Göran Fredrik Göransson – Steel industry

Göran Fredrik Göransson founded the Swedish steel industry. He developed and improved Henry Bessemer’s method for making steel, increasing supplies of the metal so that it became part of everyday life.

Göran Fredrik (1819-1900), or ″The Consul”, was a Swedish industrialist and a pioneer in steel manufacture and export. He grew up in Gävle. After completing his studies, he became a partner in Daniel Elfstrand & Co, which was involved in shipping, shipbuilding and iron export. In 1855 the company bought Högbo Ironworks outside Sandviken, which later became the site where Swedish steelmaking began.

In 1857 Daniel Elfstrand & Co had major financial problems and was nearly bankrupt. Göran Fredrik went to the UK to look for ideas for new projects. He became interested in the Bessemer method and in 1855 he bought a licence from the patent holder and inventor, Henry Bessemer, to start making steel in Sweden.

In the mid-19th century, steel was still in short supply. Pure iron is soft and bends easily. Carbon in the iron serves as a binding agent that strengthens the metal. Steel is made by heating up the iron in several stages together with coal (carbon). It is the carbon content that determines the properties of the steel. High carbon content means that the steel is much harder than iron, but is also more brittle. Consequently, the iron needs to be heated several times in order to reduce the carbon content.

The Bessemer method involved tipping the iron into a rotating container known as a converter. A strong current of air was then blasted through the molten iron. This burned off most of the carbon, as well as all impurities.

However, the Bessemer method proved difficult to use in practice. It was impossible to keep the temperature sufficiently high throughout the entire process. The steel produced in the first experiments was not compact and contained air bubbles.

When Göran Fredrik returned to Sweden, he was given SEK 50,000 by the Jernkontoret to finance his experiments. To begin with, he encountered the same problems as Bessemer, but eventually he succeeded and became the first ironmaster in the world to successfully make steel using the Bessemer method. His breakthrough was to increase the air flow and the strength of its blast.

The Bessemer method spread quickly around the world. Demand for steel grew immensely and it was increasingly used in industry. In 1862 Göran Fredrik Göransson started his company, Högbo Stål- och Jernverks AB, which later became Sandvikens Jernverks AB. In 1972, the Company name was changed to Sandvik AB. The company made products such as screws, springs, pipes and steel wire, as well as wheels for railway trucks. Today Sandvik AB is a global company with operations in 150 countries.

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Last updated 7 December 2021.