The Match Stick Colossus

Courtesy Reuters

SWEDEN has long been known to many of the widely scattered millions of the rest of the earth only because she supplied a large share of the world's needs for a very humble and commonplace commodity -- the match. As early as 1870 Sweden was exporting annually some 6,000 tons of her matches to other countries. By the turn of the century the figure had risen to 16,000 tons. It was 35,000 tons in 1913, just before the outbreak of the World War. It is 50,000 tons today. No other country has ventured on such a vast production of matches, nor can any other boast an export trade in this commodity even approaching Sweden's.

The match was not invented in Sweden, but it was most brilliantly perfected there, and successfully turned to commercial exploitation. The Swedes have been skilful in adapting themselves to the widely varying demands of the different markets. If their product did not encounter artificial obstacles such as protective tariffs and other political restrictions it is quite conceivable that the match factories now existing in Sweden might expand in a relatively short time so as to supply, efficiently and cheaply, the demands of the entire world. But, as we shall see, conditions in the world market are not so simple.

Several years ago Americans came to the conclusion that the export of their products could best be furthered by the merger of various producers into large corporations. The stipulations of the Sherman Act were recognized as being out of date. The same fact was perceived by the Swedish match producers long before the war. They realized that most of their output went abroad, and that their interests were not furthered by the multiplication and competition of agents of different concerns. Accordingly, as early as 1903 six Swedish factories merged with the Jönköpings-Vulcan Match Manufacturing Company, and several other enterprises were annexed in the years following. The success of this merger, reflected in increased earnings, induced those companies which were still independent to combine (

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