The great leap

Sweden, 1894, street cable work

The great leap in Stockholm's industrial development took place during the period from 1890 to 1910. This was when Ericsson took the lead in the city's and the country's industrial development and also achieved a significant position in the international market.

During this period, industry in Stockholm was to a very large extent located in the inner city. At the turn of the century, a multitude of chimneys and smoking industrial plants still dominated the city. This applied particularly to companies that served a local market, such as food producers and printers. Heavier and higher-volume industrial operations were located on the outskirts of the city center, effectively making the Kungsholmen and Södermalm districts industrial areas. Industrial pockets arose along the railways in such locations as Liljeholmen and Sundbyberg.

The need for workers created a magnetic effect that attracted settlers from all over the country. Although available statistics are somewhat unreliable, it can be generally concluded that the number of workers in industry and handicrafts increased from about 18,000 in 1860 to 65,000 in 1910, corresponding to 50 percent of all workers at that time. In relation to the rest of the country, the proportion of industrial workers declined in Stockholm from 15 to 10 percent, meaning that the trend was even more pronounced elsewhere.

The size of the average company varied considerably during this period. In 1860, small businesses employed about 60 percent of all industrial workers in Stockholm, while in 1910 this figure had declined to just 20 percent. Simultaneously, the largest companies increased their share from 5 to 34 percent.

In the earliest industrial companies, much of the work was performed manually. With increased mechanization, however, the need for specific occupational skills declined, and work became more monotonous. At the same time, productivity per worker increased.

An increasing proportion of industrial workers were women, who dominated the textile industry and accounted for a significant share in the tobacco, bakery and brewing industries, as well as in the graphics and shoe manufacturing businesses.

In a large city with a variety of industries, competition for workers and the need for business premises mean that wages and land prices are higher than in other parts of the country. For Stockholm, this meant that low-wage industries such as textiles were forced out. Sugar mills also left the city.

Another consequence was that industrial development moved towards more sophisticated technology and a higher degree of refinement. Weaving mills were replaced by tailors and clothing factories, tanning mills by shoe factories, and match factories by companies making machinery for match production. The tobacco and brewing industries were gradually consolidated to a single company in each sector. In mechanical engineering, the trend was towards increased mechanization and specialization, and in both high and low-voltage applications, and electrical technology became increasingly important. The ultimate result of these trends was that Stockholm became a center for electronics and IT companies that were on the forefront even in an international perspective.

At the turn of the century, steam power was still the leading source of energy for Stockholm's industry and accounted for two thirds of all consumption, which was more than twice as much as gas and electricity combined. During the first decade of the century, energy consumption in industry doubled. At the same time, electricity achieved a breakthrough and soon accounted for more than half of industry's requirements. Electric motors rationalized production in that each machine could be powered individually, as opposed to steam engines that transmitted power via rotating shafts extending across the workshop from which belts powered many machines simultaneously.

With the growth of the city, the ring of industries on the outskirts became part of the inner city, increasing pressure on industrial companies. The 1920s were a dramatic period with respect to localization of industry. All established major industrial companies disappeared due either to relocation or closure. Bolinders moved to Kallhäll and Atlas to Nacka, while the Bergsund and Södra shipyards were closed. Rörstrands porcelain factory, the only large ceramics industry, moved via Gothenburg to Linköping.

At the same time, the municipality took the initiative in opening new industrial areas in Hornsberg, Ulvsunda, Hammarbyhamnen, Frihamnen and Västberga. Industrial plants were built in these locations for the assembly of imported cars and the manufacture of light bulbs, textiles, and ceramic tiles, as well as a new brewery that replaced the older ones. Of the major industrial companies, Ericsson and Laval's Separator remained in the inner city, moving to Midsommarkransen and Tumba during the following period. The Electrolux plant on Lilla Essingen grew to become the center of a global company.

Author: Björn Hallerdt

Sweden, 1903, Stockholm tower view

View to the west from the telephone tower of Stockholms Allmänna Telefon AB, the local telephone net. To the left the church of St. Clara. In the background Kungsholmen.

Sweden, 1900s, Tulegatan plant
Sweden, 1947, Sports Club, high jumping

High jumping on the sports ground outside the Ericsson main plant.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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