An established authority
Lars Magnus had now established himself as an authority where tele-phones were concerned in Sweden. This was confirmed when he was officially appointed to assist the commissioner for the Swedish pavilion at the first International Electrical Exhibition, held in Paris from August to November 1881. Lars Magnus spent six weeks in the French capital making sure that everything was in order. The longest lines at the exhibition were to be found outside a suite of four rooms in the Palais de l’Industrie where visitors could listen to performances transmitted directly from the Paris Opera by telephone.
Lars Magnus encountered journalists looking for something to write about. He commented with a sigh: “I had to spend the whole of yesterday walking around with a man from Stockholm whose job is to write for Dagbladet even though he does not understand a single thing about what is happening in the field of electricity.”
The visit to Paris was a reminder for Lars Magnus of the value of keeping up to date all the time. Over the coming years he made many trips, for both study and business, not only around Europe and Russia but also to the United States.
Sweden’s Telegraph Board had initially concluded that it did not need to take telephony seriously. It soon had grounds to revisit this opinion.
The board decided at first to build its own telephone network between the government ministries and the central administrative authorities in Stockholm. This network opened in 1881, initially with 32 subscribers.
During 1882 the board established “national telephone stations” in Härnösand, in Sweden’s north, and Uddevalla, in the west. The aim was not to operate as a telephone company but to enable greater efficiency in the delivery of telegrams. When a telegram arrived at a telegraph office it had to be delivered to the recipient as soon as possible; for this, the telephone was superior. In 1883, the board bought the separate, Bell-operated telephone network in Malmö; this marked the beginning of state-run telephone services in southern Sweden.
State interest in telephony was, in fact, prompted primarily by the herring fishery. This had played a significant role in the economy of Sweden during the second half of the 18th century, when in 1747 schools of herring began arriving in the autumn to the coast of Bohuslän where they were caught in enormous quantities. Recent historians have compared the west of Sweden’s herring catches to the Klondike gold rush. During the season, up to 50,000 people were involved in the herring industry, including more than 3,000 buyers and 8,000 working in the salting houses. Several of those active in the industry made large fortunes and became major players in the Gothenburg area.
After 1808, the schools of herring disappeared as quickly as they had come, a shift that led to acute poverty. But in 1877, word spread like wildfire that the herring had returned. For the next 30 years until 1906, this gave rise to a boom in Bohuslän like the one a century earlier.
Fish are perishable and large sums are at risk if they are not handled without delay. Access to rapid communications is critical. For that reason, telephony became an important shared concern in Bohuslän in the 1880s: fishermen wanted to find out where they could get the best price for their catch, buyers wanted to be able close deals quickly and entrepreneurs were looking for contracts.
During the first decade of telephony in Sweden, the herring fishery was a frequent subject of debate in the Riksdag, as it soon was in the county councils of Gothenburg and Bohuslän. Considerable sums were allocated each year to the development of a state-run telephone network.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn
Portrait, Lars Magnus Ericsson, 1882