Always a little ahead of the rest of Sweden, Gothenburg takes the opportunity to jump-start its celebrations, just a few days before Sweden celebrates 500 years.
The festival begins with a cannon salute from the East India Ship Götheborg on the Göta Älv, followed by four days of performances, food and – of course – humor.
Nobody really knows when it was created in Malmö and the next anniversary in Stockholm is about 30 years away, so we take the opportunity to celebrate Gothenburg with three stories about the beautiful city by the river.
The city that should not have existed, or been called Gothenburg
Gothenburg is the city that should not have existed. It was born right on the border between Norway, whose frontier extended to the Bohus Fortress, and Denmark, which had long dominated Halland.
The old town of Lödöse had become too exposed, being right on the border with Norway, so in 1473 it was decided to build a new town called New Lödöse or Nylöse at what is now Gamlestaden. The Danes soon attacked again and burned the town. The town moved again in 1547, this time to the west, and was named Älvsborgs stad.
In 1563 it was time again, the city of Älvsborg was burned by the Danes. After the town had been destroyed, rebuilt and destroyed again, the town’s citizens were finally forbidden to move back to Älvsborg. Instead, they were to move to Hisingen, but – yes, you guessed it – that town was also burned by the Danes. Eventually, they landed at the site of today’s Gothenburg, and in 1621 the city received its privileges under Gustav II Adolf. The Danes did not leave the city alone out of kindness, but the peace of Gothenburg was bought by the ransom of Älvsborg for the enormous sum of 1 million riksdaler.
To build the city, they had to attract some crazy people to settle there, despite its proximity to the flammable Danes. The choice fell on the Dutch, who were offered freedom of religion and freedom of taxation. The Dutch were also good at building cities on marshland, and it’s no coincidence that Gothenburg is reminiscent of Dutch cities with its canals.
What about the name? No, not even the name was a given. The merchants in Lödöse preferred to keep the internationally recognized name Lödöse, such as Nya Lödöse or Nylöse. It could also have been Älvsborg. Or Gullberg, after the cliff where the town was eventually located.
Would Gothenburg even be the same city today if it remained New Lödöse?
When you talk about clothing cities in Sweden, Borås comes to mind, but Gothenburg plays a bigger role than you might think.
The international connections from birth gave Gothenburg access to what was needed when the cotton fabric made its breakthrough. Machinery from Great Britain and Holland, the raw material cotton and cheap hydroelectric power made Gothenburg and the surrounding area a leader in textile production. Woolen yarn from Göteborgs Kamgarnsspinneri, linen from Almedahl’s factories, cotton fabric from Gamlestadens and Krokslätt’s factories (Claes Johansson-Mölnlycke), knitwear from Gårda Fabriker, and exclusive menswear from the Garellick brothers.
Today, not much is left except the beautiful old factories. The industrial crisis of the 60s and 70s hit Sweden’s textile industry hard. But Gothenburg continues to be a clothing city, even if production takes place elsewhere.
Gothenburg is, or has been, home to three of Sweden’s largest clothing groups after HM. KappAhl was founded here in a basement. The first Lindex store was located here, and the Lindex headquarters are still here. And for a while it was home to JC, once the center of Swedish jeans fashion.
Gothenburg was also a center for a new generation of Swedish denim and workwear. Companies like Nudie, Dunderdon and Dr. Denim were founded here.
But from the cotton city of Gothenburg, modern Gothenburg was born. From Mölnlycke’s hosiery came sanitary pads, diapers and plasters – the basis for today’s Essity and Mölnlycke Healthcare. And among the steam engines at the Gamlestaden factories, a young mechanical engineer was busy figuring out how to stop the machines’ drive shafts from breaking down.
From cotton, cars
The engineer’s name was Sven Wingquist. He was responsible for the operation and maintenance of the Gamlestaden steam engine workshop. His main problem was that the soft clay soil on which the factory was built was constantly shifting, creating enormous forces on the ball bearings and regularly causing the steam engine’s ball bearings to crack.
Wingquist became obsessed with finding a solution, and it would take almost 7 years. Gamlestaden first let him build an experimental workshop, but soon realized that there was potential to develop the business. Shortly before Wingquist filed his famous patent for a “ multi-row self-regulating radial ball bearings ” (Swedish patent no. 25406), the subsidiary Svenska Kullagerfabriken (SKF) was founded. Wingquist himself became the company’s first CEO.
SKF was a huge success story in its own right, and its stocks were perfectly suited to the emerging market for cars and trucks. With its location close to the continent by sea, it was to Gothenburg that Sweden’s first car arrived. Scania-Vabis became a customer of SKF, and Director Wingquist was so fascinated by the emerging market that he designed his own automatic gearbox.
A few years later, SKF’s sales director Assar Gabrielsson had the idea that SKF should start its own production of passenger cars. In Stockholm in 1924, he met his former colleague Gustaf Larsson, now a car designer, over a plate of crayfish at Sturehof. Less than two years later, SKF decided to set up a subsidiary called Aktiebolaget Volvo.
The name came from a trademark for ball bearings that SKF had registered but never used. It famously means “I roll”. The symbol came from the ancient symbol for iron and the god Mars. The logo was placed in the middle of the car’s radiator and attached by a diagonal metal band – a design detail that for a long time was almost as much Volvo as the logo.
The rest is history – a rather long one – and today Volvo and Gothenburg are almost like Siamese twins who would never survive without each other.
From a hopeless start in the mud, between two warring neighbors, Gothenburg has found its place as the front line of Sweden.