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A Short History

by Bob Estreich

In the late 1800s imported Ericsson telephones and parts were being sold successfully in the United States by a number of agents. In 1907 L M Ericssons established a factory at Buffalo, where they built phones (mostly the steel case models) and parts for the local market. Their motive for this was as for Britain - a local presence would help gain market share. Unfortunately the United States was a free-for-all of telephone manufacturers and networks, not a Government-regulated system like in Europe. Ericssons was a small player in a market dominated by firms like Western Electric, Kellogg, and Stromberg Carlson, and it was hard to gain market share. They also ran into technical and styling problems. Western Electric was the country's largest switchboard manufacturer, so phones had to be made to be compatible. In some ways LME phones were technically superior, but compatibility was more important.

Their phone production seems to have been mainly of two models the AC300 desk set (Fig 1) and the large steel wall phones of the AB2100 series (Fig 2). The wall phones were supplied to the New Zealand Post Office as well as to the United States. There also seems to have been some assembly of imported phones, although information on which models were assembled is poor. There appears to have been one local design, the desk set that became Kellogg's GrabaPhone (Fig. 4). This may have been a collaboration with Kellogg, whose parts (especially transmitter mounts) appear on some branded Ericsson phones. Ericsson also produced a combined coil and gooseneck transmitter (Fig 5) for use on the twin box phones. Although this unit is known in Europe as well, it appears to be more common on U.S. phones. It is sometimes seen with Ericsson's "Standard of the World" logo (as shown at top of page), only used in the U.S.

Although their phones did not sell in large numbers, Ericssons sold branded and unbranded parts to many other companies. Phones using LME parts have a typical U.S. look - big battery boxes on twin box phones, plain cases, separate transmitter and receiver, etc. A good example is the phone from Plummers shown in Fig. 3. The solid back and Hunningtransmitters were widely used. Small locally-built intercoms with Ericsson parts often turn up in the U.S.A. Most of these phones are incorrectly identified in the United States as Ericsson, because the Ericsson parts are the only really identifiable markings.

Advertising of the period sometimes refers to "highest quality Swedish transmitters" or "Best Swedish Magnet Iron", implying that Ericsson parts were regarded with some respect. In spite of this, Ericssons finally realised that they could not compete in the U.S.. The factory and its fittings were sold off in 1918. Some of the dies were bought by the Federal Radio and Telephone Company, who few more years, and continued the supply to New Zealand. Other dies were bought by Kellogg. The early version of their "Grab-a-phone" used many unbranded LME parts, and is easily mistaken for an Ericsson. The Chicago Telephone Supply Company supplied almost the full range of U.S. LME phones from old Ericsson stock until they ran out around 1920. Stromberg Carlson also issued a steel wall phone which appears to be Ericsson.

A firm called The Swedish American Telephone Company produced a wide range of phones, often using Ericsson parts. This company had no other connection with Ericssons, but appears to have been named to take advantage of Ericsson's reputation.

Information on Ericssons in the United States is sparse and inadequately documented, especially in the area of their locally-built models. The best available reference is Ron Knappen's "Old Telephones" (1984). This book is now unfortunately out of print. More work needs to be done to provide a comprehensive catalogue of the Buffalo phones.

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