It seemed so easy at ﬁrst. Name the most noteworthy 100 Swedes of the last 1,000 years. We could rattle off at least 50 off the top of our heads. But who were the remaining 50? Wait a minute – did those ﬁrst 50 come to mind because of their familiarity or fame, or because of their truly important achievements?
It is a question worthy of academic debate. Yet, despite our being neither professors nor scholars – possessing, in fact, no actual qualiﬁcations whatsoever for this task – we at Nordstjernan and Sweden & America dove right in anyway. We found the idea of the List a fascinating and thought-provoking challenge. Our criteria:
• We chose people whom we felt have made such signiﬁcant contributions to the country and the world that 100, even 200 years from now, they will still belong on the List.
• We tried to pinpoint individuals whose achievements we believe could keep them on the List within their respective ﬁelds, say, to the year 3000, if such a date is possible.
• We chose only people whose contributions are being felt here and now, the present day. Who knows: If Ingvar Kamprad truly does furnish the world or Erling Persson of Hennes & Mauritz dresses it, surely they will make it onto the List in a thousand years... (eight years after completing the list, now in 2008, we can rightfully admit, they did).
Any list of this kind is controversial by deﬁnition and will no doubt provoke discussion and disagreement. No one can argue the impact that the Viking, Engelbrekt and King Gustav Vasa have had on Sweden and the world. But some learned folk might question us on our selection and ranking of those we see as the 20 most important ﬁgures in Sweden’s millennial history. There are also fewer women on the List than we would like – a function of history’s selective exclusion of women’s accomplishments. However, we feel we can defend our choices.
When it came to the second 80, we took an easier way out by listing those individuals chronologically within their respective ﬁelds of endeavor. After all, is it really fair to pit Greta Garbo against Karl XIV Johan or weigh Harry Martinsson against Anna Maria Lenngren in terms of relative worth?
Let the List begin. Håll till godo.
Lars Henrik Ottoson and the Editor, Ulf Barslund Martensson, December, 1999 and October, 2008.
Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1889)
Inventor of dynamite whose name will live forever through the Nobel Prizes.
John Ericsson (1803 – 1896)
Engineer who revolutionized shipping by inventing the propeller; during the U.S. Civil War, he built the iron-clad “Monitor” and saved the Union fleet at Hampton Roads.
Gustav II Adolf (1594 – 1632)
His defeat of the Catholic armies saved Protestantism in Europe; under his rule, Sweden became Europe’s mightiest and largest nation.
Gustaf Dalén (1869 – 1937)
His invention, the sun vent, still runs lighthouses and marks shipping lanes around the world. Nobel Prize winner in physics, 1912.
Carl von Linné (1707 – 1778)
His system of binomial nomenclature
scientiﬁcally classiﬁed plants and animals.
Jöns Jakob Berzelius (1779 – 1848)
Influential chemist who introduced modern chemical symbols and formulae.
Carl Willhelm Scheele (1742 – 1786)
A founder of organic chemistry, he identiﬁed oxygen, nitrogen, manganese, barium, molybdenum and wolfram.
Christopher Polhem (1661 – 1751)
Creator of the world’s ﬁrst padlock and universal joint, the so-called “Polhemsknuten.”
Anders Celsius (1701 – 1744)
Astronomer who gave the world the centigrade temperature scale.
August Strindberg (1849 – 1912)
One of the world’s great dramatists and authors.
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772)
An engineering genius, philosopher and mysticist, his revivalist movement still has adherents in the U.S.
Sven Hedin (1865 – 1952)
Legendary explorer who discovered the Trans-Himalaya, traced the source of the Brahmaputra River and mapped large unknown areas of Tibet.
Jenny Lind (1820 – 1887)
The Swedish Nightingale’s memory lingers 150 years after her last concert.
Jussi Björling (1911 – 1960)
Along with Enrico Caruso, considered by many to be the greatest operatic tenor of all time.
Raoul Wallenberg (1912 – ? )
The “Hero of Budapest” saved thousands of Jewish lives during the Second World War and subsequently disappeared in the Soviet Union. Only the second-ever honorary U.S. citizen (after Winston Churchill), a statue was raised in his honor on Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill.
Dag Hammarskjöld (1905 – 1961)
Influential Secretary General of the United Nations and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1961.
Anders Jonas Ångström (1814 – 1874)
A dominant ﬁgure in spectroscopic analysis, he developed wave-length classiﬁcations for the solar spectrum (angstrom units).
Olof Rudbeck the Older (1630 – 1702)
Perhaps the most versatile scientist in Swedish history; publisher of Atland or Manheim, about Atlantis. In “proving” that Sweden was the world’s first cultivated region, considered a masterpiece, combining both deeper scientific knowledge with fictional writing.
