In an old black and white film, a man is seen carrying a coil of metal wire on his crooked back. He enters a greying wooden shed, a wire-drawing mill powered by a waterwheel beside a fast-flowing stream.
Although the district is the same, almost a century separates the reality depicted in the film from the automated, digitalised production at today’s Garantell factory, which is hundreds of times larger. That said, the metal wire in the film and that used in today’s factory are remarkably similar, even if the coils of wire used today are much larger and lifted into place by forklift trucks rather than on the crooked backs of lone workers.
Our story does not however begin with the man in the film. The common thread can be traced even further back in time and explains why, to this day, there are several manufacturers of wire-mesh products in the area around Värnamo and Gnosjö in the Swedish county of Småland. As early as the seventeenth century, when Sweden was a constantly warring imperial power, Småland was established as a county of forges, many of them producing weapons. The raw material was iron processed at nearby mills. For the peasants living in the sparse local settlements, the forges and wire-drawing mills were one way to increase their income. Lubricated with pork rind and using power from a waterwheel the wire was drawn through special drawing dies, making it thinner and thinner. By the end of the nineteenth century, some 150 wire-drawing mills had at some time been operating in the Gnosjö district.
Some of these are associated with their own special stories, not least Johannes Andersson’s wire-drawing mill. Having only just started his business, Johannes was conscripted to fight for Sweden against the Russians in the Finnish War of 1808-1809. Once there, however, he soon deserted. His uniform was found and it was thought that he had drowned. In actual fact, he was in hiding in a cabin in the forest in his home district, supplied with food and clothing by his parents. He spent his time developing his enterprise by excavating a mill pond and a kilometre-long canal to drive his waterwheel. Today, the remnants of his business, known as Svikarens koja [the Deserter’s Cabin] and Svikarens kanal [The Deserter’s Canal], are tourist attractions.
Despite deserting from the army and going into hiding, Andersson did perform one service for the district. Once the war was over, he “returned” to become a successful entrepreneur and in 1815, he was awarded a gold medal for his innovative hydro-powered wire-drawing mill. His story can be viewed as a typical example of the so-called Gnosjö spirit that still characterises the local business community: professionalism, diligence, thrift, humility, respect, collaboration and entrepreneurship or – according to others good KPIs, industriousness, mechanical ingenuity and self-sufficiency – combined with certain cultural attributes such as a local relatively high level of religiosity.
Another wire-drawing mill opened in the 1830s in the village of Målskog, just outside Gnosjö, in a building that has stood as a tourist attraction in Jönköping City Park since the early twentieth century. This mill largely manufactured woven wire products, the most popular of which was wire cloth for sifting flour. Other products manufactured locally included hooks and eyelets, needles and flyswatters. The work of producing these simple products often engaged the entire family, a tradition that has survived, as many companies in the Gnosjö region remain family businesses to this day – including Garantell, which was founded and is still owned by two brothers. Their father also started a still-active company in the same industry, while their sons also work at Garantell and thus follow the common thread.
Of course, today metal mesh is no longer manufactured to sieve flour or swat flies but in considerably larger dimensions for machine guards, fall protection, shelving and storage solutions.