Pehr Kalm - the forgotten Ö-Viksson who became Benjamin Franklin's friend

Pehr Kalm
Pehr Kalm and Benjamin Franklin. The painting of what is believed to be Kalm is signed J. G. Geitel, in 1764. The painting is in the Satakunta Museum, Pori, Finland.

Pehr Kalm was a disciple of Carl Linnaeus. He became good friends with Benjamin Franklin. He was the first northerner to visit Niagara Falls. And he was born in Själevad, Ångermanland.

Sweden's ties with America are long-standing. Sweden was the first neutral nation to recognise the United States after the War of Independence in 1776. This had come about through the 1783 trade agreement in Paris between the American diplomat Benjamin Franklin and the Ambassador of Sweden Gustaf Philip Creutz.

Benjamin Franklin thus became the first US ambassador to Sweden, but is better known as one of the fathers of the US Constitution, and for his electrical experiments with the flying kite and lightning bolt.

Less well known is the band to Örnsköldsvik.

On 6 March 1716 Pehr Kalm was born in Själevad. His parents Gabriel Kalm and Catharina Ross had fled to Sweden when the Russians captured Finland during the Great War.

The father died before Pehr was born, and when the war ended five years later, the mother moved back with her son. Pehr attended trivial school in Vaasa and then studied science at the Academy in Turku. In 1740 he entered Uppsala University and became a disciple of Carl Linnaeus. In 1747 he was sent to North America as Linnaeus' plant collector. He travelled the same year with a stopover in England. There he received a letter of recommendation to the postmaster of Philadelphia: Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin and Kalm became good friends. Kalm informed Franklin that Columbus had not discovered America, Swedish Vikings had. They also shared an interest in science, and Kalm helped Franklin develop the lightning experiment.

In 1750, Kalm became the first Northerner to visit Niagara Falls, about which he wrote a scientific report that Franklin published in the Pennsylvania Gazette that year. The following year it was published in London and Kalm became internationally known.

When he returned to Sweden, he brought with him mulberry trees and hawthorn, but also the American ideas of freedom. He became an academic in Turku and campaigned for religious freedom, freedom of movement and economic freedom. And in 1765 his student wrote Anders Chydenius the book "The National Profit", already eleven years before Adam Smith explained the principles of the market economy in The Wealth of Nations. If Chydenius had written in English, he would have been the father of liberal economics. Kalm himself is also considered the father of gardening in Finland.

Pehr Kalm's considerable mark on history has been honoured in many places: in the US, Kalmia latifolia - broad-leaved Kalmia - is the state flower of both Pennsylvania and Connecticut; in Finland, Kalm was honoured in 2011 as the greatest Finn of the Enlightenment with a commemorative coin; in 1992, the Bohuslän Museum held an exhibition to celebrate Kalm's journey through the region 250 years earlier.

On Sunday 6 March 2016, he celebrated his 300th birthday. It is high time that this forgotten Ö-Viksbo is also honoured in the town of his birth.

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