Eight groundbreaking Stockholm inventions that changed the world

The 2022 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm is soon upon us. This year, locally-born geneticist, Svante Pääbo, will receive the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in sequencing the Neanderthal genome. Stockholm has a long history of innovation, creativity and ingenuity, and here are a few examples of fellow Stockholm trailblazers responsible for some truly world-changing inventions.

Eight groundbreaking Stockholm inventions that changed the world
Stockholm's City Hall, where the Nobel Prizes are awarded. Photo: Visit Stockholm

GPS for navigation

Håkan Lans’s navigation system, the STDMA (Self-organising Time Division Multiple Access), is used globally, including on our mobile phone GPS systems. This navigation system employs both GPS and radio to help all road, air traffic and maritime traffic avoid collisions and becoming lost. Stockholm-born Lans had nearly four decades worth of scientific research experience at the University of Stockholm, and he spent 15 years and roughly 2.6 billion Swedish kronor (€238m) worth of venture capital to develop, test and demonstrate the STDMA data link before the patent was published in 1997.


This list would not be complete without including Spotify, who changed the world of music forever. Launched in Stockholm in 2006, today it’s the most popular music streaming provider in the world and with more than 456 million monthly active users, including 195 million paying subscribers. Spotify is now so globally recognised that it’s inspired its own Netflix TV series, The Playlist, which focuses on its invention by coder and co-founder Daniel Ek, and the growth of Spotify into a tech unicorn.

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Daniel Ek, of Spotify. Photo: Supplied.


Alfred Nobel, born in Stockholm in 1833, wanted to make construction sites safer to work by developing a safe nitroglycerin explosive for workmen to use. First he invented the blasting cap and then he discovered that a siliceous earth, kieselguhr, would stabilise nitroglycerin, thus making dynamite, a relatively stable explosive.

However, Nobel was deeply troubled by the way his inventions came to be used in war and became increasingly concerned with advancing the cause of worldwide peace.

He died in 1896, leaving his sizeable estate as an endowment for annual awards in chemistry, physics, medicine or physiology, literature, and peace, all of which represented his lifelong interests.

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While working at the Municipal Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Stockholm, Carl Gunnar Engström invented the Engström Universal Respirator. It was the first mechanical ventilator that could deliver breaths of controllable volume and frequency and also deliver inhalation anaesthetics. Mechanical ventilators soon became a standard feature of all anaesthesia machines, thereby hugely improving patient safety.


By 1958, 43-year-old former Swedish hockey star, Arne Larsson, was nearing death. His heart stopped beating up to 20 times a day, requiring his wife, Else-Marie, to resuscitate him each time with chest compressions. Larsson was clearly dying. But Else-Marie did not give up on him. She had read that a doctor, Åke Senning, was working with an engineer Rune Elmqvist at Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, to develop a cardiac pacemaker that could be implanted into the body. She made sure she spoke to them every day to convince them to let her husband be the first to have the device fitted. They eventually consented and the device, despite problems at first, was a success. Arne lived until 2001, when he died at the ripe old age of 86, even outliving the device’s engineer Rune Elmqvist, who passed away in 1996.

One of Sweden’s greatest innovations, the pacemaker, seen on a chest X-Ray. Photo: Getty Images

European banknotes

Stockholms Banco was the first European bank to print banknotes. It was founded in 1657 by Johan Palmstruch in Stockholm, and began printing banknotes in 1661. It was the immediate predecessor to the central bank of Sweden, founded in 1668 as Riksens Ständers Bank and renamed in 1866 as Sveriges Riksbank, which is the world’s oldest surviving central bank.

Household refrigerator

In 1922, when Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters were civil engineering students at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, they were working on an exam project and ended up inventing and developing a cooling cabinet for food: the gas absorption refrigerator. Humans had cooled food and drinks in cellars and ice boxes for generations but these cooling solutions were large, bulky, and very expensive, making them inaccessible to most people. Von Platen and Munters’ solution, however, made household refrigerators cheaper and more accessible to all and the refrigerator became a worldwide success.


