The seal of every Absolut Vodka bottle shows an illustration of L.O. Smith. Who was...
The development of technology and raw materials in the 19th century gave rise to new...
In the 1870s, L.O. Smith’s budget champagne called Gulddroppen received a great deal of attention....
During his glory days, L.O. Smith opened several factories. The headquarters for his liquor empire...
The story behind the Absolut brand name and its characteristic bottle provides a link to...
Nils Peter Mathiasson started his career modestly as an office clerk, but ended up as...
On October 12, 1836, farmers Lusse Pehrsdotter and Ola Persson had their third child in Kiaby, Skåne, east of Kristianstad in southern Sweden. They gave the child the name Lars Olsson. Later in life, he would reinvent himself as L.O. Smith.
Victoria ascended the throne and became Queen of the United Kingdom shortly after her 18th birthday. The era named after her lasted until she passed away on 22 January 1901. An acclaimed and popular queen, she is also known as “Europe's grandmother”. A number of her descendants are represented in the royal houses of Europe, including King Carl Gustaf XVI of Sweden.
When Lars Olsson was seven years old, he met the wholesaler Carl Smith. Smith was impressed by the boy and before he left he said, “If something happens to your father, you can always come to us.” A few months later, Lars turned up at Smith's home in Karlshamn and said, “The consul may take me, because it's over with father”.
On July 21, Lars Olsson’s parents became landowners when they bought the farm Sjöarpsgården in Blekinge. The building had two floors and was 3.2 meters high, 18.29 meters long, and 4.57 meters wide. Looking after the farm was hard work, and their sons had to help out to make ends meet.
In the 1830s and 1840s, it was common for Swedish people over 15 years to drink at least two liters of spirits a week. On a regular day, this would include four drinks before midday: the breakfast drink ("frukostsupen"), the rooster drink (“tuppsupen”), the bitter drink (“bäsken"), and the coffee drink ("kaffesupen"). At dinner there would be another five drinks (the appetizer, the fish drink, the half drink (“halvan”), then "the third drink" (“tersen”) and the heel drink ("klacken"). In the evening, many people would take “something strengthening” and finally end the day with the so-called "flea drink" ("loppsupen") before going to bed.
At the age of 10, Lars did not want to be a burden to his benefactor Mr Smith any longer. After getting his approval, he started working for the shopkeeper A.J. Skottsberg. The young boy realized that the business was not doing very well, and promptly set up what might have been Sweden’s very first PR campaign. He went down to a busy sea lane and simply informed every passing merchant of Skottsberg’s high quality goods. It didn’t take long before the turnover had multiplied.
The PR success at Skottsberg’s shop did not pass unnoticed. Within one year, Smith was offered an annual salary of SEK 300 from the competitor Cervin. The 11-year-old Smith kept his old customers and also managed to boost Cervin’s business.
On January 24, 1848, James W Marshall found gold at the Sutter's Mill in Coloma, El Dorado in California. The news spread and some 300,000 people from South America, Europe, Australia and Asia traveled to the site. They found gold for billions of dollars. In two years, San Francisco was transformed from a small place with 1,000 people to a town with 25,000 inhabitants. The gold rush in the area lasted until about 1850, when the gold diggers moved further up the American west coast.
On May 1, 1851, the first World Exhibition was held at the newly built Crystal Palace in Hyde Park, London. During six months, six million visitors met 14,000 exhibitors from 94 countries. The exhibition presented modern inventions such as machines, factory equipment, raw materials, and handicrafts. A related event that took place at the same time was the sailing competition America’s Cup.
After the commercial success of his early shop work, L.O. Smith was keen to pursue his career. Through his friend commander Bengtsson, Smith was offered a seat on the ship Carl Oskar, which was headed for Stockholm.
In L.O. Smith's Stockholm, a regular working day was 18 hours. People rarely lived longer than 40 years.
The development of technology and raw materials in the 19th century gave rise to new beverage trends. Today, Swedish vodka is still an evolving product that constantly changes.
