Portuguese sailors were the first to call porcelain porcelain, in the 16th century. Portugal ruled the seven seas and China was an important port of call. Precious goods like spices, silk and chinese porcelain was picked up. That the chinese porcelain was made of fired clay, just like the thick, brittle plates known from back home, must have been hard for the sailors to imagine. This was something completely different, hard and shimmering. They called it porzelana, mother of pearl.
It wasn’t until the early 18th century that the europeans figured out how to make porcelain. More than a thousand years after the Chinese did. It happened in Germany and from there adventurers travelled the world to make porcelain. One of those adventurers travelled north, to Sweden -Johan Wolff. He could really only make faience, a porous tinglazed earthenware, but was still well-received. In 1726 an ”Associations contract between all concerned in the Swedish Porcelain works, which will be established at great Rörstrand in the Delft manner” was signed. Rörstrand was founded. At the start Rörstrand did badly. More than 20 million Chinese porcelain objects were imported to Sweden in the 18th century. But if the start was difficult, it got better in the future.
1726. The Swedish Porcelain works is founded by the Porcelain Society and trial firing takes place. Johann Wolff, who claims to be an ”arkanist”, someone who knows the secrets of porcelain and the maling of porcelain, is commissioned to produce Swedish porcelain in the Porcelain Society’s name. He was never to make porcelain, only faience.
1741. Anders Fahlström becomes Rörstrand’s first Swedish supervisor. Previously the suporvisors had been German or Dutch. In the 1740s typically Swedish decoration is designed for the faience, the Northern Star pattern and the Rehn pattern for example. Christian Precht and Jean Eric Rehn are mentioned as the pattern designers. Because the factory is the only one of its kind in Sweden, all products are marked ”Stockholm”.
1758. The Marieberg porcelain factory is built. Rörstrand gets some competition and starts to mark all goods ”Rörstrand”. Marieberg is not a long-lived company, it was bought by Rörstrand and closed down in 1788.
1770. An english innovation, flintware, is introduced at Rörstrand. Flintware is not faience and not porcelain, but rather something in between the two. Quality was no good at the start. Well into the 1790s customers complained of discolouration and of strange crackling noises from bowls ”when soup was poured into them, even though the soup was not hot” (Anne-Marie Herlitz-Gezelius, Rörstrand). Printed patterns are used to decorate the goods.
1807. The first steam engine is bought, replacing the work of twelve horses. This revolutionized work at the factory.
1824. The first industrial exhibition in Stockholm takes place. Rörstrand takes part as an exhibitor. Several study tours are made to ”The Potteries” in England to study their technique, and a new decoration method using copperplates is introduced at Rörstrand. New service models and patterns are created at a rapid rate.
1855. Gustav Holdo Stråle takes over the running of the factory and Robert Almström becomes supervisor. The factory is extended, more study trips are made abroad and production is renewed with among other things tile stoves (in 1871 Erik Hugo Tryggelin is employed and he was to be a noted designer of tile stoves). Rörstrand becomes a ceramic large-scale industry.
1857. Finally Rörstrand is producing porcelain, bone china to start with. Up to 50 % of the bulk consists of bone ash and this ingredient makes the porcelain translucent; a criteria that the Swedish had been trying to meet since Chinese porcelain crossed the borders galore on the East India Company ships in the early 18th century.
1874. Rörstrand establishes Arabia outside Helsinki to be able to reach the huge Russian market, and a few years on feldspar porcelain production commences.
1884. Rörstrand introduces the crown stamp and copyrights it. The crown stamp consists of the name Rörstrand in italics surrounded by the three crowns from the minor coat national coat of arms. The three crowns had previously been used by Marieberg, another ceramics factory that Rörstrand bought in 1782.
1895. Rörstrand is starting to really attract artists and designers. Alf Wallander, Rörstrand’s noted Art Noveau/Jugend designer, is hired to make artware for the great art and industrial exhibition in Stockholm in 1897.
1897. The great art and industrial exhibition takes place in Stockholm. Rörstrand receives a gold medal for the collection, consisting of not just pieces by Alf Wallander, but from many artists, among them Anna Boberg, who exhibits a peacock vase to much acclaim.
1900. Rörstrand exhibits at the Paris world fair. This is generally counted as Rörstrand’s international breakthrough. The new Art Noveau/Jugend-inspired artware is very successful and Rörstrand receives an honorary diploma.
