Sweden, Sloyd and Entrepreneurial Power

This draft tries to explain how Sloyd was explained as a major innovation, how it was codified and enabled to cross borders, how it operated an international training centre, and how it was exported.

In addition, it starts the process of seeing how Sloyd was received in different places and the problems of its reception.

The international and local perceptions of Sloyd as a form of modern Swedish educational export, derived from the international exhibitions, innovation centre and publications, is discussed.


Sloyd in Sweden started, according to the Life of Otto Salomon [Salomon 1892a], as a movement for training in home industries and crafts. It had no direct educational significance and might vary from area to area, depending upon the purposes of their private sponsors. Salomon’s version of sloyd, on his uncle’s estate at Naas, near Gothenburg, included modern school subjects and a particular focus for boys on wood-sloyd, and for girls, on weaving and cookery. As his school turned towards producing sloyd teachers from class teachers, the widening of the curriculum necessitated an agreement with the folk high schools. This shift from a vocational to an educational purpose led to the growth of vacation courses for teachers, and further, permanent short courses. Over the course of ten years, the Naas school grew from a local vocational course of useful crafts into an educational movement, focusing on wood, and more and more attractive to teachers from abroad [1]. It is this last factor on which this note is concentrated and the question of how the ideas and practices of Sloyd travelled out of Sweden and what happened to them when they travelled.

Although located in a place, the school at Naas, Salomon’s ideas on sloyd were expressed in several ways which were intended to allow it to influence wide audiences, first in Sweden and then in Europe, and through the medium of English. Salomon was a ‘great traveller and communicator’ [Salomon 1892a p x]. He offered an account of an entirely new system of education, which, although graded and closely observed, was about values and the education of the person. His keywords were respect, independence, self-reliance, attention, a sense of form etc. These terms were used as chapter headings but then followed detailed ways in which they could be achieved. This made the works of Salomon stand out from the educational literature of the time, which concentrated on values at the expense of practical pedagogy. For the elementary teacher, often faced with very large classes and few resources, this was essential.

Salomon was a great publicist for Swedish or Naas sloyd. His lectures were written to engage with varied audiences – school teachers in different countries, the experienced Froebelian and kindergarten teacher, those who persisted with direct instruction, and systems which had been built out of ad hoc elements. His first book, Handicraft School and Elementary School, was ‘sent to a large number of supporters of handicraft teaching throughout the Nordic countries’[2] His notes on handwork books and articles appeared in his monthly newsletter [the teacher’s sheet]. His texts in newspapers and from lectures were translated into English, and sometimes into German, French, Spanish, and Russian among others. In turn, his supporters wrote their own books about Sloyd [according to Thorbjörnsson, over a hundred were produced] across Europe and South America, and hundreds of articles in magazines and newspapers as well.

Naas was also a physical meeting place for ‘leading teachers of all degrees and nationalities, for common work, and for the interchange of ideas. Professors, inspectors, secondary and elementary teachers – these meet on common ground as brethren.’ [Salomon 1892a p xi]. Every summer at Nääs, Salomon lectured in English and German to the many foreign attendees.

At the time, World Exhibitions were a major means of showing modern innovations produced nationally to a world audience. Abrahamson, his uncle, sent models, plans, tools and information about Naas to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia but failed to make a big impression, unlike the full scale model of a Swedish Schoolhouse., which was very influential. Determinedly, they aimed to make a stronger impression at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1878 and Abrahamson sent a description of Nääs sloyd schools to several Swedish ambassadors in Europe and an invitation to their country’s delegate to the Nääs stand in Paris.[3] By the time of the 1900 Paris Exhibition, Hjalmar Berg, the Stockholm craft inspector [and later Director of the Swedish School Museum] and the organizer of the Swedish school exhibits in Paris
”Even during a brief stroll through the various departments, one received a strong impression of the great influence that Nääs has had on handicraft schooling. One clearly saw how even in the most diverse countries, Swedish educational sloyd has served as a paragon./…/ Sweden’s influence is most apparent in the exhibitions from Russia and Austria-Hungary, as well as from some English schools and the famous American-Swede Gustaf Larsson’s Sloyd institute in Boston. Close ties with Swedish educational sloyd could be witnessed in the Finnish and Norwegian exhibitions.” (SLUB 1901:6)[4]

Salomon often travelled beyond Sweden to discuss his ideas with leading thinkers and practitioners in Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, Austria, England and France [5]. At the same time he was building a network of sloyd converts, who treated Naas, his work and his methods as the centre of their work, and their mission. Soon it was not a question of where Salomon went or where his ideas were published or re-published in translation but what his major ‘disciples’ were writing and doing. Sluys in Belgium gave a series of lectures around the country and a report for the Belgian government, which was influential in England, France and the US. If they had attended Naas courses, there was a good chance that they would become Sloyd champions, and Thorbjörnsson mentions a range of principals and inspectors across the world in this role, sometimes working across a sequence of countries. Salomon appears to have been able to place his teachers, by request, into key positions in national systems of education, especially In South America.

