Perhaps Sweden's most famous inventor, Alfred Nobel.

Designs to improve life

Where do all the best inventions come from ? The Germans can claim the X-Ray, Norwegians would brandish their original cheese slicer, the Americans stake a claim to the telephone. But what would the Swedes raise as their own idea?

In fact many household and industry classics originate in Sweden. Familiar products like the zip fastener, the adjustable spanner, the computer mouse and the Tetra-Pak carton that sits in most of our fridges are all Swedish inventions.

Swedish design is highly influential in our everyday lives, even if we don't notice it or acknowledge its genius. When we consider that many people are still alive thanks to their insulin or their pacemaker I doubt we know they have Swedish origins. Pouring milk from a Tetra-Pak is practicality personified… thanks to the thought that has gone into the design by a far-sighted Swede.

Every year one famous Swedish name that is in the public eye is Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite, and whose name is as renown as the awards he instigated. His fellow countryman Anders Celsius is one of the most name-checked men in history… every weather forecast tells you how many degrees °C the temperature will reach.

Inventions and designs include everything from the most everyday consumer products to industrial and economic milestones. Products that have often become highly significant on the international market and that have put both the inventor and their homeland on the map.

If need is said to be the mother of invention, technical genius must be its father. Otherwise how would the zip, the adjustable spanner, the milk separator and the telephone exchange be with us ? Johan Petter Johansson, Gustaf de Laval, Lars Magnus Ericsson and Gideon Sundbäck, the respective inventors, united with the colleagues through qualities such as thirst for knowledge, curiosity, desire to experiment, technical expertise and patience.

These are valuable character traits. The many setbacks and timescales required to stay the course demand patience beyond most of us.The frustration where requisite technology or materials are not yet in existence can often leave many ideas in the desk draw, waiting for their time. Looking to the future is also a skill to look to the needs of future users and understand what may be useful in times to come. A climate of looking ahead has been very beneficial to inspired Swedish men and women since the 18th century. In 1739 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was formed to organise and systemise research, seen as the birth of Science in Sweden. One of Sweden's most well-known scientists, Carl von Linné, was active during this period, as was the productive inventor and industrialist Christopher Polhem. He goes down in history as a universal genius after having constructed everything from canals, sluices, dams and bridges to sawmills, brickworks, looms, knitting machines and locks. A Swedish Brunel!

Due to the rise of industrialism at the end of the 19th century, Sweden experienced a wave of patented inventions that subsequently came to be internationally celebrated. As a result the Swedish Inventors' Association was founded in 1836, one year after the telephone receiver had been invented by L. M. Ericsson. 14 years later, in 1900, the zip fastener made its first appearance. The zip already existed as an idea, but the Swedish American, Gideon Sundbäck, was the first to design one that actually worked. He was granted the patent in the USA in 1914 at which time he also started manufacturing there.The design and construction of the zipper has remained the same ever since.

The USA was where many of the 20th century gadgets first saw the light of day. The electric vacuum cleaner for example. However, it was the Swedish company AB Lux, later Electrolux, that developed the first domestic vacuum cleaner as the American one was large and unwieldy. It was also in the USA that milk started to be sold in waxed paper packets. An idea which Erik Wallenberg and Ruben Rausing further refined and made cheaper into something which is probably the most revolutionary, widely-dispersed and best selling Swedish idea of the 20th century; Tetra Pak. A range of products have subsequently left the workrooms of Swedish researchers and inventors leading to mass sales on the world market. Everything from the computer mouse, the inertia-reel seat belt and the rear facing infant car seat, to a self-propelled vacuum cleaner.

In the field of medical developments, beta blockers, ultrasound, the digital hearing aid and artificial kidneys aren't the only inventions that originated in Sweden. In 1958 Doctor Rune Elmqvist implanted his recently developed pacemaker in his first patient. A small, battery powered motor designed to stimulate contractions of the cardiac muscle which has led to many people with heart problems being able to live a normal life. This goes for most people with gastric ulcers too, thanks to the drug Losec.A research project started in 1964 when it was estimated that a total of 10-15 percent of the population sooner or later developed the condition. Until 1988, when Losec came on to the market in Sweden, the project was under threat of closure on a number of occasions. It transpired that among other things the substance that had been developed was toxic, and time-consuming modifications had to be carried out. Altogether 150 researchers and technicians participated in what turned out to be a successful venture, as Losec is now the world's most sold medicine.

Inventions often accompany human needs, hand in hand with technological development. We may not be able to predict the future, but one thing is certain; many more Swedish inventions, some revolutionary, are awaiting their turn to see the light of day.

SUSANNE HELGESON