Lapland gold rush

The Lapland gold rush was a gold rush that occurred during the 1870s in Lapland in the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous part of the Russian Empire. The rush started in the valley of Ivalojoki river in 1870 and lasted for a couple of years. Its scale is not comparable with the major 19th century gold rushes, but the Lapland gold rush has a great local significance in Lapland and all across Finland.[1]

Ivalo gold rush


Ivalo River in the late 1890s

The first references of gold in the Finnish Lapland date back to the early 16th century as gold was discovered from Utsjoki, but it was not widely known until the 19th century.[2] In the 1860s, the Norwegian geologist Tellef Dahll was conducting a geological survey in the Finnmark county in the extreme northeastern part of Norway as he discovered some gold from the Tana river. Dahll found out that the most promising sites were on the Finnish side of the river and contacted the authorities in Helsinki. In 1868 the Finnish Mining Board sent an expedition to Lapland in order to find gold. Finland, which at the time was an autonomous part of Russia, was suffering from a major famine and the Finnish local government was hoping that the gold would give a boost to the country's deprived economy.

The expedition was led by the engineer Conrad Lihr, who later became the head of the Mint of Finland. After several months, gold was finally discovered in September 1868 from the Ivalo River in the municipality of Inari. The discovery was seen so prosperous that the government decided to pass a totally new law for the future gold mining in Lapland. It was finally approved by Alexander II in April 1870. The new law repealed the former act which had given the Emperor the privilege of all noble metals. Gold prospecting in Lapland was now free for every "decent" man of the Grand Duchy of Finland and the Russian Empire, excluding the Jews.

Gold was also found from the Norwegian Lapland in the 1890s but a rush never occurred.[3]

The rush

Gold mining by the Sotajoki river in 1898

After the new legislation was passed, the gold rush on the Ivalo river started in 1870. During the spring and the summer, some 500 gold prospectors made their way through Lapland to the Ivalo River. The prospectors travelled hundreds of kilometers by ski, foot or boat. The gold prospecting area was born to the confluence of Ivalo and its tributary Sotajoki.[4] The government established the "Kultala Crown Station", which was a headquarters for the authorities and service point for the prospectors. In Kultala the officials issued licences for prospectors and purchased their gold, there was also law enforcement officers and cartographers as well as restaurant and post office.[1] At its largest, the number of government officials and gold prospectors was some 600. This was a significant community, as Lapland was mostly uninhabited wilderness, the largest populated places being only up to few hundred people.[4]

As the government fees and taxes were extremely high, only the 19 most wealthiest prospectors were able to make claims and the rest were employed by them. The largest claims had 30–40 men, who worked for 11 hours per day, six days a week.[4] The major claims produced some 10 kilograms gold yearly, but the rush was soon over as the gold started running out. In 1873, the government fees were cut in half and a year later a special law for the gold prospecting on the Tana River was passed.[5] Area of the Ivalo River was almost abandoned in the early 1880s, the few left prospectors moved to Sotajoki and to the Laanila village which is located 10 kilometers east. In 1883–1884 the Kultala Crown Station was used by the professor Selim Lemström for exploring the northern lights and it was finally closed in 1900. During the 1920s, two companies were practising industrial gold mining, but both went bankrupt in a few years.[6]

Later gold rushes

In 1934 Sami people from the Purnumukka village found gold from Tankavaara in Sodankylä. The discovery attracted several Finnish prospectors as well as some foreigners like the Swedish mining company Boliden AB and the German architect Werner Thiede from Hamburg. Thiede later had some problems with the authorities and he was deported in 1938. During World War II, Thiede served in the German Army in occupied Norway and returned to Tankavaara in 1944 as the Germans were building the Schutzwall defensive line across the northeastern Lapland. As the German troops retreated, they destroyed all the gold mining facilities in Tankavaara, except the ones built by Thiede. Since the 1970s the Tankavaara area has served as a tourist attraction, including restaurants, hotel and a gold prospecting museum.[1]

The other minor rush in Lapland started 1945 as gold was found from the Lemmenjoki river. Today there is still some 20 prospectors and 50 claims at the Lemmenjoki National Park, producing more than 20 kilograms of gold every year. The 2011 mining act prohibits all mechanical mining since 2021 but manual gold panning will still be legal.[1]


The Lapland gold rushes have inspired several artists like the novelist Arvo Ruonaniemi and the naivistic painter Andreas Alariesto. The most notable films are the 1951 classic comedy At the Rovaniemi Fair by Jorma Nortimo and the 1999 drama Gold Fever in Lapland which is based on the 1870 Ivalo gold rush.[7]


  1. 1 2 3 4 A SHORT GOLD HISTORY OF FINLAND Gold Prospector Museum. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  2. Shining gold Lapland – Above Ordinary. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  3. Lapland Gold Makes the Area a Nice Place For Gold Diggers and panners Lapland Travel Info. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 Lapin kullan kimallus elokuvan taustoja Kultahippu. Retrieved 29 September 2015. (Finnish)
  5. Kullankaivu toi Inarin maailmankartalle Kultahippu. Retrieved 29 September 2015. (Finnish)
  6. Maakuntakivet: Lappi - Kulta Geological Survey of Finland. Retrieved 29 September 2015. (Finnish)
  7. GOLD FEAVER IN LAPLAND Production Design. Retrieved 29 September 2015.
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Coordinates: 68°30′22″N 26°40′51″E / 68.50604°N 26.680836°E / 68.50604; 26.680836

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