Kockum – the family behind the shipyard

    Members of the Kockum family made their mark on industry and commerce in southern Sweden over several hundred years, and Kockums was still in essence a family firm up to the 1970s. The family may have originally come from the Netherlands.

    The name Kockum does not sound Swedish and may have been Dutch. Their ancestor is considered to be the tanner Ditmer Hemmingsen from Vä in Skåne, southern Sweden. His eldest son, the merchant Henrik Ditmersson (died 1677), took the name Kockom – probably from a relative on his mother’s side.

    Members of the Kockum family worked their way up from tanners and chamois leather dealers to become burghers, district court judges, landowners and even members of the Russian nobility. The aristocratic branch of the family is descended from a coppersmith, who settled in Jelgava in what is now Latvia. His son became an imperial page and count with the name of Plazbec-Kockum.

    Farm in Rosengård

    Most of the family was based around the Malmö area. One branch of the family came to focus on agriculture and estate management, on the Bulltofta farm among others. In 1848 Peter Kockum bought the Rosengård estate in Västra Skrävlinge, which after him was owned by one of his daughters until her death in 1959. The Rosengård district was then built on the grounds.

    Another branch of the family, known as the younger Malmö branch, was active in industry. Lorens Kockum (1773-1825) married Anna Sofia Suell, the daughter of Frans Suell and his wife Anna Catharina Trolle. Suell was a leading Malmö businessman in the early 1800s and a driving force in the expansion of the port of Malmö. Thus it can be said that the conditions for the creation of the future shipyard were already in place in Suell’s time.

    Lorens Kockum took over his father-in-law’s large business, but there were big financial holes in it. His death in 1825 marked the collapse of the business, the first such failure in the family’s history.

    But Lorens’ son, Frans Henrik Kockum the Elder (1802-1875), had sufficient drive to save the Suell tobacco factory and its trading operations and obtained financial support from his grandfather and uncles. Frans Henrik had the goal of building a business empire.

    Frans-Henrik Kockums

    Workshop in idyllic countryside

    In 1838 he bought the Holmen estate in a southern suburb of Malmö and built a summer residence there. In 1840 he built a foundry, forge, filing workshop and prefabricated timber-framed houses on the fringes of the area (which now roughly corresponds to the area around the square at Davidshallstorg). This marked the beginnings of Kockums Mekaniska Verkstad, which was then still sited in ‘rural seclusion’.

    Production was geared to agricultural tools, household utensils and hardware. The tobacco factory was the financial anchor point of the business. Spurred on by success and by the new opportunities which industrialisation brought with it, Kockum had ideas for a number of new industries: Örmo ironworks in Småland (later Konga AB), Kallinge works with a rolling mill and nail factory, Ronneby works for tinplating household vessels (including those used for home distilling!) and Wirums copper works in eastern Småland.

    Sugar was one of the fashionable products of the time. Kockum had an eye to the potential for growing sugar beet, having planted sugar beet at Holmen, his summer home. This led to the creation of Skånska Sockerfabriksaktiebolaget, in which Kockum became an enterprising chairman of the board of directors. He was also a pioneer in the cement industry. He had taken over a small brickworks in Lomma from his father, and this became the start of Skånska Cement AB, which was formed in 1871 with Kockum as joint owner.

    Swings and roundabouts

    Frank Henrik Kockum rarely seems to have paused to rest. This brought with it commitments abroad as well, such as tobacco, soap and stout brewing factories in Turku, a mechanical workshop in Hungary and the Klingenberg out-of-town restaurant in Oslo. Next to his summer home at Holmen Kockum set up some popular entertainment facilities including an amusement park with swings and roundabouts. The roundabouts were, of course, made by Kockums. Perhaps he lived by the motto: ‘what he lost on the swings he gained on the roundabouts.’

    He introduced gas lighting to Malmö in 1852 and was involved in setting up the following companies: a cotton mill (Malmö Manufakturaktiebolag), a shipping business (Malmö Ångbåtsbolag), a steam mill (Ångkvarnen), a bonemeal company (Benmjölsbolaget), the Phoenix match company (tändsticksfabriken) and a porcelain company (Malmö Porslinsfabrik). Kockum was also keenly alive to the need to train young people who were interested in a career in engineering. At his initiative the first technical secondary school in Malmö opened in the early 1850s.

    Kockum did not seem to have refined his ideas and by no means all of them had a happy ending. The California Gold Rush of 1848-1849 prompted Kockum to send his cousin Frans Suell out there with the aim of selling various attractive goods to the gold miners. But the expedition was a failure due to illness, customs duties and fire. The stocks which escaped the flames had to be sold at a loss.

    Another business fiasco was the investment in an ore field in Gällivare, northern Sweden. There was still no method of extracting the phosphorous ore and there was also an export ban. To cap it all communications through the wilds were difficult. Kockum lost around 30,000 Swedish Riksdaler. He managed to avoid bankruptcy by selling his inn ‘Stadt Hamburg’ in Malmö among other things.

    The shipyard – the most important investment The founding of the shipyard in the Western Harbour was one of Kockum’s last – and perhaps most important – investments. He passed away on 12 February 1875 and Malmö went into mourning. His widow, Jeanna Beijer, died only a few days later, and the couple were taken to their final resting place together. The whole city came out to say goodbye.

    In the commemorative address, surprise was expressed over Kockum’s irrepressible energy, intuition and inventiveness. He had been a pioneer in many fields and laid the foundations of a family empire.

    Kockum had eleven children and three of his sons were involved in his businesses. However, Gottfrid died the same year as his father. Lorens Kockum was the managing director of the tobacco factory and chaired the boards of several of the Kockum companies.

    His youngest son, Frans Henrik Kockum the Younger (1840-1910), was a unifying figure after his father’s death. He was the managing director of the ironworks and Matssons brewery and took on the role of chairman in the workshop. He and his wife Louise, (née von Platen), had created an impressive home that was long a focal point of social life in Malmö high society.

    The third Frans Henrik

    The third generation also took on an important role in the development of the company through another member of the family with the same name, Frans Henrik Kockum (1878-1941). He was the son of Lorens Kockum and Augusta Hecker. After technical training in Darmstadt and a work placement in the USA, Frans Henrik started work at Kockums mechanical workshop in 1904. In 1912 he was appointed chief cashier and from 1919 he became a managing director alongside Georg Ahlrot. In the period from 1936 to 1940 he was the sole managing director.

    It was Frans Henrik Kockum who implemented many of the biggest and most expensive changes, which made Kockums into one of the world’s leading shipyards operating to high technical standards and with much more streamlined operations. Kockums was the first company in Sweden to introduce bookkeeping using punched card machines. During his years on the board of directors Kockum’s manufacturing value increased from around SEK 6 million to SEK 25 million. The workforce increased from around 1,100 to 2,500 employees.

    The next generation, the fourth, was also active with several members in important positions in what still had all the characteristics of a family empire well into the 1970s.