In the 1970s, Canada, Sweden and Australia became the first countries in the West to adopt formally the idea of multiculturalism as a basis for the political management of immigrant settlement. This article compares the introduction of the idea and politics of multiculturalism in Sweden in the 1960s and 1970s to the introduction of multiculturalism in Canada and Australia during the same time period. The emergence of a politics of multiculturalism in Sweden shares many similarities with the emergence of Canadian and Australian multiculturalism: ‘white’ and ‘European’ immigrant minority groups; ethnic lobbying; expert and academic advocacy; multiculturalist public officials; and effectual claims-making based on the innovative idea of multiculturalism. The comparative perspective on the birth of Swedish multiculturalism furthermore highlights Finland as an important historical and transnational factor in the introduction of official multiculturalism in Sweden. The article contributes to research on the history of multiculturalism, the politics of ethnic diversity in Sweden and comparative research on modern Swedish history.