensing of the MINIX system, which at that time was limited to educational use. Frustration led him to work on his own kernel operating system that eventually became the Linux kernel. The main idea was to create a fully functional, free and free operating system, and despite some mishaps and a legal prohibition to offer the system for free (of course Microsoft tried to do everything to get in the way), today the Linux operating system is there , strong and firm, used even by NASA.

7. The first chat server in history! Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

The IRC was created in 1988 by Finnish programmer Jarkko Oikarinen, a student at the University of Oulu. The boy’s goal was to create a community teletext system with advanced features that would allow real-time “public conversation” among thousands of users, separated by channels, who could also exchange private messages.

The first chat networks appeared in Finland on local university servers that spread rapidly to other universities across the Nordic world. In 1989 there were already more than 40 chat servers spread all over the world.

8. Short message service – SMS

The father of this invention, Finnish engineer Matti Makkonen, never became known for his achievement and, while alive, never accepted to take credit for what he developed. Matti was part of a group of professionals who believed in the “spirit of freedom of information”, so he never bothered to document his deeds and always said  he hadn´t done anything alone. Although the 160-character protocol was invented years before and was the starting point for Makkonen’s studies, it was his personal efforts and leadership that enabled the SMS via mobile phone, developed by Nokia. Matti Makkonen died on June 26, 2015.

9. Retroreflector (safety reflector)


Most likely your car or bike has one of these. In the Nordic countries they go beyond the means of transport; During the dark periods, we all have to wear one in our coats. The safety reflector was invented by a Finnish farmer named Arvi Lehti. His idea was very simple and aimed to protect his wagons and horses in periods of darkness in the interior of Finland. Nowadays, most of the cars and bikes are manufactured with a safety reflector.

10. Xylitol – the sugar that kills bacteria

Of course Finns did not invent xylitol itself, as it is a natural sugar that can be extracted from fruits, mushrooms and woods. But  Finnish scientists were who discovered, in the 1970s, its wonderful properties, beneficial not only to oral health, but also to prevent ear infections, pneumonia and osteoporosis, besides no being contraindicated for people with diabetes.

In Finland we always have xylitol chewing gum and always chew them after meals. For children as young as one year old, there are fruit-flavored pastilles.

I can really attest that since I created the habit of chewing xylitol gum, I didn´t have any cavities. It´s been  3 years since the last one.

Want to know more Finnish inventions? See a list here and browse the site This is Finland.