Low profile

It was obviously a relief for Lars Magnus Ericsson to be able to withdraw from the continuous attention that went with his position as the head of Ericsson. There is general agreement that privately, with his family and friends, Lars Magnus was cheerful, open and very hospitable. In public, however, he maintained a low profile. He received invitations from every quarter – many wanted to share in his success – but he declined most of them.

Lars Magnus usually made himself scarce when he knew people were likely to make a fuss of him. On his 50th birthday on May 5, 1896, however, he did stay at home and a group of singers from the company (the Mikrofon male-voice choir led by Gabriel Bildsten, “who had the gift of a fine and beautiful tenor voice”) came to pay their respects. Although they were admitted to the house, there was no sign of the guest of honor. Gustaf Collberg recalled:

“The choir got to sing their songs to the walls, with no sign of the proprietor they had expected to see. Not until a few days later did he thank them personally at the factory for the beautiful music that he had enjoyed so much. We found out later that he had been sitting in an adjoining room listening to us. He probably thought it was pleasant as long as he did not have to be there officially.”

Johansson also described Lars Magnus’s dislike of any kind of attention. Yes, he did accept numerous honors, but, “he was probably afraid that his refusal to accept them would attract further attention, which he disliked. At any rate he consistently avoided any occasion on which he would have to wear them.”

On one occasion, though, Lars Magnus did say no. In 1909, Stockholm University College [later Stockholm University] wanted to appoint him as an honorary doctor. This recognition from the academic world must have aroused certain questions in Lars Magnus’s mind. In his response to the college, he expressed “deep gratitude for the faculty’s kind opinion of me. But unable to conceal my lack of qualifications for this honor, I am obliged for the sake of my inner calm respectfully to decline it.”

One brief example of Lars Magnus’s celebrity even outside Sweden has been provided by his grandson, Hans Wilhelm Giertz, who owns an oil painting bought by his grandfather in Oslo in the early 20th century.

”As they strolled down Karl Johan’s Street, Lars Magnus caught sight of a painting hanging in the window of an antique shop. He thought straight away, ‘If I walk into the shop and they see it is Lars Magnus Ericsson asking about the price, it will of course be higher’. So he asked his son to go in and ask. ‘Lalle’ [Giertz’s uncle] went into the shop and soon returned to tell his father what the painting cost. Lars Magnus then entered the shop, put the money on the counter and arranged for the painting to be sent to Sweden.”

In an obituary, Skånska Dagbladet pointed out that Lars Magnus, like many eminent Swedish industrialists, was “a self-made and a self-taught man. He never received any form of academic training in engineering – which would anyway have been of little help to him as he himself had been involved in creating the technology that was fundamental for the modern telephone industry”.

Lars Magnus Ericsson died at the age of 80 on December 17, 1926, the year in which the company he created celebrated its 50th anniversary.

No stone marks Lars Magnus Ericsson’s grave. He is said to have expressed his will like this: “I came into the world without a name and I want to leave it without a name.” His funeral in Botkyrka was a simple one, but nevertheless it was a major occasion, with different groups of employees from the company and representatives of organizations in Swedish society. The large number of wreaths included tributes from the Swedish Engineering Association, later to become the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers. The dedication on the wreath from the Telegraph Board read: “To the founder of the Swedish telephone industry.”

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn