Since the 16th century when Sweden became a sovereign state, its leadership has sought to expand Sweden's influence over Jämtland, which at the time still was a part of Norway, or more precisely Denmark-Norway. First politically, with no substantial result, later economically. Cities were established along the Norrlandic coast in order to control trade, Jämtland's faring trade included. Härnösand was the first city established in 1585, later followed by Sundsvall 1621. These cities were tiny and had little success dealing with the deeply rooted resistance towards States' interest in controlling trade and the connection between Trøndelag and Jämtland.
Plans regarding the foundation of a Swedish city or köping (market town, "Chipping") in Jämtland existed amongst governmental officials already after the province was ceded from Denmark-Norway in 1645. Queen Christina demanded the establishment of a sconce on Andersön shortly after the province became Swedish, this sconce would together with Frösö sconce secure the Swedish control over Jämtland. Christina's intention was to locate the "Jamts' city" within this fortification. In order to construct the sconce the local inhabitants were coerced into forced labour 1651 but after protests and lack of capital the project was ended in 1654. Shortly afterwards there was a major revolt against the Swedish governance of Jämtland in Storsjöbygden and after the Dano-Norwegian reconquest of Jämtland in 1677 where the Jamts actively aided their "real" countrymen, saw them as liberators and fought the Swedes, all plans were regarding a Swedish city in Jämtland were put on ice.
In 1758 the plans were brought back up through an initiative from a civilian, though the authority saw no need for a city in Jämtland. The proposition did, however, initiate a new debate whether or not a city was to be established in Jämtland. The already mentioned Norrlandic cities demanded it so that the faring traditions and the lucrative cross country border trade conducted by Jamts in Norway across Kölen was ended. The Jamts were known to neglect the agriculture and instead take on long trading journeys all over Scandinavia to various markets. With a city in Jämtland this could finally end and the city would be able to secure the goods transportation, which usually was very scarce, to the coast. From a military point a foundation of a city in Jämtland was favorable, given that Sweden no longer was power to be reckon with in Northern Europe.
Östersund was founded and given its charter by King Gustav III of Sweden in 1786, shortly after the outskirt of the Odensala farmers' lands were bought for the purpose.
The only thing actually located in the area at the time was the main road and the bridge to Frösön, the then mercantile and administrative centre of Jämtland. The trade in Jämtland couldn't be prevented from the Norrlandic coast, all trade restrictions such as border controls, punishments, trade prohibition and tariffs were unsatisfying for the Swedish authority. The Jamts were too cunning and some people claim that the Jamtish signature mark bällt du luur'n (were you able to trick him) derives from the Jamtish attempts to trick the Swedish border guard in order to avoid paying customs on merchandises brought back from Norway. This development wasn't unique for Sweden, it occurred throughout the Nordic countries, in today's Finland the cities Tampere, Kuopio and Kaskinen were founded. Though Östersund is, as stated in the beginning, the only city in today's Sweden founded and chartered in the 18th century. In Denmark-Norway Reykjavík was founded the very same year as Östersund on Iceland. Östersund was upon foundation freed from taxes during a 20 years timespan and completely liberated from trade regulations and guild order.
The State tried to pursue the Jamtish traders on Frösön to migrate to the new city but they had no intentions of leaving such a rich parish with fertile soils Frösön consisted of in favor of the swamp and marches across the strait. During its first 50 years the city's population only grew (on average) with eight people per year. The city did become the capital of the newly founded county consisting of the provinces Jämtland and Härjedalen in 1810, meaning that a county residence was built and a county administrative board was located to the city. Though Östersund remained as a de facto farmer village with less than 400 inhabitants 1820. The 1840s were slightly better when Jemtlands Tidning (Jämtland's first newspaper) was established, the first church was inaugurated, Frösö Trivial School was located to the city and a general hospital was built. The city grew a little more when the full scale logging process was initiated in the 1850s and the 1860s.
It took till the construction of the railroad in 1879 before Östersund became a real city and actually gained the status as Jämtland's centre, at Frösön's expense. Thanks to the "farmer chieftain" Nils Larson i Tullus the railroad came to pass through the city itself instead of outside it, as planned. The railway from coast to coast across the then union between Sweden and Norway was finished 1882, connecting Östersund closer to Trondheim and Sundsvall. Östersund then came to grow faster than any other Swedish city. After ten years it had passed 20 Swedish cities in population. The city attracted immigrants, a majority from the Jamtish countryside though still with a high number of settlers from Southern Sweden.
