Over the weekend, I was rereading Bill Bryson's delightful book A Short History of Nearly Everything and was reminded that one of the reasons Sweden is a leading producer of matches is that a Swedish chemist by the name of Karl Scheele was the first person to devise a way to manufacture phosphorus in bulk.
Such is the type of advantage that can fall to a country that has the good fortune of being the first to develop or popularize a new technology.
I recall this little history lesson because just this morning, I came across not one but two articles suggesting that Sweden won't be satisfied with setting the world on fire with just matches.
The first article announced that the modestly populated Scandinavian country had pulled off a diplomatic coup when it became the first country to officially establish an embassy in Second Life -- the virtual-reality world that is rapidly becoming populated by business powerhouses -- already there are IBM
The move might be easily dismissed as a cheap publicity stunt, but close to 3 million people have now created avatars in Second Life, and just as matches undoubtedly helped spark the growth of other industries such as the cigarette industry, Second Life might well do the same.
As innovative as the Second Life move is, it pales in comparison with the country's other big recent announcement. Last Friday, Sweden announced a deal with Virgin Galactic to establish Spaceport Sweden -- a real destination for people looking for fly in space.
Located in the artic city of Kiruna, the country hopes to launch its first space tourist as early as 2010. It then hopes to make Kiruna "Europe's first and most obvious place for personal suborbital spaceflight."
At an estimated $200,000 for a 20-minute flight, I don't think I'll personally be traveling to Kiruna anytime soon, and I wouldn't yet recommend investing in Boeing
After all, who would have imagined that almost 300 years after the development of phosphorous, Sweden would still be making matches? My advice? Keep a close eye on the Swedes; they could be up to something -- and it could burn you if you're not careful.
Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is a big fan of Bill Bryson and strongly recommends his most recent book, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. He owns stock in IBM. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.
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