Christopher Polhem anticipating the Industrial Revolution

Christopher Polhem (1661 – 1751)

Christopher Polhem
(1661 – 1751)

On December 18, 1661, Swedish scientist, inventor, and industrialist Christopher Polhem was born. He made significant contributions to the economic and industrial development of Sweden, particularly mining. He notable introduced a division of labour among manufacturing tasks, centuries before the production line methods pioneered by Henry Ford.

Christopher Polhem’s career began at a farm in Uppland, where he lived after being orphaned. He soon became a supervisor at a farm in Södermanland due to his excellent skills in mathematics. His job led him to become enthusiastic about technology and engineering and he set up a workshop making tools and clocks. Polhem’s academic career started around 1687, when he enrolled at the Uppsala University. As an entrance examination, it is said that Polhem managed to repair two astronomical clocks. Soon, the young engineer increased his reputation rapidly and became known across the country. [1]

In the 1690s, Polhem constructed a model to improve the used technologies for extracting ore from mines and was commissioned by Charles XII of Sweden to build the machine, which was able to transport ore from mines in barrels, conveyed them to the smelting house where the barrels were emptied and then returned to the mine for a new load. The whole process went by automatically and only required manual interaction when the ore was loaded into the barrels. The power for this novel machine was taken from a water wheel. The Great Pit winder as it was later called, was installed in 1694. Polhem became Director of Mine Engineering and Art Master of the Falu mine where he supervised the extraction of ore from the mine and the used machines. [1,2]

In Sweden, the people longed for more local productions instead of exporting raw materials and buying back the finished products. Christopher Polhem and Gabriel Stierncrona then constructed a factory in Sweden where they intended to produce everyday household items and he also began manufacturing clock parts. Also, Polhem saw the need for a technical laboratory and he established the Laboratorium Mechanicum in 1697 in order to teach and research the technologies behind their novel machines. The next big thing Polhem and his colleagues tackled, was the production of sluices for the Swedish rivers to improve the transport. Unfortunately, the sluice project at Göta River was completed in 1754, three years after the death of Christopher Polhem. [1]

At yovisto, you might be interested in a video lecture in the Industrial Revolution by Professor John Merriman at Yale University.

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