It might come as a surprise just how many everyday items you use were invented by Sweden and then given to the world. Sure, there’s the big ones, like dynamite and the pacemaker, but where Swedes have really shined is either inventing or modifying for the better stuff we use every day. Here are 12 of the best.
Remember the days of unfolding a big paper map and following a tiny line with your finger as you tried to figure out if you were even on the right road, all while trying to steer? Or maybe you had a co-pilot who screamed directions at you and flipped out when you took a wrong turn. Those days were thankfully consigned to history when Hokan Lans’s system for GPS became the world standard for shipping and civil aviation – and is the basis for the GPS we use on our phones and everywhere else today.
Johan Petter Johansson obtained more than 100 patents in his lifetime and one of them was for the adjustable wrench (along with the plumber wrench), which saved workmen and DIY enthusiasts the trouble and cost of carrying around multiple packs of wrenches. Also known as the Swedish Key, Johansson struck a deal in 1891 to have the wrench distributed worldwide under the ‘Bahco’ trademark, and today today more than 100 million wrenches have been sold.
Worrying about the costs of long-distance phone calls was suddenly over when Sweden’s Niklas Zennström co-developed Skype. The invention coincided with higher speed Internet connections, which helped the company take off. Businesses saw the value in video conferencing and Grandma realised she didn’t have to empty her pension account just to have a chat with her favourite grandchild. Skype was sold to Microsoft in 2011 (for $8.5 billion USD) so next time Skype falters or cuts you off completely, don’t blame the Swedes.
It’s been called one of Sweden’s all-time greatest inventions by no less than the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, and it’s hard to imagine life without cardboard cartons. Invented by Eric Wallenberg during World War II, the order was to create viable packaging for milk that could compete with glass bottles, was cheap, and used as little material as possible. After several failures in the lab, Wallenberg got the idea of using a single sheet of paper rolled into a cylinder and folded from two sides, creating a mathematical tetrahedron. The invention was so successful it became the basis of one of Sweden’s leading companies, which still uses the formula today.
Those were the days when people threw themselves (and their kids) into the car with no thought of buckling up – and even if they did buckle up, they simply had a strap across their lap, which didn’t do much good when involved in a high-impact car crash. Then Nils Bohlin came along and invented the three-point seatbelt for Volvo, helping the car company cement its reputation for safety and savings lives around the world in the process. The unique design, which runs across the waist and over the shoulder like a ‘Y’ spreads energy during an accident, lessening overall impact. What’s most amazing is that Volvo gave the invention away, putting the safety of the world ahead of profit.
The zipper as we know it today was developed by a number of people during its rather torturous path to glory, but it was Swedish-born Gideon Sundbäck who improved on the prototypes of his predecessors and developed the zipper we use today. His redesign – called the ‘separable fastener’ was patented in 1917 and features interlocking teeth pulled together and apart by a slider.
If it wasn’t for Sven Thorbjörn Lagervall’s discovery of ferroelectric liquid crystals back in 1979 you wouldn’t be reading these words on your flat screen monitor. His discovery led to the development of the technology for flat screen monitors, which went into mass production in 1994.
Matches may have been around for a long time but they were dangerous and unpredictable. That is until Gustaf Erk Pasch got ahold of them. Patch took one look and decided to move the flammable phosphorus, which was imbedded in the match head, to the side of the match box, as well as replace the poisonous yellow phosphorous with a non-toxic red version. As a result of this innovation matches became much safer, and at several times in history Sweden has produced nearly 75% of matches sold in the world.
Maybe you’ve heard of Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson, maybe you haven’t. But what you’ve most certainly heard of – and maybe even seen – is the telephone handset, which was created by Lars Magnus Ericsson back in 1885. It revolutionised how telephones were used and eventually all handsets were based on this design. We may not have many of these left in our homes but it’s difficult to imagine a world without this invention.
Only five countries in the world have yet to adopt the Celsius temperature scale, which was developed by Swedish mathematician and astronomer Anders Celsius. Celsius had already made huge contributions to the field of astronomy with his observations planetary orbits and eclipses, but it was his new thermometer, which measured the 100 degrees between freezing and boiling, that really made his name. Literally.
It’s Håkan Lans again, the man with the many, many patents. In addition to GPS, Lans invented the predecessor of what was eventually to become the standard computer mouse. In addition, he developed the colour computer graphics which are used in nearly every computer today. The man was unstoppable.
Just over 100 years ago, one of the most iconic consumer designs of all time – the Coca-Cola bottle – was introduced to the world. While it’s easily among the most recognisable designs in the world, few people know that the distinctive soda bottle was designed by a Swede; Alexander Samuelsson. The original brief was to ‘design bottle so distinct you would recognise it by feel in the dark, or lying broken on the ground.’ I think we can all agree Samuelsson more than fulfilled that task.