Although the Swedish constitution makes no mention of a national anthem, Du gamla, du fria enjoys universal recognition and is used, for example, at government ceremonies as well as sporting events. It first began to win recognition as a patriotic song in the 1890s, and the issue of its status was debated back and forth up until the 1930s. In 1938, the Swedish public service radio company Sveriges Radio started playing it at the end of transmitting in the evenings, which marked the beginning of the de facto status as national anthem the song has had since.
Despite the belief that it was adopted as the national anthem in 1866, no such recognition has ever been officially accorded. A kind of official recognition was when the King Oscar II rose in honour when the song was played, the first time in 1893. In 2000 the Riksdag committee rejected, as "unnecessary", a proposal to give the song legally official status, repeated later. The committee concluded that the song has been established as anthem by the people, not by the political system, and that it is good to keep it that way.
Richard Dybeck wrote the original lyrics in 1844.
The original lyrics were written by Richard Dybeck in 1844, to the melody of a variant of the ballad Kärestans död. The ballad type is classified as D 280 in The Types of the Scandinavian Medieval Ballad; the variant from Västmanland that Dybeck reproduced is classified as SMB 133 G. It was recorded by Rosa Wretman in the beginning of the 1840s. Dybeck published the traditional text in Folk-lore I, and the melody in 1845 in his Runa, where he also published his new text "Sång till Norden" ["Song to/of the North"].
Dybeck himself originally wrote the beginning as "Du gamla, du friska" (Thou ancient, Thou hale), but in the late 1850s personally changed the lyrics to "Du gamla, du fria" (Thou ancient, Thou free). The song was already published in several song books and sung with "Du gamla, du friska", but a priest who had known Dybeck got the opportunity to tell the singer most associated with the song, opera singer
Carl Fredrik Lundqvist, about the change in the year 1900. From that point on, printings of the "friska" version ceased to be seen in song books, but a recording from 1905 where it is sung with "friska" still exists. The Swedish composer Edvin Kallstenius made an orchestral arrangement of the national anthem in 1933.
While the Scandinavist Richard Dybeck originally wrote the text with reference to the three Nordic kingdoms, later it was thought to apply mainly to the two united kingdoms Sweden and Norway. However, the union under the Bernadotte dynasty was considerably more popular in Sweden than in Norway. The royal family and the circles around them were among the most strong adherents of the union, which may explain the popularity of the anthem in these circles. In 1905, the Swedish-Norwegian union was dissolved. Since then, in general, in this anthem, the word "norden" is interpreted as a synonym of "Sweden".
By the early 20th century, many regarded the song unsuitable as a national anthem. In the 1890s it started getting printed in song books in the section for patriotic songs, but as late as in the 1920s it was occasionally published just as "folk music". In 1899 a contest was held for writing a national anthem. It led to Verner von Heidenstam writing his "Sverige", but did not lead to any new national anthem.
Patriotic sentiment is notably absent from the text of the original two verses, due to them being written in the spirit of Scandinavism popular at the time (Norden in general refers to the Nordic countries in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish). After the song started to acquire its informal status as the national anthem, various people wrote additional verses to increase the "Swedishness" of the song. The aforementioned Lundqvist wrote his own third verse beginning with "Jag älskar dig Sverige" (I love thee, Sweden),
Frans Österblom wrote four verses beginning with "Jag älskar min hembygd" ("I love my native area") and
Louise Ahlén in 1910 wrote two verses which are occasionally printed still to this day , not the least lately on the Internet. For a long time, they were very seldom published, and are still largely unknown to the public; however, recently they have become popular in Swedish nationalistic circles. In a 2014 advert for the Volvo car company, starring Zlatan Ibrahimović, the lyric "i Norden" ("in the north") was altered to "i Sverige" ("in Sweden").