L.O. Smith came from Blekinge in the southeast of Sweden, but he moved to Stockholm at a young age. Here is a guide to some of the places in Stockholm that are connected to him.
L.O. Smith took up employment with a Mr Åkerman in the Old Town of Stockholm. The shop owner tried to trick the youngster, but Smith had full control of the accounts.
At the age of 17, Lars Olsson left his hometown and went to Stockholm. On the boat, he made friends who took him out to see the city lights when they arrived in the capital. The next day, Lars reflected on the terrible state of many people he had seen out at night. He set up four principles that he would stick to throughout his life: 1. Do not abuse alcohol 2. Do not engage in card games 3. Do not get involved with harlots 4. Avoid poverty at all costs
L.O. Smith started working on a ship in the harbor. He quickly became one of the most important ship brokers in Stockholm’s Old Town, and had soon figured out how to get his business to flourish even more.
Until 1855, it had been allowed to make spirits for personal consumption at home. To reduce the country’s increasing drinking problems, a ban came into force. The ban would prove to be to L.O. Smith’s advantage.
During the world economic crisis in 1856, L.O. Smith saw a golden opportunity to dominate the liquor market in Stockholm. He decided to take his chance and moved forward at full speed. Six years later, he had built the foundation of his wealth.
In his book About the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin presented his revolutionary ideas. Darwin questioned the view of human origin and evolution as presented in the Bible, which was the generally accepted version at this time.
At the age of 24, Lars Olsson got married to the six years younger Marie-Louise Collin. The couple settled in the Old Town in Stockholm. During their first happy years together, they had four children.
L.O. Smith looked after his staff. This is one of many quotes he is remembered for: “I have always been able to rely on my workers, and that’s why I give some of my profit back to them.”
In 19th century Sweden, only those with an annual income of at least 800 SEK per year were allowed to vote. Far from everyone earned that much. During a disagreement about suffrage rights in the Swedish parliament, L.O. Smith is supposed to have exclaimed: “So pay them that 800 SEK - that will solve the problem!”
Join us on a historical around the world trip!
Shortly after Abraham Lincoln became president of the United States in 1860, 11 of the 36 states left the federation and formed America's Confederate States. In April, the American Civil War broke out. The war would last for five years and cause around 620,000 deaths. When the war ended in 1865, the Confederate States were incorporated again and slavery was abolished.
Charlie, Otto, Lucie and Mary – the names of L. O. Smith’s four children. For a long time their relationship with their famous father was strained and ultimately ended in great turbulence.
No more guilds, obligatory apprentice certificates and monopolies based on wealth. From now on, everyone had the right to start a business.
L.O. Smith’s contemporaries included several ambitious and successful entrepreneurs, often nicknamed “kings” or “princes” within their respective fields. This colorful crew came to symbolize the new industrial Sweden and lay the foundation of the economic prosperity for the 20th century. They had in common a broad business sense and a contagious enthusiasm for everything from politics and society to art and philanthropy. Here is an introduction to a small selection of these entrepreneurs, from “the mechanics king” Bolinder to “the finance prince” Wallenberg.
Get to know the bustling port town of Karlshamn was where L. O. Smith spent his formative years.
At the age of 34, the Swedish entrepreneur and inventor Alfred Nobel secured a patent for dynamite. During his career, the eminent chemist and engineer obtained almost 250 patents. He died in San Remo, Italy in 1896.
In July 1866, the first commercially successful transatlantic telegraph cable was set up. The cable made it possible to make phone calls between the United States and Europe.
Get to know Smith's competitors in Sweden. Some of them were even known as local vodka kings!
L.O. Smith and Johan Willhelm Smitt were close business partners, but ended up as bitter enemies in court. Their disputes could be followed by the public, as they were published as open letters in the newspapers. Smitt was the man behind the so-called Reymersholme coup, and some say that he was also responsible for the Spanish export failure. What else do we know about Smith’s worst enemy?
