Research project:
The Wicander Family

År 1890 - August Wicander med sonen Hjalmar Wicander och sonsonen Carl August.

Over three generations, the Wicander family built a global business group from scratch. They found their place in Swedish society — until the founder’s grandson died childless and in his will donated the family’s summer house, Harpsund, to the state as a recreation residence for the prime minister. But who were the Wicanders, really? Their untold story is the focus of a research project by the Centre for Business History, aiming to gather new source material for further research and culminate in an entrepreneurial biography.

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Lead researcherBenito Peix Geldart.
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While Harpsund has found its place in contemporary Swedish history as the prime minister’s recreational residence, little is known about the Wicander family that donated their property to the state. The entrepreneurial legacy of the Wicander family, reflecting Sweden’s development into a modern industrial nation, remains largely untold. The knowledge we currently have about the family behind the world’s largest cork company can be summarized in three generations.

Three generations Wicander

August Wicander (1836–1891). Reportedly the first in the world to mechanize the production of bottle corks, he moved from Skedevi in Östergötland to Stockholm at the age of 32. In 1868, he founded Wicanders cork factory with facilities not only in Stockholm but also in Turku and Latvia, engaging in procurement from around the world.

Hjalmar Wicander (1860–1939).  Expanding the business from the headquarters on Brännkyrkagatan in Stockholm, he turned it into a “cork empire.” Over time, there were fewer bottle corks but more cork mats. The family became important figures in society, contributing a significant portion of their wealth to charity, including donations to the National Museum. After Hjalmar’s death, the Wicander villa (now Villa Lusthusporten) on Djurgården was donated to the Nordic Museum.

Carl August Wicander (1885–1952).  Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he became a director and industrial leader not only for Wicanders cork factory but also several other businesses. Before the revolution, he led the family business’s expansion into Russia. However, he passed away in Lisbon in 1952, leaving the family estate Harpsund (acquired by his father Hjalmar) to the Swedish state as a recreation residence for the Prime Minister.

A family- and business history in step with Sweden’s modernization 

he Wicander family’s entrepreneurial journey began shortly after Sweden gained economic freedom in 1864 and extended into the prosperous years of the 1950s. They were entrepreneurs and societal actors in a world undergoing radical changes, mirroring the growth of technology, business, and society. Their adaptation to new business trends and consumer behaviors, while maintaining their core business, reflects society’s development during one of Sweden’s most dynamic periods.

Notably, unlike other contemporary examples, their business did not rely on domestic raw materials such as ore or timber but rather on imported cork. This made international trade and global developments a fundamental prerequisite for their operations. The international dimension played a different but equally central role compared to other Swedish global companies.

The three generations were active and engaged employers during the time when the Swedish labor market model was emerging. Over time, they became increasingly involved in industry and societal associations. Particularly under Hjalmar and Carl August Wicander, family wealth was used for extensive philanthropy, including the aforementioned donations to the Nordic Museum and the Harpsund estate to the state.

Project objectives

The summary provides an overview of what is currently known about the Wicander family. Much of this knowledge comes from Carl August, who published a three-part family chronicle a few years before his death, released by Norstedts förlag. While informative, these books lack objective distance from the family and the larger events they were part of. The absence of women in his storytelling is also noteworthy.

The intention is to describe the Wicander family’s entrepreneurial journey in a book based on new research and sources, providing both chronological and personal distance from the subject. The Center for Business History plans to conduct a research project in three phases:

  1. Mapping sources related to the Wicander family, covering their entrepreneurial, social, and societal contributions..
  2. Research efforts to collect source material in Swedish archives and memory institutions, potentially extending to foreign sources..
  3. Authoring a comprehensive entrepreneurial biography covering three generations of Wicanders, describing and analyzing their contributions in relation to the country’s development

The project is expected to unfold over three years: 2023 (phase 1), 2024 (phases 1 and 2), and 2025 (phase 3).

Project tea

The research project is carried out by the Center for Business History’s research secretariat, led by Docent Anders Houltz, with Dr. Benito Peix Geldart as the researcher and author. Project management is handled by Anders Sjöman, Communications and Project Manager at the Center for Business History. Other experts within the organization, including archivists, editors, and illustrators, will be involved in the project.

A reference group, consisting of representatives from the Center for Business History’s research council, will be attached to the project.

External support

The project idea originated with Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson and his wife Birgitta Ed, who will support the project by facilitating contacts with relevant experts and sources, as well as providing access to the Harpsund property in collaboration with the managing authority.

 

Do you have information about August, Hjalmar, or Carl August Wicander that you would like to share? Or about anyone else within the extensive Wicander family? Feel free to reach out to anders.sjoman@naringslivshistoria.se

 

Benito Peix Geldart

+46 8-634 99 07

Senior Researcher & Archivist, PhD

benito.peixgeldart@naringslivshistoria.se

Anders Sjöman

VP Communcations