During the 19th century, Finland was an autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia. Russia took care of the empire’s foreign policy, however, two Russian representations abroad had interpreter posts allotted to Finns; one was at the Russian Embassy in London and the other at the Russian Consulate General in New York (since 1882). The Grand Duchy of Finland financed both interpreter positions. In New York, the post included immigration services as well as actions to promote Finland’s two most important export goods at the time: tar and butter.
The first consul generals of the independent Finland (1917) were nominated to London and New York during the summer of 1921. The core work in New York was to help immigrants, as approximately 290,000 Finns immigrated to the United States between 1900 and 1929.
In the 1930s, a commercial attaché was recruited to the consulate. This move reflected New York’s emerging role as the most important commercial hub in the world.
During the Winter War (1939-1940), as Finland fought against the aggression of the Soviet Union, the consulate was busy soliciting loans and intermediating purchases of war material from the United States. The consulate activities were suspended by request of the U.S. State Department in 1943 due to Finland’s stance as a cobelligerent country with Germany. This stance was part of Finland’s attempt to regain its territories lost to the Soviet Union in the Winter War. The United States suspended diplomatic relations with Finland in 1944 but never declared war against Finland. The consulate general of Finland reopened its doors after the war in 1946.
In the early 1950s, the consulate corresponded with United Nations administration favoring Finnish interests before Finland joined the organization in 1956, marking the country’s permanent representation in the U.N.
During the 1960s and 1970s, estate matters were among the key activities of the consulate. As the ranks of the first immigrant generation grew thinner, the consulate served as the legal link between deceased immigrants and their heirs in Finland.
The first predecessor of the Finnish-American Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1948, and the organization’s present name was chosen in 1958. In the early years, the support of the consulate was invaluable for the new organization. As the chamber established itself, it became a key player in fostering economic cooperation between Finland and the United States. All of the presidents of the Republic of Finland since Urho Kekkonen have given keynote speeches at chamber functions in New York.
The bicentennial anniversary of America’s independence in 1976 was an important year for the consulate as well. Many events and functions from receptions to jewelry exhibitions were organized. The underlying idea was to illustrate how Finnish tradition (through immigration) had become an important thread in the large fabric of American culture.
Presently the consulate has three main objectives. One of the main goals is to strengthen economic ties between Finland and the United States through, for instance, inviting investments. The second is to promote Finnish culture and to work as a catalyst for Finnish-American cultural exchange. The third is to serve well the Finns, Americans and citizens of other countries in consular matters under our jurisdiction.