Lars Magnus becomes interested

Numa Peterson, a Stockholm trader dealing in chemistry and physics equipment, healthcare products and other items, launched himself into the telephone business on December 17, 1877, by offering a batch of 50 telephones and accessories for sale from his Hamngatan premises. The first buyers included “Ericsson the instrument maker” – Lars Magnus. We can reasonably suppose that he inquisitively took the devices to pieces to study their construction.

About the same time, Lars Magnus probably became familiar with the telephones made by Siemens. A close neighbor of the Ericsson workshop, which in the autumn of 1877 was at Jakobsbergsgatan 23, was the aforementioned Henrik Ahlborg, who lived at No.11 on the same street. The two men are reputed to have had their own telephone line and to have conducted tests by speaking to each other from the two addresses. Hemming Johansson assumes that the telephones used were made by Siemens: Lars Magnus had, after all, formed a high opinion of Werner Siemens during the time he spent studying in Berlin.

One of Lars Magnus’s earlier workmates at Öller’s workshop, O.G. Eklöf, also testified to their early experience with telephones. He claimed that at the beginning of 1878 they collaborated to produce 12 Bell-style telephones themselves. Fifty years later Eklöf still had the ones he made, but no trace could be found of Lars Magnus’s examples.

In spite of all this activity Ericsson’s dealings with telephones during 1878 almost entirely involved purchases and repairing Bell telephones from other suppliers. The first mention of telephones in the company’s books is on March 4, when six telephones were repaired for Numa Peterson at the modest charge of three crowns. It seems as if a large proportion of the first generation of telephones in Stockholm ended up sooner or later being sent to L.M. Ericsson & Co. for repair.

Lars Magnus therefore got to know the early Bell devices inside and out, and as an accomplished instrument maker, he can have had no doubts about his ability to make products that were at least as good. However, not until November 14, 1878, did he sell the first telephones of his own production: that was when a pair of Ericsson telephones were delivered to the Bredenberg company. Before the end of the year, Lars Magnus had sold 22 pairs of telephones, all manufactured in pine.

Lars Magnus later commented that he began to take this new area seriously when he saw the growing public interest in telephones. Many believed that the “Ericsson telephone” was something he had invented himself, “but this was not the case and our construction was based on principles provided by others, while our strength lay in our ability to realize these principles in such a practical form that they gained the confidence of the public”.

His competitor, Henric Öller, was not as successful: the most skilled workers moved gradually from Öller to L.M. Ericsson & Co. After competing for a few years, Öller stopped making telephones and went on to concentrate on repairs.

For Lars Magnus, 1878 was an eventful year in his private life as well. One name that recurs time and again in the company’s ledgers, managed for years by Lars Magnus himself, is Petrus Simonsson, keeper of the royal stables, who lived on the island of Helgeandsholmen adjacent to his employer’s palace. It was probably in the course of their business contacts that Lars Magnus met his client’s daughter, Hilda. They took a liking to each other and a letter from Hilda to Lars Magnus in May 1877, just before his 31st birthday, reveals that they had already had warm feelings for each other for some time.

They were married on April 6, 1878. Hilda was 17 and still a minor, so they had to apply to the king for permission to marry. They had three children within three years, the marriage was a long and happy one, and Hilda came to play a role in the success of the company.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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