Swedes are some of the most accomplished people in the world, excelling in diverse fields such as medicine, art, and computers. For centuries, Sweden and her people have been making our world a better place, and they continue to do so with remarkable gusto today. Maybe due to their easy embrace of an international lifestyle or their excellent English skills (the best in the world for non-native speakers), many famous Swedish people are often mislabeled as American, English, or some other nationality. In this list, we aim to bring back the rightful notoriety and respect Sweden deserves for giving us such wonderful people.
Maybe you’ve heard of some of the famous Swedes on this list, such as legendary actress Greta Garbo; maybe you haven’t, such as they guys behind The Pirate Bay or the most successful YouTube personality in the world. You’ll likely be surprised to see some of these names – and yes, we purposefully left out ABBA: the standard answer whenever anyone asks if you know someone from Sweden. From entrepreneurs to movie stars to novelists, check out these famous Swedes who have made important contributions to our world (many of who still do) in our list of 25 People You Might Not Know Are Swedish.
Born as Felix Kjellberg, PewDiePie is a YouTube personality with over 45 million subscribers and over 12 billion views. Videos of him playing video games have made him the most subscribed YouTuber in the world. He’s also Swedish, born in Gothenburg.
Niklas Zennström is a heavy-hitting Swedish entrepreneur, responsible for both the peer-to-peer file sharing network Kazaa and the peer-to-peer internet telephony company Skype.
The North may not have been successful during the American Civil War if it weren’t for Swedish inventor John Ericsson. Famous for inventing the propeller, Ericsson played an important role in American history by constructing the iron-clad, propeller-driven warship the Monitor.
Pirate Bay Founders
Arguably the best-known peer-to-peer file sharing system, The Pirate Bay was founded and operated by Swedes Gottfrid Svartholm, Peter Sunde, Fredrik Neij, and Carl Lundström, all of whom were arrested, imprisoned, and fined for facilitating copyright infringement.
One of the best-known Swedes on this list, Alfred Nobel blessed the world with countless patents – 355 to be exact. Nobel is best known for creating dynamite (a safer form of nitroglycerin) and bequeathing the funds to start the Nobel Prizes.
Beyond superstar Swedish musicians such as Robyn and Swedish House Mafia, Avicii is as Swedish as they come, born in Stockholm. Avicii has become one of the most popular electronic DJs in the world, producing hits such as “Sunshine,” with David Guetta, and “Levels.”
Though the frigid temperatures don’t keep most Swedes locked indoors, Magnus Samuelsson spent a fair part of his life indoors – pumping iron. The son of a Swedish female arm wrestling champion, Samuelsson went on to win the 1998 World’s Strongest Man competition. He also holds the record for most podium places at the competition over his 13 years of competing. Not surprisingly, he married a two-time winner of Sweden’s Strongest Woman competition.
Did you know one of the most popular video games was developed by a Swede? Markus Persson is sometimes called the first superstar computer game developer for his skill in game creation. He’s responsible for the widely popular game Minecraft, becoming one of the youngest billionaires in the world when Microsoft bought its parent company.
One of the most successful early film actresses, Greta Garbo was legendary in both silent movies and the talkies, even ranking 5th on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest female stars of Classic Hollywood cinema. Her most famous role was as the prostitute Marguerite Gautier in “Camille” (1936).
Erik Wallenberg & Ruben Rausing
Anyone who enjoys a nice glass of milk has Erik Wallenberg and Ruben Rausing to thank. The two were champions of the food packaging industry with Rausing building off Wallenberg’s original work with plastic-coated paper carton. The innovation brought us the TetraPak, the go-to for dairy and prepared food packaging.
The father of natural classification, millions of PhD candidates and professionals around the world have Carl Linnaeus to thank. The Swedish naturalist unified information on the world’s plants, animals, and minerals, creating a central classification system which remains in use today.
Known as the “Super Swede,” Ronnie Peterson was one of Sweden’s most successful and famous racing drivers. Out of 123 Grand Prix races, Peterson won 10 before passing away from injuries sustained during the 1978 Italian Grand Prix at Monza.
Swede Henrik Lundqvist is one of the most skilled professional ice hockey goalies in the world, even nicknamed “King Henrik” by his current team, the New York Rangers. The handsome Lundqvist even helped Sweden win their second Olympic gold medal in ice hockey during the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics.
Erling Persson started the widely popular Swedish clothing store H&M. Originally titled Hennes (“hers” in Swedish), it only sold women’s clothes. In 1968, Persson bought hunting equipment store Mauritz Widforss and expanded the name and collection to include menswear. Today, H&M is the second largest global clothing retailer.
Besides gaining notoriety for his role as lead vampire Eric Northman in the series “True Blood,” Alexander Skarsgård has also been cast in the upcoming film “The Legend of Tarzan,” where millions of fans are excited to see him shirtless throughout the entire movie.
Many baby boomers will easily recognize the widely popular stories of Pippi Longstocking, written by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. Pippi is a playful girl, often making fun of pompous and unreasonable adults while trying to stay a kid forever, much like Peter Pan.
Anybody who knows film will have seen “Casablanca,” one of the greatest films in history. The film’s female lead was a popular Swedish actress by the name of Ingrid Bergman. During her career, which also included Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Notorious,” Bergman won two Emmy Awards, three Academy Awards, and four Golden Globe Awards.
Lars Magnus Ericsson
Remember Ericsson, the popular cell phone manufacturer from the 90’s? It was started by a Swede, Lars Magnus Ericsson, though the cell phone branch was spun off in 2001 as Sony Ericsson. The company was also responsible for creating the first telephone receiver with a built-in speaker and microphone, as we use today.
Stieg Larsson was an avid writer but mostly wrote for his own pleasure, not seeking to publish his novels until shortly before his death. Later adapted into a film, his most famous novel, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a top international best-selling crime novel which takes places in Sweden.
Did you know a Swede created our most important temperature scale? Anders Celsius developed a new thermometer which measured exactly 100 degrees between water’s freezing and boiling point, becoming the standard worldwide.
Possibly the most successful Swedish entrepreneur in history, Ingvar Kamprad transformed his startup IKEA into one of the biggest furniture companies in the world. Kamprad began IKEA as a mail-order business when he was 17 years-old and revolutionized the furniture industry with his flat-box furniture.
Sweden’s leading goalscorer, Zlatan Ibrahimović is also captain of the Swedish national soccer team. He has played for famous clubs throughout Europe, including Juventus, FC Barcelona, and Paris Saint-Germain.
A legend in the opera world, Birgit Nilsson was a soprano whose high notes seemed to last forever. Nilsson was a clever businesswoman and became one of the highest-paid opera singers of all time, widely known for her renditions of the works of Wagner and others such as Strauss, Verdi, and Puccini.
Alexander Samuelsson may not be known on the global stage but his product is. This Swede was responsible for designing the iconic Coca-Cola bottle from which spawned comparisons such as Coke-bottle glasses and a Coke-bottle figure.
Ingmar Bergman is one of the most successful film directors in history, even being called, “probably the greatest film artist since the invention of the motion picture camera” by Woody Allen. Bergman won three Academy Awards and directed over 40 films, often filming in Sweden and skillfully dealing with the human pathos.