Trade, Market and Regional Development in Preindustrial Sweden (1750-1850)

Last changed: 28 March 2023

In this project, we aimed to explain how the access to national and international markets affected regional performances in pre-industrial and industrial Sweden.


According to the Swedish historiography, the period from the late 18th century to the industrial take-off in the second half of the 19th century is crucial in explaining the success in the Swedish industrialization. Different explanatory factors have been considered, such as the emergence of a relatively sophisticated financial sector and a large human capital stock. Industrialization has also been related to the development of an internal market, driven by the increasing income of the peasant-farmers and the middle class, in turn resulting in a growing commercialization, trade networks, market deepening and integration (Schön, 1997). Previous research has also shown that, from the second half of the 19th century, commercial competence was the key to success for local businesses. For instance, the combination of production and trade through local institutions has been brought about as example (Magnusson and Nyberg, 1995). During this period, closeness to communications also mattered for growth in industrial employment and population (Berger and Enflo, 2015). Whether trade, market development or the emergence of financial institutions were the main factors explaining regional growth and the location of industries is still an open question. Moreover, the role of these factors in creating regional inequalities observed in 1860 is still unexplored.

Project plan

In the project, we produced, for the first time at regional level, GDP estimates for the period 1750-1850. Thanks to a large and unique body of evidence on the intra-national trade across Swedish ports (as well as their international trade), we were also able to look at internal trade flows in Sweden. These trade flows were used to measure the potential access to markets of the main Swedish regions. Access to market were then tested as explanatory variables for regional development. Finally, using a new set of high frequency prices for the period 1750-1850, we assessed the degree of market integration across Sweden and compare this to the results on market access.


The significance of this project is two-fold. First, this research is of core interest to all scholars studying the role of market access in the regional evolution from the pre-industrial to the industrial period. In particular, the project provides large-scale empirical evidence on intra-national trade flows and GDP levels, which is scarce or non-existent for any European country before the mid-1800s. For instance, a recent preliminary effort is represented by Kelly et al. (2015) for England, for which, due to lack of sources, a measure of market access based on labor income, not on trade, is employed. Sweden provides exceptional sources that allow investigating with unpreceded detail broad trends that are common to other European economies, making the project relevant for a broad audience. Moreover, this research is of course highly relevant to the Swedish historiography, providing a long term picture of the trade flows across different parts of the country and identifying which geographical, institutional and political factors shaped its regional development.


Project Leader

Patrick Svensson, Professor, Division of Agrarian History, SLU

Project time


External funding

Jan Wallanders och Tom Hedelius stiftelse, Tore Browaldhs stiftelse, dnr P2016-0247:1