Mr. Andrews to Mr. Fish.
Stockholm , January 14, 1875. (Received February 19.)
Sir: High rates of fire-insurance in a city are of course a serious obstacle to business enterprise. Where these are united with high taxes, as is the case in many of the new cities of the United States, the two together form almost a prohibition of manufacturing industry.
Insurance in Stockholm is remarkably low. Assuming that a brick house in this city has been built in accordance with the common public regulations in respect to foundation, thickness of walls, &c., it must yet have three requisites in order to bring it into what the insurance companies call a first-class house. These are stone, brick, or iron stairs; an iron door for the entrance to the attic, and the floor of the attic of brick or stone. In other words, the stairway, entrance to the attic, and the attic-floor must be fire-proof. Insurance per year on such buildings is at the rate of one crown for a thousand crowns’ value—$1 per $1,000 value—or, what is the same, one mill on a dollar. A second-class house is one in which the attic-floor is not completely fire-proof, and where the stairs to it are of wood. On such a house the rate of insurance is one and a quarter mills per dollar. If the house has main walls of brick, but the interior or room walls are of wood, it is considered as third-class, and the insurance is one and a half mills per dollar. If the house has a wooden frame, but is bricked between the timbers, and the walls are plastered outside, it is in the fourth-class, and insurance on it is three mills per dollar. A house of the fifth class is one which is built wholly of wood, and insurance upon such varies from four to eight mills per dollar of value.
What has principally contributed to these cheap rates of insurance is the enforcement of strict building-regulations. Stockholm was founded in 1187. During the seven centuries of her existence, she has suffered repeatedly from conflagrations; and, as might be expected, has by this time learned, what all cities ought to know, the wisdom of interposing public authority to secure the construction of buildings sufficiently fireproof An act embracing eighty-five sections of “building-regulations” for the city of Stockholm has been in force for some years. Indeed, the essential parts of the regulations must have been in force a long time, for there are very many brick buildings here in excellent state of preservation which are upward of two centuries old. By these regulations, all buildings are required to display in their exterior a neatness and style corresponding to the part of the city in which they are erected, and so as to conduce to the beautifying of the city. As a general rule, they must be constructed of brick, stone, or iron. Wooden buildings are allowed to be put up only in the outer parts of the city. Every dwelling must have its own independent cellar-walls. The front and rear of “freestanding” walls must, in a house of more than two stories, have a thickness in the lower story of at least two feet, and in the other stories, as also everywhere in houses of less than two stories, a thickness of at least one foot and five inches. Every house must, on its side joining upon [Page 1258] another house, have its own “fire-walls,” which wall, where the house does not exceed two stories, must have a thickness of at least one foot, and where there are more than two stories, a thickness of one foot and five inches to the second story, and above that a thickness of one foot.
The walls are usually solid, and on that account it must be admitted that, in a sanitary point of view, houses so constructed are less healthy than well-built wooden houses. The interior or room walls are generally of brick. The stairs must be of iron or stone, and arched with masonry through each story. The Swedish limestone is readily quarried into long slabs and is excellently adapted for stairs the slabs being first planed and grooved by machinery to prevent slipping. Limestone is also commonly used for entry-floors. There is but one stairway to a house. It is usually four or five feet wide, and is, of course, within the main walls of the building. The different flights are directly over each other. The sides of the passage are plastered, and generally neatly grained in imitation of marble. The stairs being used in common by about as many families as there are stories to the house, it is seldom that they are carpeted and everything about them has a fire-proof appearance. There is but one entrance to the attic-story, and the door to that must be of iron. The attic may be divided into several rooms, but the whole floor must be of brick or stone. The roof cannot be higher than half of the breadth of the house, and must be covered with tiles or metallic plate. The chimneys must be of brick; their walls must be at least five inches thick; and, where they pierce the roof, the space all around for at least five inches, in width must be filled in with iron or mortar, none of the wood-work of the roof being allowed to come nearer than five inches to the chimneys. The Swedish earthen stoves are permanent fixtures in the house. Specimens of these stoves will be seen at the Philadelphia Exhibition. After more than five years’ experience with them, I am satisfied that their introduction into the colder parts of the United States would be productive of health, comfort, and economy.
