Vasa, from shipwreck to state of the art
It’s the morning of April 24th 1961: expectant Stockholmers stand gathered on the quaysides. Children skip school and workplaces stand still. World radio and press are assembled and Swedish television makes a live broadcast – a unique event at this time. After 333 years on the sea bottom and several unsuccessful salvage attempts, the time has at last come. Sweden holds her breath. Vasa surfaces.
In the 1960s society was abuzz with technological optimism, engineering feats were highly valued. But the salvaging of Vasa was not just a world first. It was also the realisation of one boy’s dream. Amateur archaeologist and discoverer Anders Franzén had spent several years searching for Vasa, a 17th century warship that sunk on her maiden voyage. But he had not tried the waters around Beckholmen until now. In 1956, off Beckholmen, with the help of a homemade coring device, Franzén finally found the Vasa.
In 1956, off Beckholmen, with the help of a homemade coring device, Franzén finally found the Vasa
The vessel, which was meant to be state of the art for its time, sank just 1,300 metres from the shipyard where she was built, resulting in the loss of around 30 lives. Efforts were made to retrieve her soon after she sunk, but it was all in vain. She was then salvaged for her cannons and remained on the sea bed for over 300 years.
Many ideas were put forward about how best to salvage Vasa, the one more creative than the other. Some suggested filling the ship with ping-pong balls. The air in the ping-pong balls would cause the hull to float to the surface. Others thought the ship should be filled with dry ice so it would freeze into a lump of ice. That would also make it float to the surface since ice is lighter than water. In the end, it was decided to use the well-proven salvage method employing wire cables and floating pontoons.
The salvage of Vasa was a historical moment. It was also the beginning of a success story. A gigantic project of experiment and analysis for archaeologists, conservators and researchers could now begin. After many years of intricate work, Sweden can be proud of a unique world treasure. There is no better preserved 17th century ship in the world.
Celebrating 50 years
The Vasa Museum is now celebrating 50 years since the successful salvage operation took place. It is Scandinavia’s most visited museum and annually attracts over a million visitors. Conservation and preservation work continues today, utilizing new techniques and new methods. An international research team is working continually to ensure that Vasa remains in as excellent a condition as possible both now and into the future.
The entire salvage operation was filmed in colour and parts of the documentary is showing in the Vasa Museum.