Join expert Jenny Stendahl on a walk around the small Stockholm island of Reimersholme, as she looks for traces of the extraordinary entrepreneur L.O. Smith.
In the 19th century, Swedish vodka generally contained fusel alcohol, which could be hazardous to health. For L.O. Smith, this meant a great a business opportunity. He started researching the subject and traveled abroad to learn more. In France, he found a company that had a way to remove harmful substances. Once Smith was convinced that the method worked, he bought a factory at Reimersholme in Stockholm and started producing his own vodka. However, he had to fight for the right to sell his produce as the city council had exclusive rights to sell alcohol in the central parts of the city.
From 1873 to the beginning of the 1900s, Smith had a summer residence at the Långholmen island in southern Stockholm. Smith turned the house into something truly magnificent, adding a ballroom and a billiard lounge, among other things. Around ten people were employed to look after the house and the lush garden, which is supposed to have been the most beautiful in Stockholm.
In the 1870s, L.O. Smith’s budget champagne called Gulddroppen received a great deal of attention. Were the people of Sweden ready for a “sparkling wine for the masses”?
As L.O. Smith's business grew, he opened more and more factories across the country. Meanwhile in his hometown of Karlshamn, he bought a purifying plant called Hellerströmska. The purchase allowed him to refine the classic Swedish drink called punsch.
In 1877, the businessman Jean Bolinder built The Bolinderska Palace next to the Grand Hotel in Stockholm. The architect behind the magnificent building was Helgo Zettervall. L.O. Smith was impressed by the luxurious flat, and decided to move into one of the two main apartments.
L.O. Smith had a global outlook from the start. He was keen to do international business, and wanted to deepen his knowledge about the industry. He also traveled for recreation and spent time in the Mediterranean seaside resorts from time to time. As somebody who did several around-the-world-trips, he even became a bit of a globetrotter.
Smith was the first person in Sweden to introduce a new method for purifying vodka on a large scale. But what was actually so new and revolutionary about his method?
Between 1880 and 1900, about 10 million Europeans emigrated to America. By 1920, some 1.5 million people had left Sweden to start a new life on the other side of the Atlantic. With 100,000 Swedish residents, Chicago was even Sweden’s second largest city at this time.
In 1877, the British annexed the Transvaal in northeast South Africa. Led by Sir Theophilius Shepstones, they were met by powerful protests from the farmers. The Boers rebelled in 1880 and war broke out. With the help of guerrilla warfare, the farmers managed to win the war and gained independence in the region. In 1900, Transvaal was occupied again. The second Boer war would have a devastating effect on L.O. Smith’s life. Transvaal became an English colony before it became a South African province in 1910.
L.O. Smith’s short temper is well documented. He had countless arguments in his life, with everyone from businessmen to governments. Read about five of his most spectacular disputes.
L.O. Smith figured frequently in the Swedish press, and this suited him perfectly.
As the distribution license for selling spirits in Stockholm was about to expire, L.O. Smith applied to deliver vodka from his new factory in Karlshamn. His request was not approved this time either. Full of confidence from his recent victory in the first vodka war, he decided to repeat the same strategy. This time, he organised a boat shuttle service to the island Fjäderholmarna in the Stockholm archipelago.
In 1883, workers were invited to buy shares that would form a Workers’ Bank, under generous conditions. Smith saw the bank as a solution to social problems, and hoped that the system would spread to the rest of the world. He wrote an open, over six pages long letter on yellow paper and had it printed in 20,000 copies. The letter explained his ideas on how Sweden should be governed, and proclaimed himself as the best person to implement the proposals. In return, he required loyalty and trust. The letter had the opposite effect.
In the early 1880s, L.O. Smith had the ambition to help workers get organized and improve their living conditions. Workers’ groups were established, and Smith became the chairman of a dedicated workers’ bank (“Arbetarringens bank”). He also suggested that Sweden ought to introduce a post bank to make it easier for the working population to save money. The post bank was established a few years later, but Smith was never recognized as the initiator. On the other hand, perhaps it motivated him to get more involved in politics?