Along with the settlers came new influences to Jämtland and the province entered the popular movement age forcefully. In comparison with the rest of Sweden the popular movements in Östersund were unusually dynamical. In Jämtland and Härjedalen the free minded Good Templar movement (a part of the temperance movement) came to dominate completely. It was preceded by the free church movement that challenged the city's establishment with the creation of a missionary house and a baptist chapel.
The third large popular movement, the labour movement was greatly hampered by the free minded temperance movement but also become somewhat prominent in the city, given that first of May demonstrations were held as early as 1890.
The first temperance lounge in Östersund was established in 1882, after half a year the numbers of lounges had grown to six. In 1883, 700 of the city's total population of 3,000 were organized Good Templars. The rapid success the movement had created a unique enthusiasm and the movement came to encompass every part of the society. The movement arranged its own weddings, Christmas markets, entertainment establishments and coffeehouses were started, banks, a social insurance agency, library were founded by the movement. Though the greatest symbol of the movements grandeur was the Order House constructed 1885 in the city, Östersunds-Goodtemplars-Ordenshus. When one of the most prominent leaders, Joseph Malins, visited the city he announced that it was the world's largest order house.
Östersund was the Good Templar city. The year afterwards, when the city celebrated its 100th anniversary the Good Templar and newspaper proprietor Johan Lindström Saxon looked forward and prophesied the fast-growing city as the new capital in Sweden-Norway till the city's 200th anniversary (Östersund did not achieve this status, as the union was abolished in 1905).
Jämtland with Östersund as its centre became the temperance movements, in relation to the population, strongest foothold in the entire World. At the same time Östersund became the trading centre of Jämtland with the ancient market Gregorie market as highlight. Sweden received its freedom of trade in 1864 and the city's trade exploded and grew sevenfold from the early 1870s till 1910. In 1886, 30 per cent of the population in Östersund were tradesmen (twice as high as the national average), remarkably, 45 per cent of the tradesmen at the time were females. Ironically it wasn't until the establishment of the railroad and with the liberalization of trade the city actually fulfilled its purpose and the faring traditions in Jämtland ended.
Östersund was a city in symbiosis with the countryside surrounding it, both economically and culturally and the extremely unusual "native district movement" broke ground in the beginning of the 20th century. In 1908 the organization Jämtslöjd was founded joining the ancient monument association and together they started planning an open-air museum – Jamtli. The museum was later followed by a county museum and the Regional Archive. An important element in the culture was Jämtland's library, which was moved from Frösön to Östersund in 1912. Östersund thus came to inhabit one of the most valuable libraries in northern Scandinavia.
The time preceding World War I was a very important time for Östersund due to the fact that most of what's characterized Östersund as a city was established then. The idealistic views among the population had expressed itself through the popular movements, and continued to do so. "If it had come to moving Åreskutan rock by rock we'd have deemed it possible" an older Good Templar later said. When the population constantly grew new constructions were made. It was now that the great city hall was built 1912 after the drawings of Frans Bertil Wallberg.
Among the Good Templars local history become extremely popular and the temperance movement and the native district movement were joint. The Good Templars saw industrialization as a significant threat towards the native districts and the old village and farmer community. Due to most of Östersund's population having their roots in the Jamtish countryside the city was spared from city-village tensions. The work from the movements made the city and its centre-right (Swedish: borgerlig, see burgh and bourgeoisie) governance extremely rejective towards industries. Instead they wanted to portray Östersund as a centre of outdoor activities, culture, education and tourism. Industries were not allowed to threaten the good environment, the fresh air, the nature and the social history traditions.
However, everything wasn't positive in the city. Signs of harsher times were evident. The labour market conflict of 1909 (the Swedish General Strike) was the culmination of growing tension between workers and employers. No larger encounters occurred though the strike was a huge setback for the labour movement in Sweden and even more so in Östersund.
In 1917 when the Great War was fought on the continent and with the February revolution in Russia, starting the Russian Revolution also affected Östersund. Rationing led to lack of supplies and a revolution was feared. Some of the citizens, primarily soldiers, went on hunger strikes and at the first of May that year 4,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the city hall demanding lower prices on milk and wood.
