The Swedish East India Company
For a long period of time, exotic goods had reached Sweden via the Silk Road. However, during the 16th century, the traditional land route was outcompeted by maritime transport. The naval powers of the Netherlands, Britain and Portugal were the first ones to start trading with the East Indies and came to be predominant in the 18th century. Nevertheless, on the June 14, 1731 a newcomer emerged from Sweden. The country desperately needed to increase its barter trade, which was a factor that made the Swedish East India Company gain its royal charter from the king quickly and easily. Sweden immediately began to successfully compete with other established nations.
THE COMPANY THAT INFLUENCED A WHOLE NATION
The East India Company was the first company to operate as a limited liability company in Sweden. The founders were; Hindrich König, a nobleman of German descent, a Scottish nobleman named Colin Campbell, and the Swedish Niclas Sahlgren, whom was the son of a merchant.
The Swedish East India Company was in reality comprised of several different companies that were formed and dissolved at different times. Even though the organisational activities were protected from external scrutiny and the detailed accounts were destroyed from time to time; calculations show that the average return on capital invested was around 40 per cent. In fact, the Company may be Sweden’s most profitable company in history.
Between 1732 and 1806 the vessels operated as shuttle service to the Orient. 37 ships executed 132 voyages, creating tremendous prosperity for their owners, merchants and the nation as a whole. However, all good things come to an end, and in 1813 the company went bankrupt due to rising prices for silver and falling demand. A historic and profitable era came to an end; nevertheless, it left clear footprints that can still be seen today in modern Gothenburg.
FOOTPRINTS IN TODAY’S GOTHENBURG
The largest monument of the glory days of the East India Company is the East India House located at Norra Hamngatan (the Gothenburg City Museum). Built during the years 1747-1762, it housed the company’s head office, showroom, auction room, and warehouse.
The voyages to China represented brilliant business; Sweden received an injection of new capital, mainly through the export of exclusive goods such as silk, tea, and porcelain to wealthy merchants across Europe. The capital was reinvested in ironworks, hospitals, and the shipbuilding industry. Gothenburg was swept along and became a flourishing trade city. The Company also contributed in increasing knowledge about shipbuilding, navigation and international trade. On the science front, the exchanges resulted in the Academy of Sciences, Hospitals, Schools and two rather famous institutions; Chalmers University of Technology and Sahlgrenska University Hospital.