Canals and the iron-industry during the early industrialisation era - state-supported growth policies in the making

Sångsalen Session 3: Structured by the State – infrastructure and communication in the era of industrialization organized by Björn Hasselgren and Jan Ottosson


Björn Hasselgren


Transportation systems evolve slowly over time. As new transportation and infrastructure technologies become available earlier slower and less capacity strong modes of transport are subsequently out-competed. Early stages of implementation of new transport technologies are generally characterised by high initial investment costs and risks, but also offer more efficient transportation flows, which can reduce transport costs and shorten transport times.

While being closely connected to national interests and state-intervention new transportation technologies are as a rule connected to private sector interests and entrepreneurial initiatives. Canals is one of the transportation and infrastructure technologies that exemplify the balance between such private sector initiatives and structuring measures taken by the state.

Canal project during the early stages of industrialisation in Sweden were in varying degree connected to specific business interests. In some cases, iron-industry interests were active in promoting a specific canal, in other iron-industry products were among the most transported as canal traffic was opened. The state often had the role of supporting private sector initiatives, but also strived to structuring the initiatives in a way that would support other policy initiatives and regulation e.g., in the iron industry. The paper will discuss how these structuring and supporting actions by the state were interrelated to the transportation systems and infrastructure.


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