Augusta Brandes was an entrepreneur and the founder of Svenska Industrimagasinet in Stockholm.
Augusta Brandes was born in 1821 in Kristianstad, the daughter of an army musician at the Norra Skånska Infanteriregementet. When she was 30 years old, Augusta Brandes moved to Stockholm, though she was not well off economically. She socialised in the cultural salons of the time and knew Fredrika Bremer well. Relatively soon after her arrival in Stockholm, she reacted against the type of charity work to which upper-class women devoted themselves. Large sums were handed out to the poor and according to her, this kept them in their vulnerable situation. Augusta Brandes thought that people should instead see to it that poor people who wanted to work and could do so, should be provided with work opportunities, by for example manufacturing handmade products of various kinds. To facilitate the sales of these products, a kind of depot should be started at which women and men could leave their articles and where the purchasing public could see them and buy them. The owner of the depot would only take a small commission.
The idea became popular and spread widely, and to start with, Augusta Brandes herself used her own funds to turn her idea into a reality. Her work soon awoke the attention of all classes of society, however, and in 1857—1858 she received 800 kronor as a contribution from Queen Lovisa. This made it possible for Augusta Brandes to rent premises at Drottninggatan 36 where she was able to open an exhibition of Swedish arts and crafts on 1 December 1858. After two years, the enterprise had expanded beyond the capacity of the premises, and on 1 December 1860 the doors were thrown open to Svenska Industrimagasinet at Drottninggatan 48. There, visitors could not only see and purchase arts and handicrafts, but could also borrow books from a library of 20,000 volumes.
Augusta Brandes worked non-stop at Industrimagasinet; taking contact with industries and craftspeople all round the country, and handing out suitable models and designs for fabrication. Despite the success of the enterprise, the economic situation was always difficult, but the craftspeople who handed in their products always had them sold and the enterprise was constantly expanding. Apart from selling handicrafts and applied arts, she started so-called periodical exhibitions in 1861, at which even articles produced by Swedish industries and workshops were displayed. The first took place on 6—17 May 1861 and had an entrance fee of one krona.
During 1862, Augusta Brandes received state funding, 600 kronor, to visit the World Exhibition in London. The contacts that she made there, with international and national manufacturers and craftspeople, led to the expansion of Industrimagasinet’s activities. The central committee for the Swedish participation in the industrial exhibition was besides impressed by Augusta Brandes’ energetic work. It encouraged all the Swedish exhibitors to leave the products they had exhibited at Svenska Industrimagasinet after the end of the exhibition. Once more, the enterprise had grown out of its premises and Augusta Brandes realised she had to rent the so-called Odeonteatern at Regeringsgatan 28, where she opened her own industrial exhibition on 18 February 1863, making use of all 14 rooms there. Members of the royal family and government attended the opening ceremony. One year later, Augusta Brandes was awarded a royal medal of the eighth order for deserving citizens.
Augusta Brandes’ industrial exhibition was considered to be the greatest and most beautiful that had up until that time taken place in Sweden. Ironically, it was another industrial exhibition that was the death of Svenska Industrimagasinet. The state contribution that she had previously received to run Industrimagasinet went instead after 1863 to the work on the Allmänna industriutställningen held in Stockholm in 1866. When her customers also started to desert Svenska Industrimagasinet, the work of dismantling the enterprise began, although the last products were not moved out until the spring of 1867.
Augusta Brandes was left with enormous debts and crushed dreams. The Stockholm Hantverksförening started a lottery to help her out. Despite the fact that the lottery gave her 13,000 kronor, her future looked dark. She succeeded however in travelling to her brother in the USA, where she spent a number of years during the 1870s. She returned to Sweden on account of failing health however, and lived in Skövde from 1890, where she was cared for by a younger sister until her death in 1903. In her obituary in Göteborgs Aftonblad from the same year, Augusta Brandes was described as having been plagued by ill health during the last years of her life, but — when she reminisced about her past life — a pleasure to be with for the few people with whom she socialised.