Lauri Kovalainen

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Lars Kovala
Lars Kovala.jpg
Born 25 May 1818
Suomussalmi, Oulu Province, Grand Duchy of Finland
Died 12 November 1894 (aged 76)
Occupation Business Tycoon, Investor, philanthropist
Children 5

Lars Kovala (originally Lauri Kovalainen) (b. 25 May 1818 in Oulu, Finland − 12 November 1894) acquired his schooling in Suomussalmi, Finland was a Finnish-American business tycoon, merchant, fur trader, and investor coming from one of the most powerful families in Finland in the 19th century seeking Finnish Independence. He was the 3rd great grandfather of famous Finnish racing driver Heikki Kovalainen and father of Joonas Kovala, a founder of Onnela, Houghton County, Michigan, U.S.A.[1] During the catastrophic Finnish famine of 1866–1868 he arrived in Alaska on board of one of the Russian American Co. ships. He entered the fur trade[2] but seeing the decline of demand and in conjunction with the American takeover of Alaska, took advantage of the Russian American Co. equipment and properties being sold. Kovalainen funded the Hansen, Nybom and Co. who managed to purchase one of the Russian American Co.'s brigs for $4,000.[3] At the end of November the same year, Kovalainen and other shareholders sailed away in the brig, their goal was the Pribilof Islands in the northern Pacific Ocean. That which lured them to the distant islands was the possibility of buying up valuable seal skins, they became wealthy seal-skin traders. They sold Alaskan seal skins in San Francisco and made California their new home.

Profiting from the seal skin trade Kovala began investing in real estate in the Great Lakes region, Canada, and later expanded into the American West and Pacific coast,[4] on the advice of corporate attorney Elbert Henry Gary, Kovala also began investing in railroads.

Even as a powerful businessman, he was deeply interested in improving the quality of life of his employees; this led to him becoming a philanthropist, pursuing many charitable causes. Lars Kovala, John D. Rockefeller and three others donated money to help create the national American Red Cross headquarters near the White House in Washington, D.C.[5]

Marriage and family[edit]

In 1845, Kovalainen married and had 5 children:

Illnesses and death[edit]

In his 70s Kovalainen suffered from moderate depression and digestive troubles, he moved back to Suomussalmi, Finland in 1892.

Kovalainen was accused of funding underground Finnish revolutionary forces and declared enemy of the Russian Empire in 1893 by Alexander III. Eluding capture, he died on 12 November 1894 in Suomussalmi, Finland, less than seven months shy of his 77th birthday, he was buried in Suomussalmi, Oulu Province, Finland. Attending his funeral included the future president of Finland, Kaarlo Juho Ståhlberg.[6]

Much of Kovala's wealth was confiscated by Emperor Nicholas II of Russia, while the remainder of his fortune is believed to have been passed to Kovala’s 2nd great grandson living in the U.S.[7]


  1. ^ Ilmonen, S. (1926). AMERIKAN SUOMALAISIA HISTORIA III; YHDYSVALLOISSA JA CANADASSA OLEVAT SUOMALAISET ASUTUKSET [American history of Finnish III; Finnish settlement in the United States and Canada] (in Finnish). Suomalais-Luteerilainen Kustannusliike. p. 113. ASIN B00AGY26I4. 
  2. ^ Cape Girardeau Argus 26 May 1864
  3. ^ Cheney Sentinel. 13 September 1889. p. 1, col. 1. (A newspaper in Cheney, Washington).
  4. ^ Vestnik Evropi May 1898
  5. ^ Cheney Sentinel. 13 September 1889. p. 1, col. 2. (A newspaper in Cheney, Washington).
  6. ^ Vestnik Evropi May 1898
  7. ^ TV Guide & Sunday Times Magazine (STM); 2005: 20 Feb