Söderhamn, from rotary dials to energy systems

The flag was flying high at the Ericsson plant outside Söderhamn on the afternoon of January 17, 1952. A milestone was being celebrated: the one millionth rotary dial had been produced, and Miss Ingrid Sandbäck, who had put the finishing touches on the dial, handed it over to its designer, engineer C O Sohlberg, who in turn presented a bouquet of flowers to the girl. By 1:30 p.m., the dial had made its way to the conveyor belt, and just 20 minutes later, it was thus presented, with the serial number 1 000 000.

Today, this scene seems strange and mysterious, as if from another world. The Swedish record years were charged with optimism, and the most modern technology was born in an age of engineers and misses, directors and widows? charities. Soon only a few people will remember that telephone numbers were once dialed on a rotary dial. And how many readers have experienced a celebration such as that portrayed above?

When the Ericsson plant in Söderhamn was opened on March 28, 1947, its 86 employees had been trained in an old schoolhouse while the factory was being built. Several factors contributed to the selection of Söderhamn for the plant. Above all, Ericsson, which had been producing many types of equipment since the 1930s, began specializing in telephones in the period following the war when the market for telephones was expanding rapidly. More production plants were needed.

When these expansion plans were forged, Ericsson took the view, which was strongly supported by the Swedish government, that there were many advantages in expanding in rural areas. Property prices and wages were low. It could also be assumed that the workforce would be less mobile, which was an advantage in a period of economic overheating in which campaigns were directed towards "ship jumpers" meaning persons who more than willingly changed jobs as opportunities arose. Similar arguments, of course, underlie decisions in many of today's companies to relocate from urban areas.

Söderhamn was thus chosen for the manufacture of rotary dials for telephones, and from 1955, the plant also took over the entire production of 500-switches, which were one of Ericsson's best-selling products.

Production in Söderhamn was broadened during the 1960s to include both punch clocks, signaling materials and impulse motors. Manufacturing of transformers and rectifiers also began during this period, eventually leading to the emergence of the Söderhamn plant as one of the world's leading suppliers of power and energy components for telecommunications systems at the dawn of the new millennium. This development was made possible by Ericsson's tremendous growth in mobile telephony and that fact that the Söderhamn plant was now part of Ericsson Components AB, a company established during the 1980s.

In early 2000, however, Ericsson decided to sell Energy Systems, which was the unit within Ericsson Components that operated the plant in Söderhamn at which 1,000 persons were employed, to the American company Emerson Electric. Ericsson explanation for this divestment was that the company wished to focus on core business, which did not include the production of such products as voltage converters and regulatory systems in Söderhamn. Other Swedish production units divested for the same reasons included plants in Karlskrona and Visby.

In fact, both the establishment of the plant in Söderhamn in 1947 and its sale more that 50 years later were the result of Ericsson's decision to focus on core business.

Perhaps this is what can be considered the irony of history.

Author: Torbjörn Elensky

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