Sweden’s first telephone company

Stockholm Bell Telefon AB, advert, 1882
Advert about telephone stations in Stockholm belonging to Bell Telephone Co.

On September 1, 1880, for the first time in Sweden, it became possible to place calls to a number of persons, to anyone who had a telephone that was connected to a telephone exchange. The first telephones that came to Sweden were simple Bell instruments that had been made in the United States. They were available in Stockholm at the end of 1877. One could only speak between two instruments that were connected to a fixed line. The same device served as both the receiver and microphone, so that callers had to move the "open" end between ear and mouth during a call.

When telephones had been developed to the point where they had a special microphone and a bell, they could be linked together in telephone networks. This required a telephone switch in a telephone exchange, plus operators who made the connections.

Stockholms Bell Telefonaktiebolag was Sweden's first telephone company. It was formed by three former superintendents, named Lybeck, Bratt and Recin, who had been employed by Televerket, the Swedish PTT. They wrote to the Telegraph Board and the Office of the Governor of Stockholm, requesting permission to install a telephone network in the city. They received such permission and formed the Stockholm Telephone Association (Stockholms Telefonförening). Installation work was started but, before it was completed, the company was taken over by the newly formed Stockholms Bell Telefonaktiebolag. The new company was a subsidiary of The International Bell Telephone Company.

The telephone exchange was set up in the Skandinaviska Kreditaktiebolag Building at Västerlånggatan 16, at the corner of Storkyrkobrinken. The company used American telephone instruments and switches exclusively and relied on American engineers. The telephones, which had a signal coil, a bell and a Blake microphone, were available as desk or wall models and were manufactured by Bell. The switch was of the American Gilliland type.

When the exchange was opened on September 1, 1880, there were 121 subscribers and this number increased to 218 by the end of the year. Branch exchanges were opened in the Södermalm and Norrmalm sections of Stockholm during the first year. At first, the exchanges were open for business between 9:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. but, beginning in May 1883, they were open around the clock. The fee per year for an unlimited number of calls was SEK 160 in the Old Town, SEK 240 elsewhere in the inner city, and SEK 280 in the outer areas.

When Stockholms Bell Telefonaktiebolag was formed, there were no usable Swedish telephones and switches. This equipment had to be imported. The situation was different when a competing telephone company, Stockholms Allmänna Telefonaktiebolag (SAT), appeared on the scene in 1883. Its founder, H T Cedergren, worked with Lars Magnus Ericsson, who began to manufacture high-quality telephone equipment. Cedergren had criticized the Bell company for its charges, which he thought were excessively high. Compared with conditions in other countries, the Bell company's charges were not notably expensive, however. Fees were higher in most countries; lower in only a few.

SAT began operations on October 31, 1883 and won the battle for subscribers. The Bell company was forced to reduce its fees. The number of Bell company subscribers increased up until 1883, when SAT acquired a majority interest in the company. The Bell company had to restrict its operations to the Östermalm section of the city. There the company started a special network for private subscribers with lower fees. The number of calls a subscriber could make was limited.

From 1894 SAT introduced networks with similar limited subscriptions in the rest of Stockholm. The subscribers were connected via seven special stations around the city. In 1898 an organizational change was made and the Bell company began to operate the stations, thereby increasing its number of subscribers to 7,000.

The Bell company ceased its telephone operations completely in 1908. The company had still managed to acquire 15,285 subscribers at that time.

Author: K V Tahvanainen

Stockholm Bell Telefon AB, advert, 1881

Advert about several services in Stockholm offered by Bell Telephone Co.


Work on telephone lines on a city roof. Mainly seamen, used to working high above the ground (or sea level), were recruited for this kind of work.

© Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson and Centre for Business History

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