L.O. Smith’s grand liquor factory in Karlshamn was an important employer in southern Sweden. It also played a crucial part in his plan to conquer Europe.
L.O. Smith wanted his workers to eat well. This would make them healthier and at the same time make them work longer and harder. His so-called steam kitchens were cooperatives with state-of-the-art equipment that offered workers tasty, healthy food at a reasonable price. Despite Smith’s best efforts, the steam kitchens never became as popular as he had hoped.
L.O. Smith’s workers’ groups didn’t last long. He was disappointed with the workers’ involvement and the groups lacked suitable leaders. Nevertheless, his efforts bore fruit in the long run.
L.O. Smith set up labor groups to get his workers involved politically, but the groups did not work out in the long run. He was disappointed both with the workers’ engagement and their economic contribution. What happened when the groups had been dissolved?
At the turn of the century around 1900, Sweden experienced an economic golden age. The main political issues concerned national defense and suffrage. The emerging labor and women’s movements demanded more influence, and emigration to America hit record levels. The country was also shaken by the dissolution of the union with Norway.
L.O. Smith saw an opportunity to export vodka to Spain. He hired 700 people for his factory in Karlshamn, making it the biggest distillery in the world. After a few successful years, Spain increased the customs tariff. Without support from the Swedish government, L.O. Smith made personal losses of around SEK 700 million, and all employees were made redundant.
L.O. Smith and Consul General Johan Wilhelm Smitt decided to grow sugar beets, and set up the company Inedals Sockerfabriks AB. The business venture failed, but the project proved that it was possible to grow sugar in Sweden.
Smith liked to surround himself with art and antiques. He was particularly fond of classical Italian art and the historical paintings of his time.
During the latter part of his life, L.O. Smith traveled extensively and got involved in several risky business ventures. One of these was to invest in gold mines in South Africa. His goal was to build up the fortune he had lost in the so-called vodka war with Spain.
In 1896, L.O. Smith met Anna Viktoria Kalldin, who would become his second wife. When Smith’s daughter Mary found out about their relationship, she left the house where they lived. Mary would never talk to her father again, but Anna Viktoria and Smith stayed together until his death. Following the Boer war at the turn of the century, they led a life in poverty.
Nils Peter Mathiasson started his career modestly as an office clerk, but ended up as the leader of almost the entire Swedish liquor production industry. Together with Ivar Bratt, Mathiasson implemented Sweden’s monopoly for wine and spirits - another part of L.O. Smith’s legacy.
Sweden’s attitude to alcohol changed dramatically at the end of the 19th century. Influenced by the international Independent Order of Good Templars, the growing Swedish temperance movement started campaigning for stricter measures. They no longer accepted wine and beer, and started demanding complete abstinence from alcohol. Their views made a deep impact on Swedish drinking culture.
L.O. Smith was a true visionary who constantly came up with new initiatives and inventions. Here are five of his most important ideas: Purification of spirits, sugar beet cultivation, labor groups, the post bank, and suffrage.
L.O. Smith revolutionized the beverage industry with a unique distillation method that removed hazardous impurities. What happened to his purification method?
In 1889, L.O. Smith submitted a proposal for extended male voting rights to the Swedish parliament. What happened to this proposal?
The rationing booklet “Motboken” is introduced, and the state-owned liquor stores get full control of the alcohol monopoly in Sweden. From this day, there were no private wine merchants in the country. Alcohol was sold exclusively by Vin & Liquor and the local “Systembolaget” shops.
One of L.O. Smith’s many ideas was to convert post offices into banks. This would make banking services more accessible, which would encourage workers to save money. This is what happened to the post bank.
The story behind the Absolut brand name and its characteristic bottle provides a link to the past. The seal of every Absolut bottle shows an illustration of L.O. Smith, the man who set out to make an absolutely pure vodka in the 19th century.
Watch the trailer from the movie about L.O. Smith's exciting life here.