The travels of L.O. Smith

L.O. Smith had an international mindset. If we wanted to meet people, practice the seven languages he knew, or finalize a business deal, he would never allow distance to be an obstacle. But how did he manage to get around during his glory days in the 19th century? Join us on a historical around the world trip!

Travel in Sweden
Travel opportunities in Sweden improved a great deal during the 19th century – not the least in Stockholm, where Smith was based. The capital of Sweden used to be a place where people moved around on foot, by horse or by hiring a coachman. In 1877, a horse-drawn tram was introduced. Ten years later, a steam tram made its first journey through the city. The first steam-powered wagons served the southern district of Södermalm, specifically the steep hill on Hornsgatan. They were replaced by an electric tram in 1901. In 1904, the line was extended to include the northern parts of Stockholm’s inner city. A trip with the tram cost 10 öre, which is around 100 SEK in today’s value. L.O. Smith belonged to the minority who could afford a ticket. It is important to remember that Stockholm was a busy port at this time. Ships would constantly arrive and leave on journeys to the surrounding archipelago and the rest of Sweden as well as the world. Our vodka king started his career at Skeppsbron in the Old Town of Stockholm, when the city’s largest ship broker Flygaresson employed him. Smith accepted the job on the condition that he could have vacation during the winter months, so that he could travel abroad and learn more languages. Flygaresson agreed to his request and before long, Smith was fluent in seven languages.

So how did he actually get around on his language trips? It was expensive and cumbersome just to make it outside the capital. The first Swedish railway was completed in 1856. In 1862, the line between Stockholm and Gothenburg was ready. The journey took fourteen hours and came with a hefty price tag. The trains were divided in classes of varied prices and comfort levels. In 1871, those who could afford rail travel could experience the first steam-heated passenger cars. A year later, trains that passengers could walk through were introduced.

Domestic travel was greatly improved in 1879, when Sweden introduced a standard time that applied to the whole country. Sleeping carriages for 1st and 2nd class travelers were built for longer journeys in 1886. Around the same time, hotels and restaurants appeared around the new railway stations. In 1891, the first train line abroad was inaugurated between Helsingborg in southern Sweden and Helsingør in Denmark.

Sweden started building railways relatively late – 31 years after England, nine years after Denmark and two years after Norway. Nevertheless, Sweden soon caught up and efficiently constructed an extensive railway network. Already in 1874, it was one of Europe’s top countries based on railway length in kilometer per inhabitant.
As a wealthy businessman, L.O. Smith could most certainly afford to travel 1st class. However, traveling by train in the 19th century was not exactly a smooth and quiet experience. A regular journey would rather be extremely shaky and noisy. Many doctors believed that the vibrations would have a harmful effect: ”The extent, speed and suddenness of the rail wagons’ movements cause the body constant stress”. Experts warned that too much traveling on trains could have serious side effects. According to a contemporary propaganda pamphlet, the noise on trains ”will destroy people’s hearing, because as the locomotive forges ahead with its deafening alarm, everyone will become deaf and never hear again”. 

Cosmopolitan Europe
Smith would often travel to the European continent, even though it required considerably more planning. Until the middle of the 19th century, Scandinavians traveled south on sailing boats, and then further on by a private coach and carriage. It was a long journey – around three weeks from Stockholm to Rome. The travel time was shortened considerably with the introduction of steamboats. Now Smith and his contemporaries could reach the Mediterranean in one and a half week. Around this time, travel agents who sold pre-planned trips appeared. The first travel agency appeared in 1872. It was founded by the Englishman Thomas Cook, the man behind travel cheques, hotel vouchers, and modern mass tourism. Mr Cook’s travel agents arranged hotel reservations, guided tours and boat tickets. They could also act as a mediator if there were any problems in Italy or Greece.

In Sweden, the hotel pioneer Wilhelmina Skogh partnered with Cook’s travel agency. Visitors could buy vouchers in London and Stockholm and exchange them at Wilhelmina’s hotels for accommodation and hunting trips.

Beyond Europe
In the late 1870s, L.O. Smith and his family went to Egypt. Smith didn’t actually get there, however – when they reached Malaga, he had to return to Stockholm. The rest of the family made it to Cairo by steamboat. At this time, several steamboats offered trips to the African continent and Constantinople. By the end of the 1860s, there were also steamboat services between Sweden and North America, operated by international shipping companies such as Cunard Line and White Star Line. The steamboats were continuously improved with higher speed and more capacity. This led to cheaper ticket prices, which in turn facilitated a wave of emigration from Sweden to America. The long and often complicated journey was arranged by transport companies from port cities such as Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö.