HISTORY

”Eskilstuna”. The tell tale sign stamped on Eskilstuna knives. The city was named after the English monk Eskil who, according to legend, was killed during a less successful missionary trip to Stora Blotet in Strängnäs, and then buried in Tuna. Now called Eskilstuna.

In the 12th century, the Johanniter order built a monastery east of the city, that king Gustav Vasa promptly confiscated during the Lutheran reformation. The king has some bir plans for the monastery. Keep reading to learn more about the monastery’s transformation into a massive castle.

Natural conditions in the form of hydropower, charcoal pits and close proximity to the woods of Bergslagen made King Carl X Gustav offer the smith Reinhold Rademacher (1608-1668) very generous conditions for coming to Eskilstuna in the year of 1654. Rademacher, whom we believe was born a Dutchman, brought along the gospel of steel work to Eskilstuna.

Reinhold Rademacher standing in City Hall. Photo: The editor

While Reinhold was setting up shop in Eskilstuna, The King was in war with Poland and Russia, as if it were not bad enough, Denmark attacks Sweden at the same time. However, winter appears to be on the Swedish side, the ice is so strong that it carries the king (who was not lightweight with a 136 cm waist) and his arms over Little Belt in January 1658 and later Great Belt in February that same winter. Carl X had decided to teach the Danes a lesson. When Copenhagen is threatened by Swedish troops, suddenly it becomes easier to make an agreement with the Danes. Denmark is forced to abandon Skåne, Blekinge, Halland, Bohulslän and, in addition, some additional land areas. You can imagine that the king saying to himself that this must be celebrated with a new city. In a letter he wrote that the city should be called Carl Gustaf’s city, (what else…). The fact that Eskilstuna already existed in the exact same place did not seem to worry about the majesty. Then it came to pass that both Eskilstuna and Carl Gustaf’s city in 1659 received city privileges. (The formal association of the two cities would have to wait until 1833.) A list from 1662 reveals that there were seven knife smiths in Carl Gustaf’s city at the time.
In 1771, a parliamentary decision freed the blacksmiths from guild obligations and tariffs. The number of smiths increased immediately. One of them had the beautifully sounding name ”Gustaf Leyonhierta” who was, a pocket knife maker. C. G. Kütter, a German traveler who visited the city at the end of the 18th century writes ”… the place is full of workshops, and they make most of what can be made from iron”. This seems to have brought prosperity to some. For example: in 1811 Knife-maker Peter Hjorth owned six wagons and carts, horses, cows, sheep, and pigs. The city came to be a greenhouse for entrepreneurship for many years.

During the 19th century, the knife manufacturing gradually increased. Not least important in this context was the power of thirst. Corks where not a new invention, but now, from perfume too beer too sparkling wine, all was put in flasks with corks, and didn’t go out of fashion until the 1930’s. So if you didn’t want to go thirsty in the mid-1880s, you had to get a cork screw in your pocket. And soon enough, everyone owned a knife with a corkscrew. Russia, Australia, Africa, Asia, Europe and America were important export markets for Eskilstunaknivar. It took time before America started a domestic knife production. Just have a look at ebay.com and you’ll see how incredibly many Eskilstuna knives were exported to America. At one point, Eskilstuna knife manufacturer Johan Engström, received an order of 3,000 dozen art deco knives by Mr. Edward Zinn from New York City. You can recognize them by finding Mr. Zinn’s name and elephant mascot stamped on the blade.

The Eskilstuna stamp became more or less a brand name for all products that left Eskilstuna, a brand that stood for quality, design and functionality far beyond the usual. This brand had such power that several knives even got Eskilstuna etched on the handles.

Hedengran& Son. Photo: The editor

J. E. Larsson. Photo: The editor

Likewise, the Swedish knife manufacturers stood for safe deliveries in a sometime worried and tumultuous world. But, after the post-war period, the conditions for both handcrafts Swedish industry changed. The knife production, which was relatively small-scale and with a focus on craftsmanship had an increasingly difficult time to defend its place in the worlds harsher trade environment.

Today, beside the sole proprietor Jan-Peter Hammar, only EKA (from the beginning Hadar Hallströms Knivfabriks AB) remains of all the knife companies that once saw the light of day in Eskilstuna. But then EKA also made knives for presidents.

Photo by Stig Öquist