Henric Öller launches pioneering enterprise

One of the real pioneers of Swedish telecommunications technology, and the foremost forerunner of Lars Magnus Ericsson, was Anton Henric Öller. The son of a pharmacist, Henric Öller was born in 1819. Before becoming involved with telecommunications, he tried his hand as a silk manufacturer in Stockholm, and subsequently, as a grower of mulberry trees to cultivate silk-worms.

In the early 1850s, Öller's friend Anton Ludvig Fahnehjelm, an inventor and a captain in the naval mechanics corps, managed to interest him in conducting experiments in electrical telegraphing. In July 1853, Öller and Fahnehjelm took part in the successful trial run of the first Swedish electrical telegraph connection, linking Stockholm and Uppsala. In 1854, Öller was appointed head of the telegraph office of the Electrical Telegraph Administration in Uppsala.

Most of the new telegraph hardware had to be imported. However, Televerket, the Swedish PTT, was anxious to establish domestic production as soon as possible. Telegraph equipment was ordered from Swedish instrument makers who copied German and English telegraph machines. The instrument makers had no training in telegraph machinery. Henric Öller did, however, and he also continued to carry out telegraph experiments and create new designs in his free time.

In 1857, he started Öller & Co, "to produce, repair and improve telegraph machines". This was Sweden's first manufacturing company focusing on electrical equipment, and telegraph machines in particular. In 1856, Öller had submitted a joint patent application, with a watch maker, for a Morse code that the new company began producing. Apart from telegraph machines, the company came to produce sewing machines and electrical doorbells for businesses and private homes, as well as electrical equipment for medical electrotherapy, training and research purposes.

Like most Swedish workshops in the 1850s, production was largely based on manual techniques and therefore faced with formidable competition from foreign companies with more large-scale production. Öller's company was not profitable. Televerket, however, considered the existence of a Swedish repair and experimental workshop to be vitally important, and therefore subsidized Öller & Co. When Öller left the Telegraph Administration in 1866 to devote all his time to his company, he was allowed to keep his salary as long as he carried out work for the administration.

Author: Mats Fridlund