One of the most effective champions was Gustaf Larsson who founded the Boston Sloyd School and in the next twenty years trained about 400 teachers. In 1888 he travelled to Boston, and with the support of the philanthropist Mrs Quincy Shaw, he started a handicraft school for children and a college, Boston Sloyd Training School, where for over twenty years he trained around 400 teachers, who then went on to teach in the Americas, and he and some students exhibited at the great World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago.


When sloyd travelled, and despite Salomon’s strict injunctions on what to do and why, national and local variations of sloyd were produced. However, this natural process of change and variation, would be viewed as deviations in Naas. The Danes created two rival variations and were described by Salomon as heretics [Whittaker p 90]. Goetze in Leipzig using the practices of sloyd nevertheless disagreed with the order of the work, and started his osn school, which attracted British teachers [Whittaker p 93]. A Russian variant, focused on vocationalism, was exhibited at the major Exhibitions [Vienna, Philadelphia and Paris]. In several European countries, visits to Naas were followed by local proselytising by Sloyd disciples and the creation of national associations and journals, and sometimes by new educational ordinances and the provision of grants for sloyd adoption in schools. These new variants from the Salomon model influenced each other, the Russians on the US, and the German on the British etc. and by publication and through popular newspapers and teacher journals, the different ways of doing handwork engaged with each other.

The influence of an idea or practice across borders on depends on the practice itself, and also on the perceived need or problem in the host country. Using some guides to the English elementary school curriculum, we can see the problem and the opportunity clearly. There was a tension around handwork, handicraft or manual skills, as the English 1862 Revised Code focused on key subjects, that is, reading, writing and arithmetic. Central government payments to the school depended upon tested progress in these subjects. One tension about this curriculum at the time lay in the idea of a useful education for the pupils, which was presumed to mean skills useful for manual employment, an absence from the 3Rs curriculum. It was argued that the influence of Froebel on the new kindergartens which were starting meant that the idea of activity was gaining ground in education. Also, experiments were being made in some cities, the First Report of the Royal Commission on Technical Education appeared [1882], and new grants became available, from 1884, in tool proficiency in working with wood and iron. The pressure in England to engage with Sloyd came from the vocational and employer sectors, the Department of Education was untouched by arguments about a wider curriculum, and even more by additional demands for money.

Robertson, who had major responsibilities [in agriculture] for the Dominion of Canada, reported back to the Ottawa School Board

“During the summer I had an opportunity to visit some of the primary schools in London in company with the School Board’s organizer of manual instruction. Manual training in the primary schools was begun in London about 1886. As woodwork was not then recognized by the English Education Department as a subject to be taught in Elementary Schools the School Board was unable to use public monies to maintain it. Next year a grant of one thousand pounds was obtained from the Drapers’ Company through the City and Guilds’ Institute. A Joint Committee was formed whereby the funds were administered. The manual training was found so thoroughly useful and acceptable that it was speedily extended. In 1890 woodwork was recognized by the Education Department as a school subject. The School Board was thus enabled to expend its own funds upon this branch of school work, and in the same year money was provided by Parliament for grants for it from the Imperial Exchequer, Now there are about 150 manual training centres; and as nearly as I could learn, about 50,000 boys between the ages of nine and fourteen are receiving courses of instruction in wood-work, iron-work, brass-work or leather-work in the Public Board Schools of London”.[Robertson p 13,][6]

Similarly to Sweden, the Sloyd movement benefited from gifts from private individuals in its early days

“In England and Scotland, gifts of money by private individuals and guilds enabled educational reformers to give the system a fair trial at many centres. During the decade now closing it has been taken up and extended by School Boards with the co-operation and financial support of the Department of Education”.[Robertson p25]

Sir Michael Sadler, an important observer of innovations in Europe, was conscious of the fact that it was the education professionals who were involving themselves in this Swedish innovation in education.

Naas is a good Sloyd school, and much besides. It is the meeting place of leading teachers of all degrees and all nationalities, for common work, and for the interchange of ideas. Professors, inspectors, secondary and elementary teachers, women as well as men, there meet on common ground as comrades. It fulfills, more than any other institution that could easily be named, the ideal we are aiming at in England in the Teachers’ Guild [p24 quoting Sadler][Memorandum date nk]

In his history, Birchenough stated that ‘In 1891, 145 schools were giving instruction in manual work, in 1899, there were 1587 schools, and in 1910, 4261 schools [Birchenough p315]. This rate of growth continued into the late 1930s. it would seem that sloyd appeared to be a solution to how the schools and teachers could develop the elementary school curriculum. The ideas of sloyd were related to Froebelianism but it was hampered by its own limited practices, the emphasis on hand and eye training, and the context of manual training. Manual training was usually undertaken by craftsmen in special manual instruction centres, and often viewed as a technical subject. Yet the Board of Education’s 1897 definition saw it, in the sloyd way, as a ’disciplinary exercise destined to train hand and eye to accuracy and to due appreciation of form’ [Prideaux p151].