In May 2009, Stockholm-born Markus Persson published a game called Minecraft, a virtual sandbox where players could build anything they could imagine. Minecraft became incredibly popular with children (and their parents who saw it as an almost educational game). It has sold more than 238 million copies as of 2022, according to Microsoft, who bought the gaming franchise from Persson in 2014 for $2.5 billion (€2.4billion).

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Swedish stereotypes: The residents you’ll meet in Stockholm’s districts

Curious about the cultural ins and outs of the Swedish capital? Well, look no further! This is writer and marketing professional Mikael Barclay's insider’s guide to central, and quite central, Stockholm.

Swedish stereotypes: The residents you'll meet in Stockholm's districts
Inner-city Stockholm and its adjacent districts may seem like they're all "the same", but there are different nuances of posh, semi-posh and we're-just-pretending-to-be-posh. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Östermalm: Posh people 

This is “the right side” of Birger Jarlsgatan. If you sport a coat of arms on your Sunday china or want to declare that you have made it, this is your go-to area. A comfortable labradoodle stroll from the Royal Game Park, Djurgården, it is as close to Mayfair or le 16e that you will get anywhere north of Berlin. Another perk for the true Östermalm resident is that one will constantly bump into aunts of one’s old school chums who will tell one that they saw one’s mother just the other day. 

If you feel that good park benches are the hallmarks of any first-rate local entertainment scene, and are confident that your surname won’t dilute the prominence of the nameboard in your building’s entrance, Östermalm might just be the perfect neighbourhood for you.

Gärdet: Poor posh people 

Gärdet is somewhat of a natural child of Östermalm, and although part of the same district, local etiquette has residents specify Gärdet or Östermalm “sort of”, whenever asked where they live. From being lower middle-class, Gärdet is now the home of Dowager Countesses and cash poor children of polite society. The former will invariably insist that a modest ceiling height is no reason not to keep hefty family heirlooms such as chandeliers and large ancestral portraits. 

If you feel that vast open fields are about as exciting as it gets, then surely this is the ideal neighbourhood for you.

Vasastan: The middle class 

With its imposing buildings and chic parks, Vasastan is the bourgeois version of its aristo’ neighbour Östermalm. If the latter is an elderly colonel, the former is a multitasking young career mum, living the middle-class dream. With a well-groomed husband, Instagram-friendly  breakfasts, smart looking children, a holiday home near the sea, regular yoga sessions and a beautiful kitchen, this is everything one needs to be happy, it really is! 

If you love Swedish minimalist clothing brands and go “deliiish!” when you think of overly complicated lattes-to-go, Vasastan might be your perfect match. And, oh come on, it really is! 

Vasastan. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

City/Klarakvarteren: Youths 

Untouched by the Second World War, it was decided that the centre of Stockholm nevertheless ought to be demolished to make room for a more modern and bold architecture. To this very day the new buildings continue to be admired and cherished by tens of people, most of whom are architects living in Södermalm. Others have abandoned the area in favour of tourists, pickpockets and youths in tracksuits. 

If you are one of the people who believe that eventually all architecture will look good, this area might be your ideal pick.

Kungsholmen: Practical people 

People who live in Kungsholmen enjoy stressing that Kungsholmen is part of inner Stockholm, a notion underlined by the naming of the anonymous shopping mall Västermalmsgallerian*. This is an island where tendencies of any particular neighbourhood character are deemed unnecessary or pretentious. Instead residents emphasise the closeness to nature and how convenient it is to live so very very close to the city centre (did we mention that Kungsholmen is part of inner Stockholm?). 

If you have yet to come to terms with not wanting to live in a city in the first place and love interior design magazine inspired done up kitchens, this could very well be the island for you.

