Lars Magnus Ericsson


The History of Lars Magnus Ericsson

Lars Magnus Ericsson was, no doubt, the entrepreneur behind the early years of telephone manufacturing. There were others of course, but it seemed that Ericsson was intent to succeed. Australia adopted as its first standard wall telephone an Ericsson Fiddleback, which was built in Sweden to Australian specifications and after 1901 became known as the "Commonwealth Ericsson" (P.M.G. type No.1 - 131MW). These instruments date back to the mid 1890s, and many were still in operation in regional areas in the 1960s.

Lars Magnus Ericsson opened his electro-mechanical workshop in rented premises in Stockholm in 1876. His assets were not extensive but consisted of an instrument-maker's lathe, a working capital of around 1000 Krona (A$50), and a twelve year old assistant. In the early days of his venture he was involved in the repair of telephone equipment and other electrical devices, but he soon began to produce improved equipment of his own design - designs such as a dial telegraph instrument for use in railway systems, and a fire telegraph system for small communities. Such developments won him recognition for his work in this field. Ericsson's reputation for quality work soon enabled him to obtain orders from a wide variety of public and private authorities in areas such as telegraphy, fire protection, police administration and railway systems.
Not long after opening his workshop, Ericsson brought in a former workmate, Carl Andersson, as his first and only partner. Andersson, who had studied abroad with the assistance of Government grants, contributed 1000 Krona to the enterprise, which then became known as L.M. Ericsson & Co. Andersson continued as Ericsson's closest associate for many years, even after the partnership was dissolved and the founder regained complete control of the company.

In 1878, at the age of 32, Lars married Hilda Simonsson. Hilda became an active colleague in the new and thriving business, and for a number of years the winding of electromagnet coils using silk insulated copper wire was given to Mrs. Ericsson, at first working alone and later with the help of assistants. It has also been recorded that at times when Mrs. Ericsson was confined to bed, she continued with the winding machine propped on her knees.

The second major event of 1878 was the delivery of the first telephones of Ericsson's manufacture. American-made instruments had been introduced in Sweden the previous year, and some of them had already been in Ericsson's shop for repair. The experience gained from the repair work, and with studies Ericsson had undertaken after reading accounts of Bell's patent, enabled him to design and produce serviceable instruments. Other orders followed in close succession, and although the telephone continued to be regarded as a luxury, Ericsson intensified his efforts to improve his instruments. The breakthrough of telephony in Sweden occurred in 1880 when the American Bell Company, using American equipment, constructed the first telephone networks. The situation was critical for Ericsson, as he stood to lose virtually all of his home market unless he and Andersson could demonstrate convincingly that their equipment was equal, if not superior, to Bell's. The showdown came in 1881, when the city of Galve on the Baltic coast was to be equipped with a local telephone system. The Bell Company in Stockholm offered to install and operate a system for 200 krona per subscriber per year, which was to be based on a five-year contractual arrangement. Instruments from Bell and Ericsson telephones were set up for testing, it was agreed by the 'testers' that the Ericsson telephones were simpler, stronger and more attractive. There were also other contenders plying their interests in the project.

Early in 1880 Ericsson had ten workmen on his payroll. By 1884, the number was closer to one hundred. The growth of the fledgling enterprise was to continue, albeit not without some setbacks, for more than one hundred years. One of Ericsson's important contributions was to give telephone instruments and their necessary components a light, attractive appearance without any degradation of technical performance. In this respect, Ericsson instruments differed substantially from the early equipment offered by other manufacturers. Ericsson instruments produced during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, widely imitated by other companies, are today collectors' items par excellence, throughout the world.

Ericsson contributed substantially to the design of early telephone exchanges, designing and producing the first 'multiple desk' in Europe in 1884. Many of these switchboards were used for more than half a century. In the concluding years of his business life, Ericsson participated actively in the design and engineering of the then new central battery system. However, he still insisted on continuing product excellence and his standards were higher than those then considered necessary for foreign competitors. The solid quality of Ericsson's work and the elegance of his designs established his products as symbols of the finest available.

By 1896 the company had approximately five hundred employees in nearly all countries. At that time, Ericsson transferred the business of L.M. Ericsson & Co. to a new corporation, Aktiebolaget L.M. Ericsson & Co., capitalised at one million krona. He served as Managing Director and Chairman of the Board in the new corporation. He retired in 1900, but displayed an active interest in the company until 1903, when he disposed of his shareholdings and severed all formal connections with the enterprise he had founded and guided to a position of international stature. He took up farming on an estate near Stockholm in 1906 and died in December 1926, at the age of eighty.

Click here for the history of L M Ericsson (the company)

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Last revised: December 19, 2010

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