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The Legal Texts that Created Göta Kanal

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My colleague Betty has previously written about the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal built in 1828-1850. Her post inspired me to write about the Göta Kanal in Sweden, which was completed in 1832. It was originally commissioned 210 years ago tomorrow, on April 11, 1810, by a charter (Privilegiebrev) issued by the Swedish King Karl XIII (also known as Charles XIII) to Baltzar von Platen.

A travelling poster of Göta Kanal hangs in the cafeteria of the Madison building. I usually see the poster daily but have not seen it for a while, as the Law Library continues to serve you remotely.

Göta Kanal-Sweden’s scenic waterway, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,

In writing this post, I have gone on what can best be described as a mini Easter egg hunt online for legal information about the Göta Kanal. To my happy surprise, I managed to find the Protocols of the Swedish Riksdag of the Estates from 1809 to 1810, digitized on the Swedish Royal Library website. It does not contain the charter the King issued to Baltzar von Planten, but it does contain records of how, on October 10, 1809, the Bishop of Linköping, Carl von Rosenstierna, implored the Parliament and King to support the building of the canal. It also contains a record from April 11, 1810, on how the funds of 800,000 riksdaler were made available for the canal project. The total cost was estimated at 1,597,481 riksdaler. In the end Göta Kanal would cost 9 million riksdaler to build, about SEK 2.5 billion (US$ 251 million) in today’s monetary value. It took more than twenty years to finish and required the aid of 58,000 soldiers putting in the equivalent of 84 million man hours. Baltzar von Platen, who had become Governor General in Norway, died in 1829 before the Canal was finished, but is said to have discovered John Ericson, who invented the propeller, while working on this project.

The idea to connect the Swedish waterways has been attributed to another Bishop of Linköping, Hans Brask. But it was Baltzar von Platen who reportedly said:

I have never been able to regard a map of Sweden without feeling that the mighty waters Mother Nature enveloped in this country were made … to one day provide water transport from coast to coast.

The purpose of connecting Gothenburg (on the North Sea) with the Baltic Sea was to cut trade routes, but when it was completed, 22 years later, the canal transport technology was soon to become outdated by the introduction of the Swedish railroad.

Today, the canal is no longer used for transportation but as a tourist attraction, often referred to as “the Divorce Ditch,” as travelling the 190 km (120 miles) and passing through the 58 locks take its toll on a relationship.

After the Library of Congress is reopened, you may come and check one of the maps of the canal held in the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division:

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