Lars Magnus had already come a long way. Born on May 5, 1846, as the sixth child of smallholders Eric Ersson and Maria Jonsdotter, he was to be followed by three more children; four of the nine siblings died in childhood. Their smallholding, Nordtomta, was in central Värmland, close to the church at Värmskog; the nearest town of any size was Arvika 20 kilometers to the northwest. Lars Magnus was to spend the whole of his childhood in Värmland and adjacent Norway.
As well as his work on the smallholding, Eric Ersson worked at the silver mine at Vegerbol, a 15-minute walk from Nordtomta; because he was big and strong, he was entrusted with transporting the silver ore by horse and wagon to Karlstad, 40 kilometers to the east. It is reasonable to suppose that Lars Magnus, like his two elder brothers, helped with the work at the silver mine while he was still a child. Local legend tells of his engineering talents: he constructed a waterwheel-driven hammer in the adjacent stream, where he is also reputed to have had his own small smithy, in a lean-to with a turf roof.
This was where Lars Magnus was supposed to have constructed his first “telephone” link. He is said to have tensioned a couple of wires between two membranes made of animal bladders, one in his smithy and the other in the kitchen at home. When meals were ready, his mother could scratch the membrane; the vibrations were transmitted to the smithy, letting Lars Magnus know it was time to come in and eat.
Lars Magnus was registered at the school in Vegerbol at the age of seven, but he also attended neighboring schools at Bjornebol and Karlsbol. The school records show that, at the end of his first year, he received good marks in everything but tidiness and conduct: his grade in both of those areas was a B. Lars Magnus had finished his fifth year at school when his father died at the age of 54 of a sudden fever. His two elder brothers had already left home, so Lars Magnus had to interrupt his schooling to help his mother and two younger sisters with the smallholding and their livelihood.
His next step was to apply for a job at the ironworks at Borgvik, a few hours walk south. This was run by Carl August Skjöldebrand, an enterprising man who strove to improve the production of iron at the works. The wages were low and Lars Magnus, who was only 12, was not happy there. He started confirmation classes with the local pastor in the autumn of 1860, at the age of 14 – a year younger than normal.
It was around this time that Lars Magnus started to demonstrate his creative skills. During the winter, the local entertainment was a game called “knack”. Youngsters who could not afford to play for money played instead with tokens, usually made from discarded pewter dishes. If a dish could be found, it was usually Lars Magnus’s task to construct the tokens. He tells the story in his own words:
”While occupied like this, the idea struck me that it would be just as easy to construct 10-öre pieces as tokens and that would give me a chance of playing with the older boys. Words became deeds, and I made myself 10 or so 10-öre pieces and set off for the first auction, where the young people from the area always gathered. My kitty was soon more or less emptied by the older boys, as they were more familiar with the game than I was, and so my pewter coins were in circulation. However I soon learned that few joys last for ever, as it was discovered that the coins were false, which gave rise to remarks and homilies that caused me grave distress.”
Forgery was a very serious crime. Investigations were undertaken by the county sheriff from Gillberga, P. Eriksson, but ended happily for Lars Magnus with a simple reprimand. He reflected later that the event “focused my thoughts on the serious things in life and strengthened my desire to strive honorably and in godliness towards my future destiny”.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn