A country forged by iron


In the beginning, there was Bergslagen. And in Bergslagen there was rock containing iron ore. There were also fast-flowing rivers and falls, and forest all around. Indeed, all the conditions needed for the development of an iron industry.


So it began… 2,500 years ago… the production of iron from the red-earth area known as Riddarhyttan.


It was in the 12th century that people started to extract iron from the iron ore. Sweden’s oldest-known mines, located in the town called Norberg, were first mentioned in 1303, but they had been in operation a long time before then. Norberg was also the site of Europe’s oldest-known blast furnace, Lapphyttan, that was in operation at some time during the period 1150–1225.


In the 16th century, King Gustav Vasa took control of the profitable iron-production industry by organizing the work and establishing Crown-owned works for bar iron. This gave birth to a new era, in which communities based on both farming and an ironworks industry evolved. It was the age of the homesteader. The homesteaders formed cooperatives, and produced pig iron in their jointly owned smelting houses. The pig iron was then sent to the ironworks, for forging into bar.


The bar iron, in turn, was exported all over the world, and the prosperity that grew out of this was instrumental in shaping modern Sweden. The last active mine in the area was the one at Grängesberg, which closed down in 1989–90.


For much of the period from the 13th century to the 19th century, Sweden was one of the world’s principal manufacturers of iron. Indeed, in 1750, iron—above all, high-grade malleable and wrought iron—accounted for some 70% of the country’s exports. The operations in the Bergslagen region must have been an impressive sight. Some 400 blast furnaces sent their pillars of fire up to the heavens; fires roared in the mine openings to help shatter the rock and extract the ore; and in the forest there was the smell, the smoke and the glow from the thousands of charcoal-burning stacks. The iron was shipped via Köping and Västerås to lake Mälaren and thence to the main export docks in Stockholm—a capital city whose establishment and growth owed a great deal to its intimate links with the ironworks of Bergslagen.