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British Industrial History

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Thorsten Nordenfelt

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Thorsten Nordenfelt (1842-1920), was a Swedish inventor and industrialist.

Nordenfelt was born in Örby outside Kinna, Sweden, the son of a colonel. The surname was and is often spelt Nordenfeldt, though Thorsten and his brothers always spelt it Nordenfelt, and the 1881 Census shows it as Nordenfelt. The family home in that year was Leinster Lodge on the Uxbridge Road, Paddington in west London.

Thorsten worked for a Swedish company in London from 1862 to 1866 and migrated to England in 1867 when he married Emma Stansfeld Grundy.

Discussions between Thorsten Nordenfelt and the English reverend George William Littler Garrett led to the production of a series of steam powered submarines by the Nordenfelt Submarine Boat Co

Thorsten Nordenfelt and his brother-in-law started a small business to trade Swedish steel for British rails in 1887. Later on he founded the Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co to develop a machine-gun designed by Helge Palmcrantz that would be referred to as the Nordenfelt gun. His company also designed a range of anti-torpedoboat guns in calibres from 37 to 57 mm, that were produced in Erith, Kent, Stockholm and Spain. Under pressure from Rothschild and Vickers his company merged with Maxim's in 1888 to form the Maxim Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co.

1888 Exhibited "Mitis" castings at the Glasgow International Exhibition. These were produced by adding small quantities of aluminium or aluminium alloy to molten wrought iron or soft steel which had the effect of lowering the melting point of the iron, so that the contained gases are able to escape[1]

After a personal bankruptcy Nordenfelt was forced out of the Nordenfelt-Maxim company in 1890 and left England for France, where his new company, Société Nordenfelt, designed the eccentric screw breech used on the French 75. Legal action followed (Nordenfelt v Maxim, Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Co Ltd) over a non-compete clause Nordenfelt had signed.

In 1903 he returned to Sweden and retired.



The public house known as Nordenfelt Tavern at 181 Erith Road, Erith was built to the design of Jonathan G. Ensor (1852/3-19??), architect for brewer Watney Combe & Reid, in 1902 and is named after the firm whose workers frequented the bars in Edwardian times.



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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1888/11/02