Archbishop Nathan Söderblom
(1866 – 1931) Prominent church leader and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1939.
Fredrika Bremer (1801 – 1865)
Writer who fought for women’s rights and founded the Swedish suffrage movement.
The Viking (800 – 1050)
Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson (d. l436)
Freedom ﬁghter who battled the Danes and instilled a national Swedish spirit.
Gustav Vasa (1496 – 1560)
He drove out the Danes: the founder, father and ﬁrst king of a united Sweden.
Karl X Gustav (1622 – 1660)
Brought the provinces of Skåne and Blekinge under Swedish rule.
Karl XII (1682 – 1718)
The nemesis of Russia’s Peter the Great, he lost his troops to the Russian winter and reduced Sweden from a great European power to a historical footnote.
The Holy Birgitta (1303 – 1373)
After her pilgrimage to Rome, she founded the Vadstena convent, home to the still-active Birgitta Order.
Axel Oxenstierna (1563 – 1654)
Someone had to run Sweden while the kings were at war – Oxenstierna did it well, and is remembered as one of the nation’s ﬁnest statesmen.
Queen Kristina (1626 – 1689)
The daughter of Gustav II Adolf and Sweden’s last reigning queen, her conversion to the Catholic faith, abdication and subsequent move to Rome remain one of the greatest triumphs of the Roman Catholic Church.
Gustav III (1748 – 1792)
The king who brought the Swedish court on par with European royal houses, spending lavishly on arts and splendor. Crossing the country’s nobility got him assassinated during a masquerade ball, an event dramatized in Guiseppe Verdi’s opera “Un Ballo en Maschera.”
Johan Banér (1596 – 1641)
Commander of the victorious Swedish forces at Wittstock and Chemnitz, and governor of Pomerania.
Carl Gustaf Wrangel (1613 – 1676)
A general at 24, he was commander of the fleet and ﬁeld marshal of the victorious Swedish army at Warsaw in 1656.
Karl XIV Johan (1763 – 1844)
The ﬁrst of the Bernadottes, Napoleon’s ﬁeld marshal became Sweden’s ﬁrst modern king and actively contributed to Napoleon’s defeat and fall.
Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld (1832 – 1891)
Explorer who discovered the Northeast Passage around Siberia to the Bering Strait.
Folke Bernadotte (1895 – 1948)
A humanitarian who organized Red Cross refugee relief expeditions at the end of the Second World War, he was murdered by terrorists during a mission to Israel.
Carl Gustaf von Rosen (1908 – 1977)
A humanitarian, adventurer, and aviator who flew relief missions in Africa and was a one-man air force during the Nigerian war. Killed by Somali guerillas.
Carl Michael Bellman (1740 – 1795)
Sweden’s master balladeer, his works remain the repertoire of troubadours and school choirs.
Anna Maria Lenngren (1754 – 1817)
Was there before or since any Swede with her knowledge, common sense and literary genius? Poet, translator and author, often
considered a pioneering female activist.
Johan Olof Wallin (1779 – 1839)
Archbishop and composer behind the modern Swedish Lutheran hymnal, to which he contributed 140 hymns of his own,
including “Var hälsad sköna morgonstund.”
Esaias Tegnér (1782 – 1846)
Poet, patriotic writer and bishop, his Fritjofs Saga was translated into every language in Europe. His lyrical sense and language have never been surpassed in Swedish poetry.
Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1783 – 1866)
Proliﬁc social satirist considered by many to be the ﬁrst modern Swedish writer.
Lars Hierta (1801 – 1872)
Writer, journalist and publisher, he founded Sweden’s ﬁrst daily newspaper, Aftonbladet, in 1830. His publishing house pioneered the production of low-cost editions of famous works, so-called shillingtryck, the paperbacks of their time.
Viktor Rydberg (1828 – 1895)
Novelist and religious philosopher who nonetheless is best remembered for creating the timeless tale of the Tomten: “Midvinternattens köld är hård, stjärnorna glimma och gnistra...endast tomten är vaken.”
Selma Lagerlöf (1858 – 1940)
Author of the unforgettable “Adventures of Nils Holgersson" and ﬁrst recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1909.
Werner von Heidenstam (1859 – 1940)
One of the world’s greatest modern poets.
Gustaf Fröding (1860 – 1917)
Complex and tormented poet whose work was beloved by many. When his demons ﬁnally felled him, his tombstone read, “Det borde vara stjärnor att pryda ditt änne” – “There should be stars to adorn your
Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864 – 1931)
Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1931.
Hjalmar Söderberg (1869 – 1941)
Author of some of Sweden’s most-read modern novels, including “Dr. Glas” and “Martin Birck’s Youth.”
Albert Engström (1869 – 1940)
Incomparable humorist, artist, illustrator and writer; the creator of Kolingen and Rospiggen.
Hjalmar Bergman (1883 – 1931)
Perhaps Sweden’s best storyteller of all time.
Pär Lagerkvist (1891 – 1874)
Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1951.
Frans G. Bengtsson (1894 – 1954)
An author who found adventure in history and told it like no one else, as in “Röde Orm.”
Wilhelm Moberg (1898 – 1973)
An icon in Swedish literature for his classic story of Swedish emigrants to America and his History of the Swedish People.
Nils Ferlin (1898 – 1961)
The Bellman of modern Sweden, an
Eyvind Johnsson (1900 – 1976) and
Harry Martinsson (1904 – 1978)
Co-recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, 1974.
Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002)
The world’s master of children’s books
and creator of Pippi Longstocking.
Christina Nilsson (1843 – 1921)
Leading European soprano and star of the Metropolitan Opera.
Victor Sjöström (1879 – 1960)
Character actor and stage and movie director, he was one of the pioneers of Hollywood’s silent-movie era.
Warner Oland (1880 – 1938)
Born Verner Ölund, he has perhaps been seen on television more times than any other Swede – albeit better known as Charlie Chan.
Lars Hansson (1886 – 1965)
One of Hollywood’s ﬁnest dramatic actors and co-star of Greta Garbo.
Mauritz Stiller (1893 – 1929)
The genius who brought Greta Garbo to Hollywood and made some of the silent-movie era’s masterpieces.
Evert Taube (1890 – 1976)
A Swedish “national treasure” and beloved troubadour.
Greta (Gustafsson) Garbo (1905 – 1990)
The legendary, mysterious and divine Miss G.
Ingrid Bergman (1915 – 1983)
Seeing the movie “Casablanca” at least once should be required by law.
Ingmar Bergman (1918 - 2007)
No introduction necessary for the legendary ﬁlm director.
Nicolai Gedda (b. 1925)
Swedish tenor followed in the footsteps of Jussi Björling. Performed in opera houses around the world but felt best at home at the Metropolitan.
ABBA (b. 1972)
The music of Benny Andersson’s and Björn Ulvaeus’ creation continues to capture the world. ABBA remains the all-time leading record-selling group, topping even the Beatles.
Wilhelm Pettersson Berger (1867 – 1942)
Romantic poet and composer as well as much-feared music critic for Stockholm’s Dagens Nyheter. Best known for his piano suite “Frösöblomster.”
Wilhelm Stenhammar (1871 – 1927)
Conductor and symphony composer whose “Sverige” is still one of the most powerful pieces written for male chorus.
Hugo Alfvén (1872 – 1960)
His “Midsommarvaka” may be the Swedish orchestral composition most commonly played outside of Sweden.
Karl Birger Blomdahl (1916 – 1968)
Sweden’s most talented and versatile modern composer, with a range including symphonies, chamber music and opera.
Sixten Ehrling (1918-2005)
A “conductor’s conductor,” he has led the Stockholm Opera and Detroit Symphony, and served as head of the orchestra and conducting at New York’s Julliard School of Music.
Carl Larsson (1853 – 1919)
A watercolor print of one of his rural family scenes can be found in the home of almost every Swede abroad.
Anders Zorn (1860 – 1920)
His portraits and nudes made him Sweden’s most internationally acclaimed painter.
Bruno Liljefors (1860 – 1939)
As a wildlife painter Liljefors, had no equal.
Carl Milles (1876 – 1955)
Milles’ Memorial Garden draws sculpture lovers from around the world.
Ulrich Salchow (1877 – 1949)
This world ﬁgure skating champion (1901 – 1907) and Olympic gold medalist (1908) is commemorated every time one sees a skater doing a double or triple Salchow.
Erik Lemming (1880 – 1930)
World record-holding javelin thrower with four Olympic gold medals and 25 Swedish championships.
Gillis Grafström (1893 – 1938)
Few have dominated a sport as he dominated ﬁgure skating: he reigned undefeated through three consecutive Olympics and the world championships of 1922 to 1928.
Arne Borg (1901 – 1987)
Olympic gold-medalist swimmer and holder of 30 world records.
Gunder Hägg (b. 1918)
Long-distance runner Wonder Gunder held every world record from 1500 meters to 5000 meters between 1941 and 1945.
Gert Fredriksson (b. 1919)
King of the canoes and winner of six Olympic gold medals and four world championships, his fellow Olympians voted him the world’s most outstanding athlete in 1957.
Sixten Jernberg (b. 1929)
The world’s foremost winter Olympian, he won nine medals and four world championships in cross-country skiing.
Ingemar Johansson (b. 1932)
World heavyweight boxing champion in 1959. His championship match with American Floyd Patterson was watched or heard by people around the world.
Björn Borg (b. 1956)
Former World No. 1 tennis player from Sweden, widely regarded as one of the greatest tennis players in history.
Ingemar Stenmark (b. 1956)
One of the world’s best-ever alpine skiers, a repeat world, Olympic and World Cup champion.
Hjalmar Branting (1860 – 1925)
Led the Social Democratic party into power and became the party’s ﬁrst prime minister. Recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1921.
Per Albin Hansson (1885 – 1946)
Prime minister credited with creating Sweden’s modern welfare state, or “det svenska folkhemmet.”
Gunnar Myrdahl (1898 – 1987)
The intellectual and ﬁnancial brain of the Social Democrats and a world-renowned economist whose works were standard reading at U.S. universities. Recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, 1974.
Ernst Wigforss (1881 – 1977)
Created with Per Albin Hansson Sweden’s system of progressive taxation, the economic bedrock of the welfare system.
Tage Erlander (1901 – 1985)
Prime minister from 1946 to 1969, he furthered social-reform politics and introduced full health coverage and the present-day pension-fund system.
Olof Palme (1927 – 1986)
Sweden’s internationally most recognized – but also most controversial, even disliked – prime minister. The only political ﬁgure in Sweden in modern times to be assassinated.
Axel Johnson (1844 – 1910)
Founded the Nordstjernan shipping line and took over the Avesta Iron Works, starting one of Sweden’s largest industrial conglomerates.
Karl Otto Bonnier (1856 – 1941)
Patriarch of the Bonnier family dynasty, which dominated the Swedish publishing and newspaper world. Today, some 75 percent of Swedish publications originate in a Bonnier company.
Carl Edward Johansson (1864 – 1945)
Also known as “Mått” (Measure) Johansson, he built his company on his invention of a gauge-block measuring instrument capable of previously unknown precision. For many years was one of Henry Ford’s closest associates.
Sigfrid Edström (1870 – 1964)
He turned ASEA into Sweden’s largest industrial company; also served as chairman of the International Olympic Committee.
Sven Wingquist (1876 – 1963)
Founded SKF, the world’s largest ball-bearing manufacturer, on his invention, the double-row, self-aligned ball bearing.
Ivar Kreuger (1880 – 1932)
Legendary industrialist who controlled 75 percent of the world’s match industry, he was a venture capitalist 60 years before the term was coined. Financed much of Sweden’s modern industry, and made huge loans to the governments of Germany and France. Upon his supposed suicide, thousands of Swedes and people all over the world lost their savings.
Axel Wenner Gren (1881 – 1961)
Founder of Electrolux and one of the world’s richest and most powerful individuals in the 1950s and 1960s, with global companies and holdings. Remembered as a generous supporter of science.
Sven Salén (1890 – 1969)
Created a shipping line and pioneered the transportation of perishable fruit with cold storage ships – at one time, every banana in the world was shipped by Salén.
Jacob Wallenberg (1892 – 1980)
Led the Wallenberg industrial empire from 1927 to 1960. Competes on this list with his brother Marcus, father of the present
Wallenberg patriarch, Peter.
Ruben Rausing (1895 – 1983)
The founder of TetraPak made himself and his kin among the world’s richest families.
Who almost but didn’t make the List?
Decide for yourself if any of these individuals should have made the Sweden & America Top 100 Most Influential Swedes of the
Millennium List. Remember, though, if you want to put one in, you have to take another one out.
Historical heavyweights: Torgny Segerstedt, The (Theodor) Swedberg
Literati: Dan Andersson, Bo Bergman,
Johan Henrik Kellgren, Ellen Key,
Fritiof Nilsson Piraten, Sigfrid Siwertz,
Birger Sjöberg, Carl Snoilsky,
George Stiernhielm, Erik Johan Stagnelius, Elin Wägner, Karin Boye.
Stage and screen: Alice Babs, Povel Ramel, Ernst Rolf, Max von Sydow, Anders de Wahl.
Politicians: Alva Myrdahl, Fabian Månsson, Karl Staff, Gunnar Sträng.
Sports: Gre-No-Li, Mora Nisse Karlsson, Pehr Henrik Ling, Patrick Sjöberg,
Nacka Skoglund, Sven Tumba, Gunde Svan.
Artists: Carl Eldh, Johan Sergel
Business: Holger Crafoord (Gambro), Gunnar Engellau (Volvo), Axel Ax:son Johnson (Nordstjernan), Ingvar Kamprad (Ikea), Carl Fredrik Liljevalch (Grängesberg), Anders Hallsten (Vanami AB), Erling Persson (H&M).