Tuomas Vohlonen

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Tuomas "Tommo" Vohlonen (1878–1939) was a famous Finnish inventor. A surveyor by trade, his patents cover a wide area of devices and activities including compasses, skis, surveying, engines and farming. His most important heritage is the company Suunto Oy which is still active producing compasses according to his patented method as well as dive computers, outdoor wristtop computers, and heartrate watches.

In April 1933, after experimentation with various designs, Vohlonen applied for a patent from the Finnish National Board of Patents and Registration for a compact liquid-filled field compass, in which the magnetic needle and damping fluid were completely sealed into a unitary fused celluloid capsule.[1] Vohlonen was granted a patent on January 25, 1935.[2] Together with his wife Elli and nephew Kauko he founded Suunto Oy in 1936. Vohlonen incorporated his new liquid-filled capsule into a lightweight wrist-mounted design, the M-311, suitable for use by soldiers, surveyors, hikers, and others navigating while afoot.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Here is a quote from a text by Kastehelmi Nikkanen in the Innogallery exhibition about Tuomas Vohlonen and Suunto at the National Board of Patents and Registration of Finland

‘There is a saying that an inventor must be discontented, or he will never come up with any inventions. Tuomas Vohlonen was discontented. Wherever he moved, worked or came across new things, his first thought was “Is this good enough, could it be improved?” He was tireless as an inventor.’

These are words by Sulo Veikko Siitonen (S.V.S) in his article Tuomas Vohlonen – famous Finnish inventor genius in the newspaper Etelä-Saimaa in spring 1969, marking the fact that 30 years had passed from Tuomas (Tommo) Vohlonen’s death.

In summer 1939, Tuomas Vohlonen, inventor and surveyor, was 61 years old. He had been granted 39 Finnish patents and his most important inventions had been patented abroad, too. He was the managing director of an emerging company established three years earlier, but ‘just as he was about to see his efforts bear fruit, the thread of life was suddenly cut for him.’(S.V.S.).

Mrs Elli Vohlonen, his wife and business partner, took on the business after the sudden death of her husband. She was the managing director until 1952 and fought several times in court, defending patent rights that had been transferred to her after Tuomas Vohlonen's death. She prevailed, the products of the company gained reputation as good and reliable merchandise, and the name of the company became well known.

The most groundbreaking of Tuomas Vohlonen’s inventions was the method for manufacturing a liquid-damped march compass, and the company, which he founded in 1936 together with his wife Elli and his nephew Kauko, Suunto Oy.


  1. ^ Suunto Oy, Suunto Company History, December 2001 Article
  2. ^ Suunto Oy, Suunto Company History, December 2001 Article
  3. ^ Suunto Oy, Suunto Company History, December 2001 Article
  4. ^ Gubbins, David, Encyclopedia of Geomagnetism and Paleomagnetism, Springer Press (2007), ISBN 1-4020-3992-1, ISBN 978-1-4020-3992-8, p. 67: The first rudimentary working model of a liquid compass was believed to have been introduced by Sir Edmund Halley at a meeting of the Royal Society in 1690.
  5. ^ Fanning, A.E., Steady As She Goes: A History of the Compass Department of the Admiralty, HMSO, Department of the Admiralty (1986): The Englishman Francis Crow received a patent for a working liquid mariner's compass in 1813.
  6. ^ E.S. Ritchie & Sons Company, Inc. About Us, Article: In 1860, Edward Samuel Ritchie, an American physicist and instrument maker, received a U.S. patent for the first widely successful and practicable liquid-damped marine compass.
  7. ^ Hughes, Henry A., Improvements in prismatic compasses with special reference to the Creagh-Osborne patent compass, Transactions of The Optical Society 16 17-43, London: The Optical Society (1915): The first liquid-damped compass compact enough for pocket or pouch was the Creagh-Osborne, patented in 1915 in Great Britain.
  8. ^ The Compass Museum, Article: Though the Creagh-Osborne was offered in a wrist-mount model, it proved too bulky and heavy in this form.