1911. The old baroque castle in Stockholm has at this point become too little for the factory operation. It is necessary to move the production, but should a new factory be built outside Stockholm or should the production be moved elsewhere?
1914. Rörstrand buys the Gothenburg porcelain factory on the island Hisingen in Gothenburg. This factory had started to make porcelain in 1898, run by the factory director Simon Swartz.
1916. Rörstrand sells the subsidiary company Arabia to some Finnish business people. At the same time artist Louise Adelborg starts working for Rörstrand. In due time she was called “Rörstrand’s grand old lady” and she kept designing for the company for the rest of her life, until 1971. Her trademark was the ear of corn relief pattern seen in her dinner service classic NS (Nationalservisen/National service), which is still being produced today, from the year 2000 it is called Swedish grace.
1917. The House and Home exhibition at Liljevalch’s in Stockholm takes place and Rörstrand takes part, fronted by Louise Adelborg.
1922. Rörstrand starts collaborating with ALP (Lidköping’s porcelain factory). ALP was founded in 1912 out of Nyman’s porcelain painting (established in Lidköping in 1898). ALP was at this time a state of the art feldspar porcelain factory.
1926. The process of moving the factory is started. The real estate in central Stockholm is sold and the works is moved to the new location in Gothenburg.
1929. The Ifö works and Arabia, who bought ALP Lidköping porcelain factory in 1923, buys Rörstrand. In 1931 Rörstrand and ALP become independent. The ALP brand exists until the early 1940s.
1932. A new chief executive, Fredrik Wehtje, is very important to Rörstrand’s development. He realized the importance of employing good artists and designers. Gunnar Nylund was one of the designers who started working at Rörstrand in the early 1930s, employed by Wehtje, and he was to be followed by many famous artists. Wehtje remained chief executive until 1963. In 1932 the classic dinner service Ostindia (the East Indies) was introduced to tie in with the celebrations of the bicentenary of the founding of the Swedish East India company.
1934-1936. A modern flintware factory wass built in Lidköping, and this is followed by the entire company moving to Lidköping 1936-1939. In Lidköping large central areas were made available for the factory’s future expansion.
1939. The designer Carl-Harry Stålhane starts his career working for Rörstrand. Among other things, he assisted the artist Isaac Grünewald and studied in Paris before becoming famous in his own right for his stoneware, glaze experiments and dinner services. Stålhane worked at Rörstrand until 1973 when he broke loose and established a ceramic business outside Lidköping, Designhuset, that eventually developed into ceramic education for ceramicists and modellers.
1941. Hertha Bengtson is employed as designer and artist. She had previously worked as a surface pattern designer at Hackefors porcelain factory before she, at age 24, got her position at Rörstrand. She was excellent at creating objects and services for “a more beautiful everyday life” in the 1950s. Hertha Bengtson made two of the services still counted as Rörstrand classics today, Blå Eld and Koka Blå. Hertha also designed artware and she stayed at Rörstrand until 1964, when a design career at Höganäs and later on, in Germany, commenced.
1943. Lidköping’s porcelain factory, ALP, is closed down for good.
1943-1946. One of Sweden’s best artists, Isaac Grünewald, visits Rörstrand and inspires everyone at the art department. He made colourful surface patterns on faience pieces designed by Gunnar Nylund. This fruitful collaboration was abruptly ended when Grünewald died in an airplane accident at Fornebu airport in Oslo 1946.
1949. Artist Sylvia Leuchovius is hired. She had her mind set on becoming a painter, but after a successful final show at Slöjdföreningens skola (school of the national craft organization) in Gothenburg she got an offer she couldn’t refuse from Rörstrand. She needed to make a living. She has mainly become famous for her exquisite artware, described as “poetry in clay and colour” (Anne-Marie Herlitz-Gezelius, Rörstrand). She also made the surface pattern for the jubilee service 1976, named Sylvia. Sylvia Leuchovius remained at Rörstrand until 1971.
1950. Marianne Westman is offered employment at Rörstrand, something she accepts hesitantly. Early on she started sketching the service that was to become her greatest success, Mon Amie. She worked in artistic freedom at Rörstrand and introduced many best-selling services, among others Picknick, Frisco, Pomona and My Garden. It is said that her production at Rörstrand generated 45 % of the company’s turnover. In 1971 the fairytale ended as Marianne and 260 other employees were let go.
