Having started out life in the small fishing village of Arbroath, William Gibson moved to Gothenburg at just 14. It proved to be the beginning of one of forestry’s great tales, laying the foundations of what would become the Jonsered brand.

THERE are many famous names within the forestry industry who set the groundwork for the unimaginable feats of engineering and development that would occur long after they were gone. From Robert McCulloch, Einari Vidgren and Andreas Stihl to John and Charles Deere, theirpioneering work laid the framework for today’s engineers. But, while their efforts are regularly commended, I’d hazard a guess there are few who would recognise William Gibson.

Gibson was born on March 11, 1783, to William Snr and Isabella Gibson in Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland. His stereotypical childhood was a short but sweet one, being put into work at the tenderest of ages. He emigrated to Sweden when he was just 14, swapping one fishing town for the larger, more widely known hub of Gothenburg. 

Gibson was immediately put into work as an accountant for a wholesale company owned by fellow Brit James Christie. This was not Gibson’s first employment, as he started his career under the stewardship of James Keiller at just 10 years old.

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He impressed Keiller and was sent to the Scandinavian nation at his behest to oversee the purchasing of timber intended for boat-building. Taking a liking to the Scandi way of life, Gibson remained, sticking with Christie until the latter’s untimely death in 1806. 

This put Gibson at a crossroads and instead of going back into employment he started up his own business, determined to make a success of himself. 

Forestry Journal: William Gibson remains one of William Gibson remains one of

He immediately diversified his attentions, purchasing a brewery and becoming the first brewer to advertise his products in the newspapers, igniting his trailblazing attitudes.

Alongside his brewing company, Gibson opened a herring factory, a carbon black factory and a paint factory, all while running a fleet of eight ships to haul his investments.

To Gibson’s dismay, his shipping company went bankrupt a few years later, which allowed him to collaborate with fellow business magnate Alexander Keiller in a new venture – canvas production. Working alongside the older, more experience head of Keiller, their operations expanded rapidly and they were able to invest in a mechanical water-powered spinning mill to assist in the production of hemp and flax at a new location just outside Gothenburg at Jonsered Manor.

The convenient placement of Jonsered made it the ideal spot for business expansion, with its transport links and closeness to the ports, as well as the vast grounds of the manor. Gibson ran the business side of things, negotiating new deals with companies in America, Great Britain and France to export the high-quality sails the company was producing. 

In 1848 Gibson bought out his partner, who was headed for a well-earned retirement, and brought his sons William and Charles into the company. As miracles of engineering continued to bloom, Gibson maintained his track record of diversifying, with the decision to begin the manufacture of woodworking machinery intended for building shipping crates; this once again proved fruitful for the company and they too were sent for export.

It is undeniable that Gibson was a shrewd businessman, with a desire for turning a profit, but it can also be said that he had an appreciation for his fellow man. The Gibson family created a community around Jonsered – a proper village, unique to Swedish industrialism – making it an attractive proposition for those looking for work. They provided childcare, healthcare and homes for the elderly, protected the community and built a place of worship so those in Jonsered did not have to travel for church. The downstream position of Jonsered made it the perfect location to provide hydro power but, more importantly, it provided water to the burgeoning community, making it a liveable space.

Forestry Journal: With their long reach, Jonsered cranes remain a frequent fixture out in the field.With their long reach, Jonsered cranes remain a frequent fixture out in the field. (Image: FJ archive)

In life, Gibson was recognised as a pioneer of business and engineering, earning two gold medals at the London Fair for his tempering of castings and manufacture of industrial woodworking machinery. Outside of his sole business exploits, his portfolio was vast; serving as a member of the Gothenburg Trade Association, a board member of the first Swedish savings bank and as a trustee of the Poor Welfare Institute, where he led campaigns to improve the lives of those on the breadline.

Following his death in 1857 at the age of 74, Gibson was laid to rest in Stampens Cemetery in Gothenburg, just 15 minutes from Jonsered. The family’s former residence is now under the umbrella of Gothenburg University and is used for special conferences and events, with its significant historical importance and beautiful surroundings adding to the building’s grandeur.

Forestry Journal: From sails to mills, Gibson had his fingers in many different business pies.From sails to mills, Gibson had his fingers in many different business pies.

With Gibson now gone, the continuation of his legacy fell into the hands of his two sons, alongside his grandson (unsurprisingly another William). With the eclectic range of industries under the Gibson & Söner name, it was agreed in 1872 that the company would reform as a limited company – Jonsered Fabrikers AB.

The 1950s brought about a change in Jonsered’s direction. Having successfully manufactured woodworking machines, the decision was taken to move deeper into the timber industry. Following on from discussions with the M.T. Bjerke Company, which was producing a diesel chainsaw called the Comet, Jonsered acquired the rights to the designs and set to work producing its own model. It was revolutionary for the company and, despite needing to be started upside down, it proved an instant triumph. 

The front handle contained the fuel and a propane-heated ignition plug gave it the kick to start cutting, a long way from saw technology now, but exportation around the world quickly followed and opened up new trade links for the rest of their inventory. Much like today, however, diesel was gradually phased out and by 1957 Jonsered’s new saw line was entirely petrol powered.

But it wasn’t just saws that came fresh out of the Jonsered factory doors in the ’50s. By 1959, cranes were the latest engineering development to expand the company’s catalogue.

Forestry Journal:  Jonsered lives on under several different umbrellas today. Jonsered lives on under several different umbrellas today.

Emerging at the perfect time, as the industrialisation of the timber industry came into effect, the Jonsered ZB was one of the first to assist in the transportation of timber using modern methods and its impact can still be seen today, with many Jonsered cranes still in active use across the world. As the timber industry blossomed, the family opted to shut down its textile department and offload many other subsidiary parts, before being sold off in 1975 to investment group AB Asken. Financial difficulties struck soon after, which led to Jonsered’s sale to Electrolux, meaning production was moved for the first time in over 100 years to Husqvarna. 

In 1980, Electrolux formed Electrolux Motor AB to continue the manufacturing of Jonsered alongside Husqvarna and Partner, which later became Jonsereds Motor AB.

In 1978, Jonsered Forestry became part of the HIAB family and now focuses on manufacturing cranes for timber lorries, sawmills and the recycling and waste industry, while Jonsered saws remain in production under the Husqvarna umbrella.

The legacy that William Gibson began can be seen in all aspects of our industry. From the creation of its chainsaws to the impressive design of its cranes, Jonsered has been and will continue to be a mainstay in forestry life – and without the drive and diversification of a young boy from Arbroath, none of it would have been possible.