A Sampo was a pivotal element of the plot of the Finnish epic poem Kalevala, compiled in 1835 (and expanded in 1849) by Elias Lönnrot based on earlier Finnish oral myth. In the expanded second version of the poem a Sampo is forged by Ilmarinen, a legendary smith, as a task set by the Mistress of Pohjola in return for her daughter's hand. "If you can forge the Sampo / brighten the bright-lid / you'll get the maid for your pay / for your work the lovely girl." Ilmarinen works for several days at a mighty forge until finally the Sampo is created: "And then the new Sampo ground / and the bright-lid rocked; / ground a binful at twilight - / one binful to eat / another it ground to sell / and a third to store at home." The Sampo has been interpreted in many ways: a world pillar or tree, a compass or astrolabe, a chest containing a treasure, or a mint stolen by Vikings from Byzantium as the poet Paavo Haavikko has suggested. The discovery of the Antikythera mechanism prompted some to compare features of its construction with the Sampo. When Ilmarinen's homeland later falls upon hard times and sends an expedition to retrieve the Sampo, it is ultimately smashed and lost at sea in the ensuing battle.
In 1959 the joint Russian-Finnish film production "Sampo" (titled "The Day the Earth Froze" when released in the United States) adapted the Kalevala to the big screen. Directed by Risto Orko and Aleksandr Ptushko, and written by Väinö Kaukonen and Viktor Vitkovich, the movie somewhat alters the circumstances surrounding the Sampo's creation; the evil witch Louhi kidnaps Ilmarien's sister Annikki to compel him to build a Sampo for her. However, the movie remains reasonably true to the original tale in broad outline, and the Sampo's fate is the same.
Episode 422 of Mystery Science Theater 3000, produced in the 1992/93 season, used "The Day the Earth Froze" as its subject. Most memorably, the movie failed to explain the nature and significance of the Sampo at any point, assuming it as background knowledge that most non-Finnish viewers lacked. The Sampo was thus thrust into modern-day Internet folklore as a terribly important and useful artefact that nobody understands the importance or use of.
Sampo is also quite common name in Finland.