The year after the Spanish flu spread like wildfire across the world. The city doctor in Östersund notified that "Östersund ought without objection have been more haunted by the flu than any other Swedish city", which is why Östersund has been referred to as the "Spanish flu's capital". The old school (today the tourist agency) became a temporary hospital and when no crisis centre existed several organizations stepped in to help the population. Even the authority did what they could and banned public gatherings, in addition to the closing of theaters and cinemas.
Despite the great depression and several crisis resulting in a very high unemployment rate Östersund continued to grow in the interwar period. The municipal community Odenslund was incorporated into Östersund in 1918. The business world remained largely unaffected and Östersund continued being one of the least industrialized cities in Sweden. Instead Östersund continued to focus on wholesale trade and became a centre of this in northern and north central Sweden. The city's central position was strengthened when Inlandsbanan was constructed through Jämtland from the north to the south.
During the interwar period the car and the bus became common. The first scheduled bus route was created in the 1920s between Östersund and the nearby town of Brunflo. In the next decade well over 40 bus routes were functioning in Östersund. The buses were of the skvader-type, a cross between a bus and a truck carrying both people and milk bottles. The dairy was located west of the bus square, Gustav III:s torg, at the shopping mall Kärnan's current whereabout. This square naturally become a central part of the city.
The social life changed, Östersunds Rundradiostation started its radio broadcast in 1927 and the cinemas became an obvious entertainment. The sport received its first large facilities. In 1917 Hofvallen was inaugurated and in the 1930s a bath house, a harness racing coarse and the tennis hall were built.
The Good Templar movement won the Swedish prohibition referendum of 1922 by a landslide in Jämtland County, 72.2 per cent of the population supported a prohibition (63.5 per cent of the males and 83.2 per cent of the females). No prohibition was introduced though when Sweden as a whole voted against a prohibition. Despite the massive amount of support regionally the movement began declining. The movement did, however, affect the city largely. It was like the dawn of a new age when the Good Templar house's sign was changed in 1947 into "teater" (theater) in what's now Gamla Teatern "the old theater".
Östersund continued to grow after World War II. Lugnvik was incorporated into the city in 1954 and Östersund was just like the rest of Jämtland affected by the Rehn-Meidner-model, though not in the same way. The Swedish Keynesian politic was launched in order to improve the mobility of the labour force. Jämtland was struck hard by this when the people moved from the countryside to cities, from inland to coast and from the north to the south. As an urban area Östersund was affected by the Million Programme and urban districts like Körfältet were created.
The negative view towards industries were changed when the Social Democrats came to power for the first time in the city's history in 1952. Industries were enticed to Östersund through the national localization politic and industrial areas were created in Odenskog and Lugnvik.
The development wasn't, as already mentioned, as good in the rest of Jämtland as it was in Östersund and as a counter act towards the governmental politic the Republic of Jamtland was established in 1963. Östersund became the republic's "capital" and the home to the freedom festival Storsjöyran.
Östersund continued to grow and in 1970 Frösö köping was made a part of Östersund. In the year of 1971 a major reform occurred in Sweden creating large municipalities replacing all the older institutions and the new large municipality was named after the city. Just like in the rest of Sweden the public sector greatly expanded at this time. In 1960 the public sector of Sweden constituted about 30 per cent of Sweden's total gross domestic product, in the middle of the 1980s the number had grown to 65 per cent. At the time it was here the jobs were, in the county board, the state and in the new municipality. The main reason for the large expansion were the expanded transfer payment to the households that occurred, along with growing interest and public consummation. Everything was founded by large tax raises. The entire 1970s was an expansion period. Besides the new industrial complex the Frösö bridge was constructed, a new police house, Z-kupolen (burned to the ground in 1989), Storsjöteatern, Folkets hus, urban district churches, shopping malls etc. The County Administration board and the hospital expanded and large housing estates were constructed in Körfältet, Lugnvik and Odensala.
The city tried to acquire a "humanistic college of higher learning" on Frösön already in the 1940s. A large tension existed between the cities in Norrland and Umeå left the struggle victorious 1962. Östersund, however, required a "social college of higher learning" in 1971.
Since 2005, Östersund has been one of the main campus sites of the Mid Sweden University (Mittuniversitetet). A number of governmental offices have also been located to the city in recent years.
An asylum centre has now opened near Östersund, "holding 900 refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq," reported the Daily Mail in March 2016.