The shortage of handwork teachers meant that the English Board of Examinations for this subject began, in 1898, to standardize the examinations and began to issue certificates for different aspects of handwork viz kindergarten work, clay modelling, cardboard work, school gardening etc [Prideaux p153]. The new Sloyd converts were often closely connected to the Froebel Society and sometimes slipped between education and technical training arguments, and even national achievements. The Froebel kindergarten was seen as an institution for manual training and training in the use of tools. Salomon was viewed as building his Sloyd ideas upon Froebel thinking. Froebel and Sloyd became caught up in England with the threat of industrial competition, modernization and national survival. Hand and eye training was associated with the new education, and in turn with a new skilled working class [Brehony passim].

Writing in the late 1930s, in his history of elementary education, Birchenough was sceptical about Sloyd and its effects, even though it combatted the un-practical character of schools. Although recognizing the Sloyd goals of dexterity, accuracy, ideas of form, and self reliance, he criticized for its creation of an artificial idea of manual work, abundance of faith in hand-eye, and obsession with technique. Most of all, he argued against its lack of pupil goals and failure to meet their desire or need for practical purpose. More forcefully, he argued that

‘a standard of manual instruction was implanted on the country which seriously hampered progress’ [Birchenough p314]

His description of manual instruction classes where a class did the same work at the same time and worked through a graded set of models and used tools in the right sequence, and without freedom and initiative, and led by a craftsman [and not teacher, the Sloyd rule] implies that in the need to provide practical handwork teaching in the elementary school, a number of differing tendencies were at work. The Sloyd movement contributed to, and was implicated in, the critical failures of the time. Failures could be caused by

“because woodwork contrasted with the country’s own handicraft traditions, because obtaining handicraft benches was costly, because material was expensive or because politicians had different ideas about schooling.”[Thorbjörnsson, p26]

Sloyd was used to change the English education system, to widen it from deskwork into manual handwork, and brought together several arguments about the elementary education system and the working class. Its high period seems to have been 1880-1910. Even when its surge was over, it had served to widen the curriculum and opened it to woodwork.

Salomon was at the very centre of a network which promoted Sloyd and without him, this very Swedish subject would have probably remained very local, or at least only shared between Sweden and Finland. Otto Salomon was very influential in the spread of the ideas and practices of educational sloyd over the world. Salomon corresponded intensively with his representatives/students in other countries. Letters were sent in both directions five or six times a year. He continuously encouraged them to summarize their experiences and problems, and to describe the teaching system in that country, etc. [Thorbjörnsson,p17]

The linking of pedagogical innovation and modern school subjects with Sweden was not the result of direct Swedish state invention or policy but of private entrepreneurs and enthusiasts who devised a programme, trained students and sold texts. Yet the home of the innovation was situated in Sweden, at Naas, and Sweden benefited by association.


Birchenough, C[1938 3rd Ed] History of Elementary Education in England and Wales London: University Tutorial Press

Brehony, KJ (1998) ‘Even far distant Japan’ is ‘showing an interest’: the English Froebel movement’s turn to Sloyd, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 27:3, 279-295,

Eyestone, JE The Influence of Swedish Sloyd and Its Interpreters on American Art Education Studies in Art Education, Vol. 34, No. 1 (Autumn, 1992), pp. 28-38

Hallström, J (2009) Technical knowledge in a technical society: elementary school technology education in Sweden, 1919–1928, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society, 38:4, 455-474,

Jamieson, WD The Journal of Education, Vol. 73, No. 6 (1816) (Feb 9, 1911), pp. 154-156

Prideaux, EBR [1914] A Survey of Eleemntary English Education London: Blackie

Salomon, O [1892b] The Teacher’s Hand-Book Of Slöjd Silver, Burdett & Co. Boston, [2013 The Toolemera Press][Authorized, Revised and Edited by an Inspector of Schools, TG Rooper]

Salomon, O [1892a] The Theory of Educational Sloyd London: Philip and Sons 43:1, 31-49,

Icelandic students in Nordic Sloyd, History of Education: Journal of the History of Education Society,

Thorsteinsson, G & Ólafsson, B (2014) Otto Salomon in Nääs and his first Memorandum on Manual Training for boys in Primary Schools in foreign countries, by M. P .Sadler, Director of Special Enquiries and Reports to the Committee of Council on Education England.

Robertson, JW [1899] Manual Training in Public Schools The Macdonald Sloyd School Fund , Ottawa, I899.

Thorbjörnsson, H Swedish educational sloyd – an international success pp10-33 Tidskrift för lärarutbildning och forskning nr 2–3 2006 årgång 13

Vaningen Note


[1] According to Thorbjörnsson, 1500 foreign participants attended the summer school in Naas, and from 40 countries [p15]

[2] Thorbjörnsson

[3] Thorbjörnsson

[4] Thorbjörnsson

[5] Thorbjörnsson

[6] Otto Salomon, ‘Manual training’. An Address to the National Union of Teachers, London, 1890, ‘Manual training: Evolution, Not Revolution’. Address to the National Union of Teachers, London.

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Martin Lawn

Martin Lawn, Honorary Professor, School of Education, University of Edinburgh.

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