Bild av von Platen som yngre

The man who made the dream come true

Who was he really, the man who managed to make 300-year-old ideas about a waterway across Sweden a reality? Canal builder, prime minister, naval officer and governor Baltzar von Platen is undoubtedly one of the people who shaped Swedish history. He belonged to the small inner circle that was close to the royal power and took an active part in Swedish politics. Let us introduce Baltzar von Platen.

Baltzar von Platen has been described as a mixture of an old-fashioned dutiful man and aristocrat who was at the same time a liberal and modern politician and industrialist who built a bridge between the old and the new.

It was a meeting with the king that made von Platen decide to try to push through the construction of a canal from Lake Vänern to the Baltic Sea. The year was 1801 when he got the idea - and the triggering factor was when he saw Gustav IV Adolf's fascination with Trollhätte canal. But what had actually led a young man to make such a bold inner decision? 


The military career began early

Baltzar von Platen was born on the ancestral estate Dornhoff on the island of Rügen on May 29, 1766. His family originally came from German Pomerania, but his father, who was a nobleman, invested in a career in Sweden. As a 13-year-old, Baltzar was enrolled at the navy's cadet school in Karlskrona and the following year, in 1780, he was commissioned as an ensign, which was the starting point for his military career.

In 1782 he transferred to the merchant navy, as he saw no opportunities to develop his practical ability through the military exercises, and as a mate he then sailed for three years across the world's oceans. The voyages took him to the West Indies and the Cape of Good Hope, and he later maintained that that time was indispensable to him in learning real seamanship.


Russian prisoner of war

In 1785 he was back in Sweden and the following year he was commissioned on the frigate Diana where he took part in an expedition to Morocco. After that, Baltzar von Platen was considered experienced enough to participate in the war against Russia, and he was commissioned on the battleship Prins Gustaf. At the Battle of Hogland on July 17, 1788, von Platen was wounded, taken as a prisoner of war and came to spend more than two years in Russian captivity, before being exchanged in 1790 after the Peace of Värälä.

On his return home he was promoted to lieutenant and captain, commissions which had already been issued during his absence. To receive such a promotion already at such a young age shows that Baltzar von Platen distinguished himself and showed great ability in the military. In the coming years he therefore held constant naval commands before leaving the navy and war service with the rank of colonel.

However, the decision to leave was not entirely voluntary. Over the years, Von Platen had often felt dissatisfied with the promotion process and felt passed over by others. Although he had a tendency to openly criticize the shortcomings of others, he was almost skin-to-skin sensitive when he himself was questioned. This ultimately made his position untenable. He felt ill-fated, treated with ingratitude, and felt that the king was displeased with him.


The ideas for the canal construction are taking shape

Having disembarked for good, he therefore needed new challenges. He then bought Frugården in Vänersnäs, married Hedvig Elisabeth Ekman and had three children with her. In 1798 he was elected to the executive board, the board, of the Trollhätte canal company, and at the same time he began to draw up plans for the link between the North and Baltic Seas that would become the Göta Canal.

Trollhätte canal opened for traffic in 1800 and when King Gustav IV Adolf visited Trollhättan the following year, von Platen was there. He then claims to have made an inner decision to try to enforce the construction of a canal from Lake Vänern to the Baltic Sea. This was not least because he saw "with what attention the King was covered regarding the inner movement of this important branch of the affric", as he himself in a letter about the event.

At the beginning of 1808, von Platen had to personally present his ideas about the Göta Canal to the king. It resulted in a regulation that tasked him with calculating costs and time consumption and laying out the canal line. He contacted Thomas Telford, one of Britain's foremost canal builders, to ask for help. During a very intensive journey of only 20 days, von Platen and Telford were busy measuring, weighing, laying out and deciding where the locks would be built. In addition, the duo produced the documentation that would form the basis of the Riksdag's decision on a possible canal construction.


One last big mission

In 1815, Baltzar von Platen was appointed count as a thank you for the services he rendered in connection with the establishment of the union between Sweden and Norway. In 1822, he received the blue ribbon of the Seraphim Order at the inauguration of the West Göta part of the Göta Canal. In 1827, King Karl XIV Johan granted him the trust assignment as governor of Norway, but already when he traveled to Norway as a 61-year-old, his health was faltering. The construction of the canal had taken much of his strength and energy and two years later, on December 6, 1829, he died in Kristiania (now Oslo). At that time, it was still three years before the Göta canal would be inaugurated.

On February 7, Baltzar von Platen was buried with pomp and circumstance, and now rests in the monumental family grave next to the canal in Motala.


Will and persistence create masterpieces

There are many opinions about von Platen, and opinions about him vary depending on who you ask. The daughter tells us that the father always treated his much-loved spouse with the greatest and most sensitive tenderness. Others describe him as stubborn and stubborn bordering on ruthless and insensitive. But in spite of his reputed toughness and tenacity, even his opponents could not but admit that what he accomplished was a great work. And even today, his motto lives on along the Göta canal:


"You can do whatever you want

and when you say you can do nothing,

then you want nothing.”


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