Swix – part of the Norwegian national character
It all began with an industrious Swede.
On a winter’s day in 1937, Børje Gabrielsson was cheering fellow countryman, Martin Matsbo, on to victory in the 17-kilometer cross-country race at Holmenkollen. The skiing conditions were easy that day, unlike a short time earlier when Gabrielsson was skiing and had experienced hopeless skiing conditions. Gabrielsson had the idea of scientifically testing ski waxes in order to develop waxes for all types of snow conditions but the Norwegians with him at the time laughed at the suggestion, believing that some snow conditions were just simply “unwaxable”. The Swede, who just happened to head up Sweden’s largest pharmaceutical company, AB Astra, would not be discouraged by the sceptical Norwegians.
In the autumn of 1942 there was a fire in Martin Matsbo’s wax boiler in Malung. Among the valuables that were lost that day were many recipes and results from his experiments. In addition, the country’s first wax expert lost his job. Børje Gabrielsson called Matsbo and offered him a new job; making wax based on scientific methods. This was a vision that suited Matsbo perfectly. He had now found the object of a lifelong pursuit, and he started on this quest with tremendous enthusiasm. He was a practical man with considerable theoretical insight.
The staff complemented each other. Astra’s chemists and researchers from the Kungliga Technical College in Stockholm provided a scientific foundation. Matsbo started by testing all commercially available types of Nordic ski waxes at Kiruna in the autumn of 1943, in order to get a good overview of what was on the market. He later began testing self-made mixtures. Meanwhile, the scientists worked diligently in their lab with their curves and mathematical formulas. From time to time, Matsbo would travel to the mountains to try out the latest concoction the scientists had mixed together. They took their time since there were no deadlines. Even so, in 1945 alone, they carried out six thousand tests on some two hundred different wax mixtures.
Inventing a universal wax was proving to be a difficult task and the team soon acknowledged that they would have to develop a series of smooth waxes and a series of sticky waxes. The staff abandoned traditional ingredients such as tar, bicycle tires, beeswax and animal fat, and turned their attention to synthetic resins and refined petroleum waxes. This was the future in ski waxing, and the synthetic ingredients proved much more reliable and predictable. Other ski waxes had been put together more or less by chance.
In contrast to earlier concoctions, synthetic ingredients were almost colourless. This led to someone having the smart idea to add colour pigments and to make three colours – green, blue and red – in order to simplify and make the wax more easily recognizable. Three years of experimenting finally resulted in something totally new in 1946.
But what should the new wax be called?
Astra announced a name competition. Among the more than 120 suggestions were names such as Rimi, Silo, Mixi and Cera. The winner was Svix, which was amended to Swix, presumably to give associations to Sweden and wax. Another factor may have been that the product manager’s name was Wallin, and Astra’s new sales company was called Wallco.
The Swix brand name was presented in a press conference on November 28, 1946 and this is the date that Swix regards as its birth date. Many professional skiers in Sweden were initially sceptical to the product, but favourable results by “Swixed” skiers were the best possible advertisement. In the 1948 Olympics, all of the Swedish gold medal winners skied using the new Swix wax. Due to strict import restrictions, Swix could not be exported to Norway at the time. Astra, who had been selling pharmaceuticals to Norway since 1936 and had a Norwegian subsidiary, decided to establish its own production facility in Norway.