1952-1953. A new feldspar factory is built. The 1950s are counted as Rörstrand’s very best decade. 1500 employees worked at the factory, 10% of the inhabitants of the municipality of Lidköping. More artists and designers were employed and the Rörstrand stamp was altered to say “Rörstrand, Sweden” instead of “Rörstrand, Sverige” to cater to its growing number of international customers.
1954-1958. Rörstrand is visited by one of Arabia’s great artists, Birger Kaipiainen. He mainly makes imaginative artware with Eastern/Russian-inspired decoration. The time he spent at Rörstrand is said to have been the best of his life.
1959. Designer Inger Persson arrives at Rörstrand. She was discovered by Fredrik Wehtje at Konstfack (the Swedish applied and fine arts university) and designed everyday use objects as well as artware. Her teapot Pop, in shiny happy colours, was a great success. Inger Persson was one of a number of artists who were let go in the early 1970s, but she was later offered a position at Rörstrand yet again. Her second stint at the factory was 1981-1996.
1964. The Uppsala-Ekeby group of companies buys Rörstrand. They wanted to make the production more effective by getting new machinery that didn’t take as many staff to operate. Many employees were let go and the assortment of products wnt from 10000 articles down to 2000.
1970-1971. A sad time for Rörstrand; 200 employees are let go to improve profitability. The knowledge of those artists, designers, craftsmen and other factory workers is gone. Many see the 1970s as a lost chapter of Rörstrand’s history.
1974. Irish artist Jackie Lynd is employed, as is Bertil Lundgren. Jackie Lynd had worked in the English ceramics industry and was fascinated by Swedish nature and the plentiful small red cottages; this was reflected in her designwork.
1975. Arabia buys the Uppsala-Ekeby group of companies, consisting of Uppsala-Ekeby, Rörstrand, Gävle and Egersund.
1976. To tie in with celebrating 250 years of production, Rörstrand builds a large exhibition in Läckö castle, where 2700 objects from the company’s production are showcased. Rörstrand Museum is initiated. One of the Rörstrand designers, Bertil Lundgren, becomes the first museum manager. Today the museum disposes a collection of about 15000 objects from the company’s production.
1978. The Wärtsilä group of companies buys Rörstrand.
Following some meagre years in the 1970s, the company is now hiring artists again. Inger Persson comes back to work at Rörstrand and is joined by among others Kerstin Hörnlund, Gösta Grähs and Suzanne Öhlén.
1985. Hackefors porcelain factory, originating from Linköping in 1929, is incorporated into the group of companies.
1989. The industrial group of companies Hackman buy’s Wärtsilä’s porcelain production, consisting of among others Rörstrand, Arabia and Gustavsberg. Business continues in the name Hackman-Rörstrand.
1991. The Nobel service is initiated at the Nobel jubilee. The designer, Karin Björqvist, had previously worked at the Gustavsberg porcelain factory, near Stockholm.
1994. The Gustavsberg porcelain factory is incorporated into the group of companies.
1994. Designer Pia Törnell is hired for a project. She makes one award-winning product after the other, with names like Sinus, Plateau, Cirrus and Arcus. Function and form in harmony is a guiding principle, and in 2002 the stackable service Convito with Japan-inspired design is introduced.
Artists working on a free-lance basis, and often in other materials than ceramics, are tied to Rörstrand. The well-known furniture designer Jonas Bohlin makes two services, Corona and Qvint, and fashion designer Filippa K makes coffee mugs with textile patterns.
2003-2004. Rörstrand is bought by Iittala Inc.
2004. On the 8th of December the decision is made to close down Rörstrand’s factory in Lidköping. All production is to be moved to Hungary and Sri Lanka. About 150 employees are let go. On the very same day a large private donation arrives at Rörstrand Museum, consisting of 60 showpieces from the period 1860-1920, the Hansson donation.
2005. In the autumn Västergötland’s Museum and Rörstrand Museum makes documentation of the factory, which is coming to a standstill. On the 22nd of December at 01.30 the last standing, 80 metre long kiln, is closed down for good. The Rörstrand Museum remains in Lidköping.
2007. Fiskars Inc, an international group of companies, buys Iittala group, including Rörstrand.
2008. The new Rörstrand Museum opens.
2016. The Rörstrand brand turns 290 years.