Catharina Bröms was an important works owner in the province of Gästrikland at the beginning of the 1700s, based in Ockelbo, but also with interests in the provinces of Hälsingland and Dalarna. She ran the enterprise as a widow for 27 years.
Catharina Bröms was born in Stockholm in 1664, where her father Sven Bröms was a doctor with an appointment as personal physician to the king. Her mother Catharina Helleday was a merchant’s daughter from Stockholm. Her mother died shortly after the birth of Catharina Bröm’s sister Elisabeth Bröms in 1667. The motherless girls were given a good education by their father, which would be of benefit to them in their future enterprises.
Catharina Bröms’ family on her father’s side came from Gästrikland. Her paternal grandfather and his father had been vicars in Ockelbo parish and owned the manor estate named Wij there. Apart from his inherited property in Ockelbo, Catharina Bröms’ father had expanded his ownership for a number of years and started to invest in the works business, a branch that the state authorities were keen to develop. Along with the Scottish merchant Robert Petre, a relative of Catharina Bröms’ mother, he founded the Åbro blast furnace and bar iron trip hammer at Brattfors. This laid the foundation for the Ockelbo works that Catharina Bröms was to develop and expand. In 1676, her father wound up his doctor’s practice in Stockholm and moved with his two daughters to Wij manor estate in Ockelbo. Catharina Bröms was then twelve years old and her sister Elisabeth was nine.
Not long after, in 1680, Catharina Bröms, at the age of only 16, married Johan Gottman. For the wedding, a new manor house was built at Wij in Italian style for the young couple. Catharina Bröms’ husband worked for Queen Kristina in Rome, economically responsible and the accountant for her incomes in Sweden, as well as her governor on the island of Ösel on the Baltic coast. Already the following year, 1681, her husband was knighted and given the name Silfverklou and shortly after that, Catharina Bröms’ father sold his properties to his son-in-law. Two unfortunate incidents took place directly after that. Firstly, the new manor house burned down to the ground, and the year after, in 1686, Catharina Bröms’ husband died suddenly.
Catharina Bröms was now a widow at the age of only 22. She remarried the 22-years-older bishop of Västerås, Carl Carlsson, only two years later. He was a widower and had many small children from his previous marriage. The bishop also had a large fortune, owned many farms and homesteads and had good contacts with the royal house. His children had been ennobled in 1684 with the name Cederström as thanks for their father’s contributions. This also came to apply to the children that were born to Catharina Bröms and Carl Carlsson. Her father Sven Bröms moved with his daughter to the bishop’s residence in Västerås, where he spent his time on theological work. The Ockelbo works were leased to a tenant, but Catharina Bröms remained its owner and was active in its development.
On her father’s death in 1693, Catharina Bröms bought out her younger sister Elisabeth. The properties at that time included the greater part of Ockelbo parish with an area that was forty kilometres long and ten kilometres wide. Catharina Bröms and her husband Carl Carlsson founded the Viksjö trip hammer in 1694, for which her father had received privileges as early as the 1670s, but then not done anything about implementing.
The sisters’ paths crossed once more when Elisabeth Bröms also moved to Västerås after a few years. Having been a widow for six years, she then married Nils Dwan, dean at Västerås, in 1701. Catharina Bröms and her husband the bishop had some years earlier helped Elisabeth Bröms to take over the works property in Gästrikland after Elisabeth Bröms’ brother-in-law Daniel Tilas who had died in 1697. Catharina Bröms and her husband helped with the financing and guaranty and bought one of the works concerned, Högbo works with Edske blast furnace in 1702, while Elisabeth Bröms took charge of Mackmyra works with Valbo blast furnace.
During her time in Västerås, Catharina Bröms seems also to have been actively involved in her husband’s business, among others, appointments, which caused a certain amount of criticism. She assisted her husband at times with the practical work of writing and can sometimes at that point have had the opportunity of exerting her influence. Västerås citizens lampooned the questionable appointments with a verse containing the line “Bishop Karin, Dean Lisa and the old man himself”, referring to Catharina Bröms, her sister Elisabeth and the bishop. Catharina Bröms is also supposed to have made use of her father’s well-tested prescriptions for assisting people who came to the bishop’s residence to seek help for various illnesses.
Both sisters were widowed yet again a few years later. First Catharina Bröms, when Bishop Carlsson died in 1708, and then Elisabeth Bröms when Dean Dwan died in 1709. Catharina Bröms moved to Wij Manor at that point and took over the leadership of the works business at the Ockelbo works. The widowed sisters, now both sole works owners, cooperated in the running of their respective works. Catharina Bröms was the bigger of the two entrepreneurs who owned large estates in Gästrikland, and later also in eastern Dalarna and southern Hälsingland: Wij farming estate, Åbro foundry, Brattfors works, Viksjö works, Åmot works, and Högbo works with Edske blast furnace, apart from which she also owned mines. The Ockelbo works was the largest works business in Gästrikland in the 1700s, with over 300 employees. Högbo works came to be owned by an ownership group consisting of Catharina Bröms and the children of her second husband. In 1705, Catharinas Bröms’ only child from her first marriage, her daughter Christina Margareta Silfverklou, married her step-brother Olof Cederström and became thereby one of the part-owners.
Directly after her return to Ockelbo, Catharina Bröms began to expand her enterprise. As early as in 1710, she applied for privileges for a blast furnace and trip hammer in Åmot when Ockelbo common was parcelled out. She was eager to get started and she built these plants at her own risk the year before the privileges were granted. She carried out extensions and renovations to her earlier plants and successively increased her production the years after. Catharina Bröms carried on a lawsuit against immigrant Finnish crofters and their burn-beating, since she needed the forests for the production of charcoal. In order to secure the supply of metal, Catharina Bröms received permission to buy metal from Dannemora in Uppland and from Utö in the Stockholm archipelago. Catharina Bröms and her sister Elisabeth Bröms restarted the Högbo mine, which they ran together in 1713—1733.
During the Russian ravages in 1721 along the Hamrånge coast, the Viksjö works evaded destruction in contrast to other works in the region. This was partly on account of its more isolated situation, and partly thanks to her manager at Viksjö, Karl Edström’s, efforts to drive off the Cossacks who had come ashore and approached the works.
Catharina Bröms took part in the conflicts around the new metal deposits that were discovered in 1725 near the border between Dalarna and Gästrikland. One of the interested parties was the Kopparberg mining district, later Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags AB (STORA) in Falun. After a long period of conflict, a mining company was formed for Vintjärn’s mines in which Catharina Bröms owned the largest part. Thanks to metal of higher quality and closer proximity, the bar iron production at Catharina Bröms’ plants could be increased successively.
At the beginning of the 1720s, a consortium from Stockholm attempted to get established in the region. This was strongly opposed by Catharina Bröms since she considered that her forest rights and supply of charcoal were threatened. It ended in a settlement contract in 1725 when the Stockholm people retreated and Catharina Bröms took over the Kilafors trip hammer in Hanebo parish. This led to Catharina Bröms’ construction of the Hällbo blast furnace in the Bollnäs Finnish forests in Hälsingland and the establishment of the Kilafors works.
Catharina Bröms was called “the gracious lady at Wij” from which she governed her very extensive works domains for more than 25 years. She was to carry out a number of lawsuits concerning her enterprise, which did not make her popular in all circles. However, she led her enterprise with an iron fist, purposefully and successfully, which won respect. Stories about her have lived on into our days.
Catharina Bröms died in 1735, at 71 years of age, after a short period of ill health, at Wij in Ockelbo. She was buried in the family grave in the Ockelbo medieval church.