It is obvious that Henric Öller soon realized what a find he had made in Lars Magnus. Öller himself had attempted a number of different ventures, once manufacturing silk and growing mulberry trees on which silkworms could be bred. In the 1850s, Öller had been involved in the first Swedish electric telegraph link between Stockholm and Uppsala, and had been appointed by the Electric Telegraph Board to head its office in Uppsala. When the board was looking for domestic instrument makers to repair its equipment, Öller founded his own company, the first Swedish manufacturer to specialize in electrical equipment; it enjoyed a government subsidy for many years.
In Öller’s workshop, Lars Magnus was able to work not only with telegraph equipment but also items such as sewing machines and electric bells, as well as devices for electro-medical treatment, teaching and experiments. Everything was produced by hand and therefore vulnerable to fierce competition from foreign companies with large-scale production. Öller’s company was making a loss but the Telegraph Board considered it important to have a Swedish workshop for repairs and experiments – hence the state subsidy.
During his five years with Öller, 1867–1872, Lars Magnus was able to gain everyday experience in design and also in supervising other workers. After work, he spent his time on more theoretical studies, including languages; he taught himself good German and English, for instance. But mostly he did what he enjoyed best: design and draftsmanship. He also made good friends among the factory workers, in particular with Carl Johan Andersson, who had grown up in Örebro and arrived in Stockholm one year after Lars Magnus.
But there was a wider world outside Stockholm and Sweden. Lars Magnus heard about an international exhibition planned for Moscow in 1869, with the Swedish government offering assistance for eight workers from different industries to travel to the exhibition. “By this time, my self-confidence must have grown as I was bold enough to apply and also received a grant,” he later wrote. Öller’s warmest recommendations must also have helped. What Lars Magnus saw in Moscow and St. Petersburg revealed to him the necessity of setting off for a few years “out into the great wide industrial world”.
Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn