Pehr Kalm

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Pehr Kalm (known in Finland as Pietari Kalm) (March 6, 1716November 16, 1779) was an explorer, a botanist, a naturalist, and an agricultural economist from what is now Finland. Among his many accomplishments, Kalm can be credited with the first written description of the Niagara Falls, and the first comprehensive study of North American natural history.

Portrait of Kalm
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Portrait of Kalm

Kalm was the son of a Lutheran minister from Ostrobothnian Närpes who, during the Russian occupation of the Great Northern War, had sought refuge in Angermannia, one of the northernmost provinces of the Swedish realm. Kalm studied at the Academy of Åbo in Turku from 1735, and from 1740 at the University of Uppsala, where he met the renowned naturalist Carolus Linnaeus, one of whose first students he became. In Uppsala Kalm became the superintendent of an experimental plantation.

In 1746 Kalm was appointed associate professor of Natural History and Economics at the Åbo Academy, and in 1747 as full professor in Economics. The same year he was chosen by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to travel to North America, to find seeds and plants that might prove useful for agriculture or industry. In particular, he was to send back the red mulberry, Morus rubra, in order that a silk industry might be started in Sweden (with Finland).

Kalm arrived in Pennsylvania in 1748, and made his base of operations the Swedish–Finnish expatriate communities in southern New Jersey, where he served as the pastor of a local church, and where he married in 1750. He made trips as far west as Niagara Falls and as far north as Quebec, before returning in 1751. After his return he established a botanical garden in Turku, where he also taught at the Academy of Åbo until his death.

Kalm's journal of his travels was published as En Resa til Norra America (Stockholm, 1753–1761). It was translated into English in 1770 as Travels into North America. In his Species Plantarum, Linnaeus cites Kalm for 90 species, 60 of them new.

A student of Pehr Kalm's, Anders Chydenius (1729–1803), also a Finn, became one of the most notable politicians, scientists, and clergymen of eighteenth-century Sweden (with Finland). He is best remembered as an outspoken defender of freedom of trade and industry. In 1765 Anders Chydenius published his book “The National Gain”, in which he proposed free trade and expressed the fundamental ideas of economic liberalism, eleven years before the publication of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations.

Although Kalm's ethnicity and mother tongue first became a topic a century later, during the language strife in Finland, it can be noted that Kalm himself signed letters as Pehr Kalm, that he originated from Finland-Swedish Närpes, that all of his professional life was carried out in Latin and Swedish, and of course that he and his contemporaries considered him a Swede. This doesn't in any way change the fact that he worked all his life in what was already beginning to be perceived as Finland, and that he is considered one of the early pioneers of Finnish science.

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