♦While some European countries, such as England and Germany, began to industrialize in the eighteenth century, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden developed later. All four of these countries lagged considerably behind in the early nineteenth century. However, they industrialized rapidly in the second half of the century, especially in the last two or three decades. In view of their later start and their lack of coal—undoubtedly the main reason they were not among the early industrializers—it is important to understand the sources of their success.
All had small populations. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Denmark and Norway had fewer than 1 million people, while Sweden and the Netherlands had fewer than 2.5 million inhabitants. All exhibited moderate growth rates in the course of the century (Denmark the highest and Sweden the lowest), but all more than doubled in population by 1900. Density varied greatly. The Netherlands had one of the highest population densities in Europe, whereas Norway and Sweden had the lowest Denmark was in between but closer to the Netherlands.
Considering human capital as a characteristic of the population, however, all four countries were advantaged by the large percentages of their populations who could read and write. In both 1850 and 1914, the Scandinavian countries had the highest literacy rates in Europe, or in the world, and the Netherlands was well above the European average. This fact was of enormous value in helping the national economies find their niches in the evolving currents of the international economy.
Location was an important factor for all four countries. All had immediate access to the sea, and this had important implications for a significant international resource, fish, as well as for cheap transport, merchant marines, and the shipbuilding industry. Each took advantage of these opportunities in its own way. The people of the Netherlands, with a long tradition of fisheries and mercantile shipping, had difficulty in developing good harbors suitable for steamships: eventually they did so at Rotterdam and Amsterdam, with exceptional results for transit trade with Germany and central Europe and for the processing of overseas foodstuffs and raw materials (sugar, tobacco, chocolate, grain, and eventually oil). Denmark also had an admirable commercial history, particularly with respect to traffic through the Sound (the strait separating Denmark and Sweden). In 1857, in return for a payment of 63 million kronor from other commercial nations, Denmark abolished the Sound toll dues the fees it had collected since 1497 for the use of the Sound. This, along with other policy shifts toward free trade, resulted in a significant increase in traffic through the Sound and in the port of Copenhagen.
The political institutions of the four countries posed no significant barriers to industrialization or economic growth. The nineteenth century passed relatively peacefully for these countries, with progressive democratization taking place in all of them. They were reasonably well governed, without notable corruption or grandiose state projects, although in all of them the government gave some aid to railways, and in Sweden the state built the main lines. As small countries dependent on foreign markets, they followed a liberal trade policy in the main, though a protectionist movement developed in Sweden. In Denmark and Sweden agricultural reforms took place gradually from the late eighteenth century through the first half of the nineteenth, resulting in a new class of peasant landowners with a definite market orientation.
The key factor in the success of these countries (along with high literacy, which contributed to it) was their ability to adapt to the international division of labor determined by the early industrializers and to stake out areas of specialization in international markets for which they were especially well suited. This meant a great dependence on international commerce, which had notorious fluctuations; but it also meant high returns to those factors of production that were fortunate enough to be well placed in times of prosperity. In Sweden exports accounted for 18 percent of the national income in 1870, and in 1913, 22 percent of a much larger national income. In the early twentieth century, Denmark exported 63 percent of its agricultural production: butter, pork products, and eggs. It exported 80 percent of its butter, almost all to Great Britain, where it accounted for 40 percent of British butter imports.
相对于欧洲的一些国家，如英格兰和德国，在 18 世纪就开始实现工业化的时候，荷兰以及丹麦、挪威、瑞典这些斯堪的纳维亚半岛的国家的工业化是后来才发展起来的。这四个国家在 19 世纪的时候工业化水平依旧非常滞后。但是在 19 世纪下叶，尤其是在最后的二、三十年间里，他们迅速地实现了工业化。鉴于这几个国家的工业化起步较晚并且缺少煤炭资源，毫无疑问，这些都是导致他们不在早期工业化国家行列中的主要原因。因此，找出他们成功实现工业化的原因是非常重要的。
这些国家的人口都很少。在 19 世纪初，丹麦和挪威的人口总数不到 100 万；而瑞典和荷兰的居民数量也低于 250 万。在 19 世纪，这四个国家均展现出了缓和的人口增长率（丹麦最高，瑞典最低）。但是到了 1900 年，这些国家的人口数量翻了两倍有余，人口密度剧烈变化。荷兰是欧洲人口数量最多的国家之一，挪威和瑞典最少。丹麦人口数量处于这四国的中游水平，但是趋近于荷兰。
考虑到人力资本是人口的重要特征，这四个国家的优势在于受教育人口的比例非常高。在 1850 年和 1914 年，斯堪的纳维亚半岛各国的教育普及率是全欧洲或者全世界最高的，而荷兰远高于欧洲平均水平。如此高的比例对于帮助国内经济在世界经济的改革浪潮中找到自己的位置有着巨大价值。
地理位置对于这四个国家来说，同样是一个非常重要的因素。这四个国家都直接濒临海洋，而且这样的地理位置对于国际资源，渔业以及价格低廉的运输、海上商运以及船舶工业有重要的影响。这四个国家因势利导，很好地利用了各自的优势。有着悠久渔业和航运业历史的荷兰人在建造可以停泊蒸汽轮船的港口是遇到了巨大困难。最终，鉴于荷兰要参与德国跟中欧各国的过境贸易以及海外食品及原材料（从糖类、烟草、巧克力、粮食到原油）的加工工程，他们最终成功地在鹿特丹和阿姆斯特丹完成了港口的建设工程。丹麦同样有着辉煌的贸易史，特别是在松德海峡（隔开丹麦和瑞典的海峡）的海上交通。在 1857 年，一些贸易国家向丹麦支付了 6300 万瑞典克朗，作为交换，丹麦废止了自 1497 年以来在松德海峡征收的通行费。这一举措与其他自由贸易政策相辅相成，使得途径卡特加特海峡到达哥本哈根港口的贸易额大增。
这四个国家的政府没有对工业化和经济的增长设置过多的障碍。而这四国不断发展的民主进程使他们相对平稳地度过了 19 世纪。这些国家被治理的井井有条，尽管政府在铁路上给予了一定的扶持，比如瑞典政府修建了一些主要的铁路干线，不过在此期间，没有出现重大的腐败和不切实际的国家工程。虽然贸易保护主义在瑞典比较比较明显，但是就如同小国家依赖外国市场一般，这四个国家总体上还是以遵循自由贸易原则为主。在丹麦和瑞典，农业改革始于十八世纪末期，并且一直持续到十九世纪中期，这一改革导致了有着明确市场定位的农民地主阶级的出现。
这四个国家之所以取得工业化成功，关键因素在于它们能够适应由早期工业化国家所制订的国际劳动力分配，以及利用自身优势坚持对国际市场的各专业领域进行跟踪监控。这意味着对国际贸易市场存在着巨大的依赖，并伴有臭名昭著的大涨大落。但它也意味着对那些有幸被放置在繁荣时期生产要素有着高额的回报。 1870 年时，当时瑞典的出口额占据国民收入的 18%；在 1912 年更是达到国民收入的 22%。在二十世纪初期，丹麦一度出口了 63%的农产品，范围涵盖黄油、猪肉制品和蛋类等。其中，丹麦出口了将近 80%的黄油，这些几乎都销往了英国，而这一数额也达到了英国黄油进口总量的 40%。