Just six days remain until the IOC members cast the decisive vote on who out of Sweden and Italy should host the 2026 Winter Games – and so we’re celebrating the final countdown with a look at six Swedes who changed (or are changing) the world (sorry, Zlatan).
Swedes have a global reputation for being fair, forward-thinking and innovative – passionate about the environment, social justice and, well, making life better – and we think the following group perfectly capture what is unique about Swedes.
1. Nils Bohlin
There’s only one thing Sweden loves more than snow, and that’s functional, stylish design. So little-known Nils Bohlin hit the jackpot in 1959 when he was working at Volvo, designing the three-point seatbelt – and changing the way we get from A to B forever.
In a very Swedish way, Volvo realised that the design had the potential to revolutionise travel, and allowed every other manufacturer to use the design patent-free. The invention was so forward-thinking that it continues to be regarded as on the most important lifesaving devices in the world, saving one person every six minutes.
2. Alfred Nobel
One of the most famous Swedes ever, many people have heard of the Nobel Prize – but they don’t know much about the man behind it. Born in Stockholm, Alfred was an inventor, chemist and philanthropist who left his fortune to develop the Nobel Prizes – in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Medicine and Physics – which have gone on to become the most prestigious awards in the world.
3. Gideon Sundbäck
Unless you’re a nudist, chances are you’ve used Sundbäck’s genius invention many times in your life – but you probably didn’t realise it. Yep, the Swedish inventor designed and created the modern-day zipper in 1917, and with its smart inter-locking teeth design, it changed fashion forever. Zip up!
4. Alva Myrdal
Swede Alva Myrdal was one of the most important and influential social reformers of the 20th century – arguing for women’s rights, social justice, human rights and education for all in the 1930s and 40s, and broadening her focus to nuclear arms in 1950.
She successfully fought for and established the Swedish welfare programme – known as the ‘Swedish Model’, which is now famous throughout the world. Never one to shun a challenge, she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 for her work to disarm the world’s superpowers of nuclear weapons.
5. Ingmar Bergman
Bergman was a Swedish film director, producer and writer who is considered to be one of the most accomplished and influential filmmakers of all-time. A graduate of Stockholm University, he went on to direct some 60 films and over 170 plays, winning three Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.
Bergman transformed the way people thought about film as an expressive and profound art form rather than as mere entertainment; his great cinematic works of art are deeply personal films that no one else could have made. Director Martin Scorsese, himself regarded as one of the most iconic directors ever, once commented;
“I don’t see how you couldn’t be influenced by Bergman ….it’s impossible to overestimate the effect that those films had on people. It’s not that Bergman was the first film artist to confront serious themes. It’s that he worked in a symbolic and an emotional language that was serious and accessible.”
6. Greta Thunberg
In 2018, Greta Thunberg – a 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl – started a school strike for the climate outside the Swedish Parliament that has since spread all over the world and now involves over 100,000 schoolchildren. This grassroots movement is called Fridays For Future and has made her an icon for change.
Thunberg has spoken at climate rallies in Stockholm, Helsinki, Brussels and London – refusing to travel by air, and making her way across the continent by more sustainable means.
In December 2018, she addressed the UN in Katowice, Poland and making passionate plea that went viral and was shared millions of times around the world. A month later, she was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos where her speeches again made a worldwide impact.
Thunberg tries to live a low-carbon life. Therefore she is vegan, and she doesn’t fly. She has been named as one of the worlds most influential teens by TIME magazine.