Born in March 1893 as the son of a maintenance worker at the Forssa Ltd cotton mill, Esko was the only one of eight brothers and sisters to embark on an academic career, keeping a small shop as one way of financing his education.
After matriculating in 1913, he enrolled at the Imperial Alexander University of Finland (now the University of Helsinki) to study Finnish and Scandinavian history. The country was in complete disarray when he completed his master’s degree in 1917, and the young man decided to return to his local district in Forssa and create his own job by setting up a newspaper. Previous local newspaper projects had failed, but at only 24 years of age Esko was brave, or perhaps foolhardy enough to believe that he could do better. His personality has subsequently been described as an unusually fortuitous blend of realism and idealism.
The first issue of the new Forssan Lehti appeared just a few weeks before Finland became independent. The aim of the newspaper was to serve as “a spiritual link and messenger for southwest Häme” with a “liberal and progressive” outlook on current affairs.
In-house printing when permitted by law
Printing of the newspaper was initially outsourced to a licenced printing house, with Esko’s ambition of in-house printing frustrated until an amendment to the Press Freedom Act in 1920 finally allowed such operations to be established in rural areas. Thus began the story of Forssa Print, with Esko becoming the company’s first Managing Director.
In addition to printing newspapers and books, Esko recorded the folk heritage of southwest Häme. He was appointed to the governing bodies of several national educational organisations.
In 1934 Esko was invited to assume the position of Literary Director at Gummerus Ltd, becoming Managing Director of this company a year later. He returned to manage Forssa Print in 1939 following changes in ownership of Gummerus and the outbreak of the Winter War.
It was during the war years that Esko resumed his academic career, completing his doctorate in 1944 and finally securing the chair when a new department of sociology was established at the University of Turku in 1951. Former Finnish President Mauno Koivisto is the best-known student to complete a doctoral dissertation during Esko’s tenure as professor.
Onwards to the fourth generation
The newspaper and printing house survived the Great Depression of the 1930s, the war years and the various challenges of the industry, with rapid growth in orders for printed products beginning in the 1970s as the number of customer magazines increased from about a dozen to more than sixty over this decade.
Changing technology has led to retooling of the printing house over the years, with construction and enlargement of the print works. The descendants and heirs of Esko Aaltonen have become involved in the business, and now form the fourth generation continuing the work that he began as the family continues its ownership of the company.