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Samuel Owen - Biography

Samuel Owen – Founding Engineer in Sweden – born in Norton in Hales

“The Founder of the Swedish Mechanical Industry”

Samuel Owen, who rose to considerable fame as an engineer in Sweden, was born in Norton in Hales on May 12th 1774.

His parents were George and Catherine Owen, who were married on 27th December 1751 at Stoke on Tern. Their first child born in Norton was William in 1768. When George and Catherine moved to Norton is not known and neither is it known whether other children were born elsewhere. Other children followed. The family appear to have lived at Norton Forge, which at about this time was producing wrought iron from iron and charcoal. A water wheel would have driven trip hammers and bellows, which were used to turn ‘blooms’ of cast iron and slag into wrought iron. This type of iron is strong and malleable and was in demand for newly emerging engineering purposes.

Samuel found his way to an engineering company in Leeds which made steam engines, the connection no doubt being made through supplies of wrought iron from Norton. He was married in England to Ann Spen Toft in 1796, had one son, but he was divorced in 1817, after which, in Stockholm, he married a Swedish girl, who died. They had no children, but he married again in 1822 to a Swedish girl, Johanna Magdalena Elisabeth Strindberg, (1797-1880), aunt of the Swedish playwright and author August Strindberg, with whom he had several children.  In total he had 17 children with his three wives.

His first trip to Sweden was in 1804 to assist with the installation of four steam engines.  After that installation work he went back to England but was asked once again in 1806 to come back to help in setting up another engine. 1807 he decided to stay in Sweden and in 1809 he opened his own workshop ‘Kungsholmens Mekaniska Verkstad’, situated at Kungsholmen in Stockholm. The oldest steam engine in Sweden was built by him and is preserved in the National Science Museum.  Samuel Owen was also engaged in the development of steam engine driven ships and was the first person in Sweden to build a ship with a steam engine. His first ship was called Amphitrite, built in 1818 at his shipyard close the work shop, had a steam engine with 6 hp.  In July 1816 he presented the first propeller driven steamship “The Witch of Stockholm”.

He became one of the most recognized engineers and industrialists in Sweden. In 1843 he faced severe financial problems. His company was sold in 1844 and he became almost bankrupt. The government then decided to give him a lifetime pension with the motivation that he had made many important contributions for the development of the Swedish industry. However he continued to work and was employed for some years at a company in Södertälje, but in 1853 he became sick and died in February 1854.

He was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1831.

Samuel Owen has been called “the founder of the Swedish mechanical industry”, and he, originally a boy from Norton Forge!

There were many Owens at Norton Forge for virtually 100 years and from 1803, at Laurel Cottage, until 1888.

Malcolm McDonald


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