The telephone king of Stockholm

Henrik Thore Cedergren came to be known as the telephone king as a result of his monumental efforts and success in establishing Stockholm as the world’s leading telephone city in 1885, with more telephones and greater penetration than anywhere else in the world. That Cedergren was the man behind this achievement is beyond dispute. He was the one with the bold ideas and a nose for business.

H T Cedergren was one of the first to obtain a telephone from Stockholms Bell Telefonaktiebolag when the company was established in 1880. His calculations, however, showed that it would be possible to offer telephone subscriptions at a lower price than the Bell company. The lower the price, the more subscribers, reasoned Cedergren, who decided to start a new telephone company to compete with Bell.

Cedergren won support for his plans and founded Stockholms Allmänna Telefonaktiebolag (SAT) in 1883. He sought an alliance with L M Ericsson & Co, which agreed to supply telephone sets and switches. Subscriber growth was so strong that Cedergren a few years later was able to build what was then the world’s largest telephone station on Malmskillnadsgatan. The station was opened in 1887. The following year, SAT acquired majority ownership of the Bell company and took over its network in 1891.

Around 1890, the two-wire system was introduced to improve the characteristics of the telephone line. At this time, Lars Magnus Ericsson was so overloaded with orders that his company was not able to take on this extensive project. Cedergren therefore opened his own workshop in 1891 where all switches were rebuilt, not only the one used in the main station, but also those used in the sub-stations and in rural areas.

The same year, Televerket, the Swedish PTT, opened a workshop for the same purpose. The new competition was a hard blow for Lars Magnus Ericsson, particularly when SAT’s workshop was converted in 1896 into AB Telefonfabriken with H T Cedergren as president. Cedergren’s new company not only manufactured telephones, but also started other operations that would extend to other markets than SAT.

In 1900, Cedergren succeeded in tough competition with foreign telephone companies in winning a concession granting exclusive rights for telephone operations in Moscow and Warsaw. This was a victory for the entire Swedish telephone industry and resulted in renewed cooperation between Cedergren and Lars Magnus Ericsson. Through this renewed cooperation, AB Telefonfabriken was acquired in 1901 by L M Ericsson & Co.

From 1903, Cedergren served on the board of Aktiebolaget L M Ericsson & Co. in Stockholm and from 1905 on the board of the Russian Telefonaktiebolaget L M Ericsson in St. Petersburg.

When SAT celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1908, the company decided to place a substantial sum at H T Cedergren’s disposal for the establishment of a fund at the Royal Institute of Technology. Cedergren was still president and chief engineer of the company at the time and stipulated that the fund should be used to award scholarships to “talented and perceptive Swedish electrical engineers” and that a gold medal with his portrait should be awarded every five years.

Henrik Thore Cedergren died in April 1909. As a symbolic gesture, the flags on the Telephone Tower in Stockholm were flown at half-mast.

Author: K V Tahvanainen

Contribute to this story