Stockholm in 1867

Stockholm was undergoing dramatic change in 1867. The railway link to Gothenburg had opened just five years earlier, reducing the traveling time to an incredible 14 hours; now the different railway lines were brought together into an integrated network with a link over the Riddarfjärden waterway and through the city’s center. Building were demolished and built with little thought of town planning. Industries were established, led by Bergsund’s on Södermalm and Bolinders’ on Kungsholmen, manufacturing boilers, steam engines, ships, factory equipment and other cast-iron products for the city’s many building projects. New municipal laws meant local inhabitants could be taxed in order to finance the first water-supply and sewer systems, the first step in remedying the terrible hygiene conditions.

Like Lars Magnus, thousands made their way from the countryside each year to seek their fortunes in Stockholm. Insanitary living conditions and poverty meant that mortality was higher than the birth rate, but even so the population grew from 130,000 in 1867 to 300,000 in 1900. By today’s standards, there was a shocking lack of housing; jerry-built apartments were erected with no form of planning.

This was also the beginning of the great “Age of Invention”. Alfred Nobel’s patented detonators gave rise to the first of what Sweden called its “genius industries”, in Vinterviken in 1865. On September 19 two years later, around the time Lars Magnus Ericsson arrived in Stockholm, Nobel was awarded the Swedish patent for dynamite, which he called “safety gunpowder”.

In 1867, the main form of local transport was still provided by “ferrywomen”. A hundred or so ferries – each with a female skipper and two oarswomen – conveyed passengers across the waters of Stockholm. But definite changes were taking place in the city’s traffic: this was the year the first “velocipede” was seen on Stockholm’s streets.

A totally new form of communication had been introduced with the establishment of an electric telegraphic link between Stockholm and Uppsala in 1853. A year later, Sweden acquired telegraphic links with the continent via an underwater cable across Öresund, the strait between Sweden and Denmark. Within a few years the telegraph network extended from Ystad in the south to Haparanda north of the Arctic Circle. The International Telegraph Union (ITU) was founded in 1865; telephones were later to come under its domain. In 1866, attempts to link the American and European telegraph networks with a cable across the Atlantic seabed finally succeeded. Thanks to the new railway systems and telegraph networks, news could now spread in ways that had hitherto only been imagined; this soon gave rise to print media based on the rapid transmission of breaking news.

It was also a remarkable year in Swedish politics. The old Diet with its four estates was succeeded by a bicameral Riksdag, which met for the first time in 1867. But the right to vote was still restricted to wealthy taxpayers, so turnout was very low.

If Lars Magnus Ericsson had been taken on by the mechanical workshop in Kristiania, he might never have got to know Stockholm. But now it was to become his city. He was registered in Adolf Fredrik parish on September 21, 1867, and his first address was Rörstrandsgatan 4. “Through the kindness of fate,” he was later to write, “I ended up at the Öller & Co. Telegraph Factory, where I found the ideal that had been my dream of the greatest good fortune.” Öller’s factory rented premises at Apelbergsgatan 58.

One of Stockholm’s attractions was snaps, a vodka-like form of distilled alcohol. One prominent figure in this area was Lars Olsson Smith, “the king of snaps”, who around this time established a major distillery just outside the city limits on the island of Reimersholme, to which customers were offered free boat trips. Later Smith was to introduce a method of distillation that produced Absolut – Absolutely Pure Snaps. Lars Magnus discovered that many Öller employees spent their wages on living it up, and right from the beginning he vowed never to consume snaps or any other stimulant. “In this way, I had already become a outsider at my workplace,” he wrote.

Lars Magnus later said that, although he had little self-confidence at this time, he was on a better footing when it came to doing his duty, “which also seems to have been confirmed when, after a few years, I was one of those who had to make the final inspection of all that left the factory”.

Author: Svenolof Karlsson & Anders Lugn

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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