* The name Västermalm refers to the western inner Stockholm district, harmonising with the already established names of its southern, eastern and northern counterparts.

Stora & Lilla Essingen: Sturdy islands upon which a motorway rests 

No one really cares.

The motorway on Lilla Essingen. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Gamla stan: Tourists 

At some point it was decided that this historic gem would be best used for the vending of historically inaccurate miniature Vikings and bad coffee. A predicament that has skewed the tourist-to-local ratio, making it nearly impossible to stereotype its residents (who most probably exist… most probably). 

If you love history and are no taller than a 17th century cobbler, an apartment in Gamla Stan might just be for you.

Södermalm: Journalists 

This former working-class district is long since gentrified. Cockneys will still come over for the weekend pint although most of the island now caters for middle-aged journalists and young hipsters. While some residents secretly pretend to live in Berlin, others will swear on their vintage Vespas to be living in Palermo. Solidarity is a hallmark to this island and locals would gladly consider inviting members of the poor into their homes (just not this weekend when the parquet floor is being refurbished). When in the neighbourhood, why not swing by the local Farmers Market, an event yet to be visited by an actual farmer. 

If you think “what is that supposed to mean?” when you hear the expression “liberal elite”, you too might want to consider moving to Södermalm.

Södermalm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Danderyd: Business class passengers 

This prestigious suburb is the dream of CEOs and other members of the mercantile classes. In fact, it is so prestigious that young people growing up in its crown jewel, Djursholm, regularly state that they live north of the city, in an attempt to avoid getting judged. And who could  blame them? Apart from its exclusive golf club, stables and huge villas, the area has its own country club, called Djursholm Country Club, in English!

Solna: The common man 

Trying to characterise Solna is like trying to characterise the Swedish cheese hushållsost. It’s not so much a particular kind of cheese as a cheese. But despite not being able to articulate exactly why, locals remain highly sentimental about their borough. A predicament that has led it to be not only Stockholm’s premier producer of common men and women, but also of football hooligans.

Solna, home to venues like the Friends Arena football stadium and shopping centre Mall of Scandinavia. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Bromma: Petite bourgeoise & bourgeoisie 

This is suburbia. Lush, idyllic, conveniently close to the city and during the winter months filled with branded down jackets. Houses range from large seaside bourgeoise to small formerly working class but now shut-up-mortgaged-middle class. Unlike people from Danderyd, residents will take every opportunity to mention where they are from. They are from Bromma and they are homeowners. 

Söder om Söder (south of Södermalm): The Marimekko middle class

This down-to-earth type area is ideal for everyone from subtenants from the north who put down “craft beer” under “interests” in job applications, to ordinary families and homeowning bobos (bourgeois-bohèmes). The common denominator being a profound appreciation for teak furniture and the modest lines of Scandinavian 50s design, a style invariably referred to as “good taste” (god smak), by Swedish architects. 

Nacka: People in sailing shoes 

It simply doesn’t get more New England than this in Stockholm. People in leisure class Nacka strive to look like they just got off their sailing boat. And if they are from Saltsjöbaden, or “Saltis”, they might actually just have. Good to know is that local regulation stipulates ladies to wear crisp pastel canvas sailing shoes and men worn down leather ones. 

Nacka is close to the water. Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Lidingö: Homeowners with premium priced watches 

With its characteristic French sounding i-vowel, the name Liiiidingö has become synonymous with Swedish wealth. Just like Danderyd, Bromma and Nacka, Lidingö, residents prefer local trains (bana), running on separate tracks from the rest of Stockholm’s commuter trains and underground system. This keeps family members’ watches safe. As an extra precaution, Lidingö is surrounded by water.

Mikael Barclay is a marketing professional, keen social observer and serious dabbler in writing. Born in Stockholm to a Swedish mother and a British Jamaican father, he felt destined to have a go at living abroad for himself. After venturing to Milan, Tokyo and London he is now based in Stockholm.