MTD system switchboard operators
The MTD system kept hundreds of switchboard operators busy connecting mobile calls.

The upshot of SAT’s entry into the market was a major battle for subscribers in Stockholm. Cedergren was forced to charge 125 crowns, more than planned but considerably lower than the Bell Company’s rates (160–280 crowns). SAT gained 785 subscribers during the first two autumn months of 1883 alone.

The use of the word “public” in the name of the company indicated that it was intended for public use. This was given concrete expression when SAT set up “public call boxes” where calls could be made for 10 öre to the company’s subscribers. Another novelty was SAT’s offer to allow users in the same building to use the same line and share the costs.

In the summer of 1884, SAT had more subscribers than the Bell Company and its numbers continued to grow. In October 1884, Bell lowered its charges to the same level as SAT but this was too late to reverse the trend.

SAT’s business philosophy resulted in Stockholm having more telephones in 1885 than anywhere else in the world, both per head and in absolute figures. There were 4,832 telephones in Stockholm, 4,248 in Berlin, 4,193 in London, 4,054 in Paris and 3,700 in New York. In per-capita terms, Stockholm topped the list, followed by Helsinki, Kristiania, Rome and Copenhagen.

An important element in the battle between the companies involved acquiring access to the rooftops of buildings. Each subscriber needed their own wire – two when the twin-conductor technology was introduced at the end of the 1880s – and it was not always easy to install the cable gantries on tiled roofs. There was much debate about the way telephone lines obscured the sun and marred the environment. Nya Dagligt Allehanda referred to the gantries as “ugly beasts”. Svenska Dagbladet asserted that it was a waste of time trying to embellish Stockholm with fine buildings “as the bunches of telephone lines and the fittings for them will soon ruin the appearance of our city”. Dagens Nyheter complained about the unbearable noise produced by telephone lines on windy days: many people suffered from their “nerve-shattering cacophonies”.

The following year was marked by the decline of the Bell Company and continued success for SAT, which in 1887 united all its lines at the newly erected central exchange on Malmskillnadsgatan. Cables were installed to link with Södertälje, Uppsala, Norrtälje, Nyköping, Mariefred, Västerås and several other cities, a separate network was constructed in Söderhamn in 1886, and the independent network in Jönköping was acquired in 1888.

At the end of 1889, the Bell Company accepted the idea of sharing traffic with SAT’s network. Two years later, Bell gave up and sold its network to SAT – with one minor exception. For a few years, the Bell Company clung on to Stockholm by operating a telephone network for a clientele of wealthy individuals living in Östermalm.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn