The location of the steelworks

The fact that most steel companies in Sweden are found in the district of Bergslagen has solid reasons. The early ironworks were established in the vicinity of the natural resource base. However, with the wave of industrialisation, production volumes increased sharply. Proximity to a harbour then became a new and crucial factor, during the 20th century, when new steel plants were established

Availability of natural resources was crucial

In earlier times, the ironworks had to be located close to the natural resources. In Bergslagen, iron ore was found in a large number of smaller mines. Water power was used to drive bellows and hammers while charcoal was obtained from the surrounding forests. In wintertime the finished iron could be conveyed over the ice to markets in the towns.

Industrialisation led to new requirements

The introduction of steel ingot casting methods from the 1860’s – part of large-scale industrialisation – now meant that steel could be produced in much greater quantity and at much lower cost. Prices fell, demand grew and rationalisation meant that steel production was concentrated in large-scale plants in fewer locations.

The factors that affected the siting of steel plants now changed. Power, iron ore and coal were all still necessary. But the proximity to watercourses declined in importance, in line with the advance of electrification, while iron ore and coking coal were required in much larger volumes. That is why, during the 20th century, the new ore-based steel production was primarily located by the coast; that way, ships could directly offload their deliveries of iron ore and coal and the finished steel product could be shipped to market.

Flygfoto över SSAB i Oxelösund

Aerial photo of SSAB’s ore-based steelworks in Oxelösund. Photo: SSAB, Bo Björkdahl.

Electric power was to acquire a key role in electric steelmaking which was developed in the early 20th century. In the process, recycled steel scrap is used as the basic feedstock. Thus, plants with scrap-based steel production could advantageously be sited near densely inhabited industrial areas, where both markets and the raw material in terms of scrap metal were found. This meant that the industry could often remain where it had always been located, even though a coastal location would also be advantageous.

Kastor som visar stålindustrins utbredning i Sverige, 1850 och idag.

The map on the left shows the geographical extent of Sweden’s steel industry in 1850 and, on the right, its extent today.