Nääs Fabriker History
Nääs Fabriker’s early history is closely linked to the Berg family. With a fortune created during the Napoleonic War, Peter Wilhelm Berg started the first textile factory at Nääs. The family developed and operated the area for more than 130 years. This was during a time of world war and an industrial revolution that came to change society forever.
An enterprising entrepreneur
The history of Nääs Fabriker begins in 1773 – the year that founder Peter Wilhelm Berg was born in Helsingborg. Even as a child, it was clear that Peter Wilhelm was driven and had a business mindset. After becoming an orphan, Peter moved to Gothenburg, where he got a job as a business assistant. Eventually, he became an enterprising merchant and after helping the Danes during the Napoleonic War, Peter Wilhelm became a wealthy man. With his fortune in his luggage, he moved to Nääs Castle in 1842 with his family, a few miles outside the city, with the intention of retiring for good with his family.
But the calm countryside did not have the intended effect. Instead, he decided to start a spinning mill.
The working community Tollered is born
The spinning machine and the mechanical loom had just been invented and suddenly, it was possible to make cotton yarn, made from imported cotton. With great help from his son Johan Theodor Berg, he had the first factory facility built in 1833. Bricks made in his own brickwork at Nääs were largely used as building material. It was an unusual building material, as wood was more common at the time. His son, Johan Theodor, was very important for the construction and operation of the factory. He designed the buildings and traveled around Europe to study and buy various weaving and spinning machines. He drew some machines himself, and had them manufactured on site.
This is how the working community Tollered, where the workers at the factory were offered housing, began to take shape. Two thirds of the workers were women. Men were harder to find employment for, but there was school for the whole family, and free medical care. Despite this, it was a hard life. The adults worked from six in the morning until half past six in the evening, six days a week. And the children got to work in the factory from the age of twelve.
Manufacturing – trial and error
From the beginning, there were several different types of textile manufacturing at Nääs Fabriker. We were the first in Sweden to manufacture leather. Demand was growing, but due to uneven supply of leather, production was not profitable. For a short period, weaving and clothing production were also tested. Despite the fact that demand seems to have been high, production was discontinued after almost ten years in favor of the more profitable spinning business, which then became the main business.
The entrepeneur is replaced by a trustee
From the very beginning, Nääs Fabriker had been at the forefront when it came to technology. The lighting in the factory premises consisted of gas lanterns with gas from a small oil gas plant, which was probably one of the first of its kind in Sweden.
When Peter Wilhelm Berg died, his son Johan Theodor took over. He was the exact opposite of his father. Where the father was driven and creative, the son was more cautious and conservative and less positive to change and modernization.
The transport of machines, cotton bales and yarn between Gothenburg and Nääs Fabriker took place with the help of a horse, which was of course heavy and cumbersome. Despite this, Johan Theodor opposed the construction of a railway over Nääs’ property, with a station at the factory. Probably to ensure that the factory workers remained in Tollered and could not easily get out of there.
After a while, the consequences of Johan Theodor’s conservative attitude towards the factory and the business were felt. After Peter Wilhelm’s death, creativity stagnated, Johan Theodor opposed all changes and modernizations, and profitability steadily decreased.
Crisis in the cotton industry
In the 1860s, the biggest crisis to date occurred in the cotton industry. When Johan Theodor died in 1895, at the age of 87, his son Volrath Berg was appointed CEO. The new CEO immediately pushed through major changes to meet the crisis – the factory was modernized, older machines were replaced and extensive work was carried out to build a power station that supplied Nääs’ factories with electricity. Volrath was very popular with the workers. On the weekends, he used to walk around the community and step into the cabins (without knocking …) to visit his employees.
One of Volrath Berg’s big decisions was to build a new spinning mill. Mellersta Fabriken was completed in February 1898, but could not be fully utilized, due to the limited supply of hydropower. At the same time, the Old Lower Factory was also renovated. The spinning machines were removed and a dying works was set up. The demand for dyed yarn increased all the time.
To have control over the entire production process, Alingsås Bomullsväveri was bought in 1912 and the group was further expanded in 1927 through the purchase of Aktiebolaget Nordens Väveri in Borås. Finally, Nääs Fabriker could weave, bleach, print and refine textiles.
In 1933, the 100th anniversary is celebrated. World War I was over and optimism sprouted. The business and factories are growing, and new machines were purchased.
Books and interviews show that the Berg family was always very caring about the workers at Nääs Fabriker. Of course, it was in their interest that the workers remained in production and did not move from Tollered. Despite the poor working environment, with dust, a lot of noise and long working days, it seems that the workers enjoyed themselves. The salary was not very high, but instead, they had free housing, firewood, a potato field and a pig to raise every year. The factory arranged a shop where you could shop by book until you got paid. There was a hospital and elderly care, and when the primary school statutes on compulsory schooling came into force in 1842, Peter Wilhelm’s school had already existed for fifteen years.
The workers could use the building that is still called Österlyckan for activities, as a meeting room, cinema and dance hall. During the war, soup was served here to those who had many children or who were in a bad situation.
The Berg family leaves Nääs after 136 years
In 1942, Volrath Berg died and his son Gunnar continued to run the factory. Nääs Fabriker was the parent company of Alingsås Bomullsväveri and AB Nordens Textilfabrik in Borås. In 1956, the three companies merged into one and adopted the name Alingsås Bomullsväveri AB. Gunnar Berg decided to sell the company before his seventieth birthday and in 1961, all shares were transferred to Almedahls-Dalsjöfors AB and thus Nääs Fabriker transferred all buildings and land to new owners. At that time, the Berg family had owned Nääs and the surrounding area for 136 years and run Nääs Fabriker for 128 years.
Almedals continued to run the spinning mill and made some modernizations. At the back of Mellersta Fabriken, a two-storey extension was built, “Tillbygget” and new premises were set up for cotton mining, cleaning and carding. According to the workers, conditions changed when Almedals took over, interest in profits increased and rationalizations were introduced. The care of the workers now came second.
Textile crisis in Sweden
The textile industry was now heading for the worst crisis to date. In 1970, the cotton weaving mill in Alingsås was closed down, which meant that the spinning mill in Nääs Fabriker had to cut back and many jobs disappeared. In order to manage production, they became dependent on government subsidies. Nääs Fabriker was then one of the last three spinning mills in Sweden. When the support ceased in 1980, it was not possible to continue production and in 1981 the spinning machines at Nääs Fabriker fell silent for good. Only “Astravadden” was manufactured for another year until 1982.
Lerum Municipality as a new owner
The mill community Tollered was now about to suffer from the same crisis symptoms as the sparsely populated regions in northern Sweden. 100 jobs had disappeared, the population was aging, the store was threatening to close and the post office wanted to close down. Discussions began about what could be done here instead. From the very beginning, Lerum Municipality wanted to be involved and contribute to a good solution for Tollered. The municipality’s idea was to create a center for small businesses, crafts and education on the premises. On July 1, 1982, Lerum Municipality became the definitive owner of Nääs Fabriker with associated land. The premises in the factory grew and were shaped according to the building materials that were currently available and each premises was given a unique look.
Ernst Rosén takes over
In 1990, Nääs Fabriker was purchased by Ernst Rosén AB in Gothenburg. The development of the area continued and is still ongoing. With careful hands, Nääs Fabriker is constantly changing, and the emphasis is on maintaining the old charming, historic atmosphere while offering a developed modern technology, well-planned design and good service.
Today, there are offices, shops, hotels, restaurants, cafes and other activities. History has shown that constant development is necessary for the area to attract and be an inspiring environment. That is why Nääs Fabriker’s history is written every day – and you as a visitor are a part of it.
If you have read about Nääs Fabriker’s history, you have also read that constant development is necessary for the area to continue to attract. Therefore, we continue to develop Nääs Fabriker and exciting things are ahead of us.
The overall vision for Nääs Fabriker is that it should grow into one of Sweden’s most appreciated excursion destinations. The basis for our ideas is that in different ways, we want to create even more life and movement at Nääs Fabriker, attracting more people to the area through services, activities and experiences.