In the early 1900s Linköping was still a city with a marked rural character. There were signs of its historic roots, with a cathedral and manor house for the county governor and a certain amount of trade, but there was almost no industry in the modern sense. The few larger businesses included a piano factory, ropeworks, tobacco factory and brewery.
Aktiebolaget Svenska Järnvägsverkstäderna, ASJ, was established in the Råberga area of Tannefors in Linköping in 1907. In 1930, the aircraft department ASJA became the foundation of Saab. Aerial view. Photo: Sandh Repro.
The industrial breakthrough came only with ASJ, Aktiebolaget Svenska Järnvägsverkstäderna, which was founded in the Råberga area of Tannefors in 1907. The fact that this factory ended up in Linköping was of crucial importance for the future of the city. Today Saab is still operating on the same traditional industrial site. Other industries associated with ASJ were also established in Råberga and Tannefors such as NAF, Nordisk Armaturfabrik.
ASJ specialised in railway carriages, but chose to make a bold and forward-looking investment in 1930: to start manufacturing aircraft. Engineers, designers and draughtsmen were growing professions. A few years later, in 1939, Saab was established on the ASJ site and a new era was ushered in.
The Swedish Air Force was rapidly expanding and Saab was its main supplier. People swarmed in through the factory gates every morning. Between 1940 and 1942 the company took on 1,500 employees and continued to hire a further 500 employees per year for several years after that.
The workforce was initially recruited from Linköping and the surrounding area. After the Second World War the shortage of labour was so acute that the company was crying out for staff. Many engineers came from all parts of the country to Linköping. The company also recruited from abroad, especially from the districts around Turin in northern Italy, where many industrial workshops were based.
A town within a town
Saab soon came to make its mark on the urban landscape of Linköping. Tannefors became a town within a town. A modern community grew up. There were schools, libraries, cafés, sports grounds, petrol stations, hairdressers and a number of different businesses such as grocery stores, dairies, fishmongers and delicatessens.
By 1970, Saab-Scania as it was then known had grown into a large group with around 30,000 employees distributed across 25 sites. Nearly a third were based in Linköping, with approximately 8,000 of the company’s employees working there. The importance of Saab to Linköping is illustrated by the fact that one in five of the city’s inhabitants gained their livelihood from Saab.
Saab's facilities in Linköping almost became "a city within the city". Photo: Rolf Wall.
For many of the city’s inhabitants Saab permeated their life from morning to night. The company was a meeting place even during their leisure time. Great importance was attached to education and training – not only in the apprenticeship school – but there were courses in all kinds of subjects. The Saab employee could take courses in everything from aviation technology through languages to philosophy. There was also plenty of room for culture. There were variety shows and film shows, choral and musical evenings and the nationally acclaimed Swedish Association for Art arranged art exhibitions.
An important role for sport
Sport often played a special role in providing a sense of cohesion and also sparked interest at the national level. In 1941 IF Saab was created by a group of young people who worked at the company. The association had sections for bandy, boxing, table tennis, football, athletics, gymnastics, handball, orienteering, cycling, skiing, tennis and ‘varpa’, a game that is similar to boules but in which flat stones are used instead of balls. Major successes at the elite level were achieved mainly in handball, football and table tennis. Saab were crowned men’s Swedish handball champions three times: in 1968, 1973 and 1974.
The football team also achieved excellent results. In 1958, Saab’s CEO, Tryggve Holm, declared that the team was the ‘company’s ambassador throughout the country and had developed into a unifying factor for all categories of employees, a link in the chain we call team spirit. It strengthens us in our work.’
The team were promoted to the Swedish Allsvenskan in 1973 and remained in the top league for one season. In 1981 the team merged with BK Derby to form Linköpings FF.
The road to a university
Saab also made an important contribution to higher education and to the creation of Linköping University. The dream of obtaining a higher educational institution in the city goes back a long way. There were proposals to set up a university in Linköping as far back as the 1600s. In 1843, the training college for primary school teachers was founded, which inspired the idea of a special educational institution for the humanities in the 1920s. In the 1950s, these idea were dusted down with proposals for a teacher training college, industrial college and medical college.
In 1956, a collaboration began between Samuel Bergbäck and the Saab director Lars Brising, who set up a special delegation to pursue the matter of an industrial college based in Linköping.
The results came in stages. In 1963, the Riksdag decided to offer a Masters course in technology and in 1965 to transfer some technology and medical course programmes to Linköping. In the same year it was decided to set up a branch of Stockholm University in Linköping, offering education in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. This formed the basis of a Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In 1969, a university college was set up with units for medical training and the institute of technology and the following year the three units were brought together within Linköping University College.
In 1975, the young university college gained university status. In the same year Linköping University was the first to offer a civil engineering course in data technology with a natural link to the significant technical expertise that Saab had built up since the 1950s through Datasaab.
Over subsequent decades the university and Saab have had a close and fruitful collaboration. A large part of Saab’s funding for research and development is invested in Linköping and the university also benefits from this. Many of the university’s students do their degree projects at Saab. The company offers apprenticeships and also has several industrial doctoral students studying at Linköping University.
This close collaboration was underlined at a ceremony in 2014 when the Linköping University Vice-Chancellor Helen Dannetun and Saab CEO Håkan Buskhe signed a strategic partnership agreement for a collaboration intended to produce further positive results in the future.
Today there are more than 150,000 inhabitants in Linköping Municipality. Saab is still the largest private employer with just over 4,000 employees. But this does not paint the full picture of the importance of aviation to the city. According to a survey of the city’s commercial companies, the aviation cluster in the city employs around 15,000 people or around ten per cent of the municipality’s inhabitants.