Walking the streets of Norrköping is like a promenade through 400 years of industrial history. The town centre is literally scattered with former factories. Most of them were built between 1850 and 1920 to produce fabrics. One of them, once a cotton mill, nowadays hosts the Museum of Work. Because of its uncommon layout people call it "flat iron". As usual for Norköpping's historical mills it has been faithfully restored and sits right on the banks of the Motala ström which is characterised by multiple waterfalls. On its seven floors the museum is centred around people - the ones who drudged at the machines, including many women and children, and the museum's visitors coming to see the exhibitions, libraries, and workshops, thus looking into how the industrial society affected people's lives over the past 100 years. People are also focused in the Town Museum featuring textile machines and a weaving mill within a building that was formerly used as a cotton mill. Even the university is located in a former garment factory. The same applies to shops, cafés and restaurants. A particular highlight is the illumination of the city's largest waterfall by changing colours at night.
There were times that Norrköping was known as "Sweden's Manchester". The nickname derives primarily from the textile industries that boomed from the mid 19th to the mid 20th centuries. However, the city's era of industrial development already starts with the arrival of the Dutch merchant and entrepreneur Louis de Geer early in the 17th century. He made Norköpping a centre of the emerging Swedish iron and steel sector which included the recruiting of foreign workforce. Under his auspices, the city established new businesses covering all sorts of industries, like armament manufacturers, paper mills, garment factories, and a dockyard. His impact was that significant that he is deemed today to be the father of Swedish industrialisation.
In this context Norrköping offered the best opportunities, largely due to the river Motala ström: while crossing the town it plunges over 13 waterfalls totalling almost 20 metres in altitude. As early as medieval times the first mills lined the river's banks, and the sound of water still dominates the city's appearance. This is also true for the two museums that make Norrköpings's industrial history come to live again. The town museum particularly concentrates on the textile sector. Right opposite sits the Museum of Work, adapting its heptagonal floor plan perfectly to the outline of the small islet Laxholmen, and depicting working life and everyday life of the industrial age. Both museums are planted in former factories. Together with the university and the Louis de Geer Concert and Congress Hall they are flagships of an urban development approach that consequently preserves the architectural heritage by redevelopment and conversion. That explains why the great number of factories that had to cease operation before the 1970s still shape Norrköping's identity and serve a purpose – as museums, centres of art and culture, educational institutions, shopping malls, catering facilities, and apartments.