Our man in Moscow

Erik Adolf Englund (1879-1965) was one of the early heroes of the telephone industry. Aged 21, he was hired by Stockholms Allmänna Telefonaktiebolag (SAT) as a line engineer and just 12 months later he was dispatched to Russia. More specifically, he was assigned to Moscow to carry out line construction work on behalf of the SAT subsidiary Svensk-Dansk-Ryska AB in connection with the concession obtained by the company in the city. There, he conducted contract operations under his own name and through a prudent tariff policy and a high level of service to subscribers, the business rapidly expanded. His contracting operations were extended to several other cities, including Kiev, today the capital of Ukraine.

Erik A Englund was an enterprising and inventive man. The expansion of the Russian telephone network presented technical difficulties, which he was able to resolve with ease - and his solutions continued to be used for several decades thereafter. As a trained engineer, he was able to pilot the company through technical difficulties and resolve financial and political problems. Englund had a soberly realistic view of what could practically be achieved. His personality, which was characterized by a mixture of toughness and charm, helped him through many problematical situations.

In his correspondence with the Stockholm office he writes about the company's successes, the number of new lines that had been installed, and how a new exchange should be marketed. Occasionally, matters of a more personal nature are mentioned, such as when he thanks the company for his wedding present, or grumbles about a lawyer who seems to have cheated him out of 2,000 rubles in connection with a personal problem. Through the good services of Gottlieb Piltz, the president of Ericsson, he was able to recover 1,000 of this amount; but what the matter related to is never revealed in the letters?

Englund worked untiringly to develop and expand the telephone system within Imperial Russia up to autumn 1917, when the Bolshevik Revolution forced him to return to Sweden. At that time, and not yet 40, he had not only steered the company through the attempted revolution in 1905 but had also maintained uninterrupted operations throughout the First World War. Naturally, the outbreak of these latter hostilities resulted in many different problems. In correspondence dated November 1914, he explains, without complaint, that his automobile had been requisitioned and "taken off to the war, I will receive about 85% of the value in a compensation payment, which isn't so bad considering it wasn't worth more."

Following his return to Stockholm in 1917, Englund was placed in service at Ericsson. His experience of developing a telephone company in a market characterized by technical, political and financial problems proved to be extremely valuable to his new employer. During the 1920s, he successfully reestablished relations with contacts in the Russian market and was involved in the drive to have Ericsson's 500-switch system installed in both Moscow and Rostov.

The expansive economies and technical developments in many parts of the world during the interval between the First and Second World Wars provided Englund with various enterprising assignments. Under his direct management, networks were constructed in Italy, Greece, Portugal and Turkey, plus a number of major railway cable projects in Sweden. Englund was driven by the need to always propel development forward and to disseminate the technological advances gained in new areas.

The years in which he was active were a Klondike period for technologically gifted and enterprising people, who were unafraid to venture out into world. By comparison, today's entrepreneurs with their business-class airline tickets and cocktails present a somewhat less colorful impression.

Just how exciting it could get in those days is revealed by an incident that happened when the Russian revolution of 1905 was at its height. Erik A Englund one day supervised work to repair a telephone line for inter-urban traffic outside Moscow. When two of the unarmed soldiers accompanying him had climbed up the poles to start the work, a hostile crowd started to assemble. Weapons appeared and Englund was threatened with his life if the work was not stopped immediately. When the crowd started to attack, he handed his revolver over to one of the soldiers, since it would be of no use to him in the work he intended to complete. When the crowd realized that he intended to finish his task, they beat him until he was unconscious. But we can be relatively certain that he returned to complete this project, just as he completed all of the other projects he undertook, no matter where in the world they were located.

Author: Torbjörn Elensky

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