It is the universal practice to plaster the walls of all buildings on the outside and to give them a yellowish-gray or dark cream color. None are permitted to be purely white. Much architectural taste is displayed in the plastering, the fronts frequently being divided off in imitation of sandstone blocks, with striking cornices above the windows. In order that the moisture may escape from the walls, the outside plastering is not allowed to be done till the summer of the year next following their erection. The Riksdag, at its last session, passed an act of fifty sections prescribing regulations for the erection of buildings in all of the cities and larger villages of the kingdom. It went into effect the first of this month, and it is considered a very important and useful law. By this act, every city and trading village must choose a building committee of three or five members, who are to hold for four years. A plan and map, on a scale of one inch to two hundred feet, must be prepared for each city. Particular care must be taken in respect to drainage, and the regulations of the state board of health be complied with in regard to out-houses. By this law, every street in new cities must have a breadth of at least 60 feet, measuring from the walls of the buildings; and in old cities, no new street can be laid out with a less breadth than forty feet. No building can be erected within fifteen feet of a neighboring line, unless constructed of bricks or other equally fire-proof material. Dwellings may not be built with more than five stories. Where the attic is finished into dwelling-rooms or has fireplaces, such attic is to be counted as a story.[Page 1259]
No building can be higher than the breadth of the street on which it stands and five feet in addition. Houses or other buildings when built on the corners of streets must have their corners cut off eight feet in breadth, and with equal angles. This regulation has obtained in Stockholm for a considerable time, and while it adds to the general architectural elegance of the city, it also helps to prevent collisions of vehicles. Rooms in dwellings are not to be less than nine feet in height. Cellars must be so walled as to prevent, if possible, the admission of water. The floor of the lowest or basement living-room must be at least a foot higher than the ground or street. In all public buildings doors are to open outwards. These, perhaps, are sufficient citations to show the scope of the law. It does not conflict with what has before been quoted from the Stockholm regulations in regard to thickness of walls. The penalty for violating any of the provisions of the law in question or of any of the Stockholm building-regulations may not exceed five hundred crowns in money, but the offender is liable for the damages caused by a non-compliance with them, and may also be compelled to tear down what has been improperly erected. There are many things in the domestic arts, in the implements of agriculture, in carriages, in the gear of beasts of burden, and the like, where the Swedes are much behind the Americans but in building they seem, like the ancient Romans, to have an eye to what is substantial and practical. There are no projecting steps, porches, nor stylish entrances to private houses. The entrance from the street is through a large double door on a level with the sidewalk. This passage-way is generally wide and high enough to admit a two-horse carriage. It is arched under the building itself, and lighted both from the street and interior yard. After passing in at this door one has to take from six to a dozen steps before reaching the stairway to the apartments. The street-door is kept fastened and tended by a person especially employed for the purpose and who occupies a room overlooking it. This is a great convenience to visitors who may only wish to leave a message for some of the different apartments, and also to the occupants of the apartments in being freed from those intrusive visits of professional beggars and others, to which a private house is often subjected in a large city. If anything further were required to show that the cheap rates of insurance are mainly owing to strict building-regulations—in other words, to preventive means—it would be found in the fact that the fire-department in Stockholm is extremely inefficient and behind the times. It is so acknowledged by all parties. Certainly there is an abundance of water, which, of its own force, can be thrown as high as the top of most of the buildings. There is no telegraphic fire-alarm, but alarms night or day are given by watchmen stationed in the principal church towers. There are two watchmen together in a tower, where a comfortable room is provided for them. If a fire is discovered, a watchman strikes upon the bell the number of the ward in which it is. The pumps, or, if they can be so called, the engines, are all operated by hand. There are about fifty of these. They are served, in accordance with a very old custom, by the laborers at certain designated mechanical or manufacturing shops in various parts of the city, and the address of which may be found under the head of fire-system in the city directory. Those who are first at a fire with an engine receive each a few crowns as compensation. None others are paid. In former years, when mechanic and other trades had their guilds and were privileged, this sort of service was compulsory, but now it is entirely voluntary except as to one trade, namely, the wine-bottlers. A few of the engines, however, are required to be served by garrison soldiers. It is in contemplation to organize a [Page 1260] new fire-system; to have a corps of one hundred and fifty men to be paid and held exclusively for the fire-service, with reserves from among the garrison soldiers and the citizens; to introduce telegraphic fire-alarms, and to have engines operated by steam. Norway has had for some time in her principal towns a modern fire-system, with corps of men and steam-engines exclusively employed in the service.
I have &c.,