United States Ericsson - A Short History

Updated 8/1/14

In the late 1800s, imported Ericsson telephones and parts were being sold successfully in the United States by a number of agents. The Ericsson Telephone Company had its headquarters in New York at least as early as 1898. It had agents listed as The Electrical Engineering Co. of Minneapolis, Plummer Ham and Richardson of Massachussetts, The National Automatic Fire Alarm Co of Louisiana, Bissell & Co of Ohio, and Seeleys of Philadelphia. Since Ericssons apparently had no manufacturing capacity of their own in the United States at this time, one of these companies was making "top boxes" for them.


Ericsson advertising, early 1900s. From "The Electrical Engineer" 1903


The top box contained the generator, transmitter or handset, coil, switchhook and receiver. These were sold to the many telephone assembler companies, who added their own backboards and battery box. This is shown in a number of catalogues from other companies, and the Ericsson logo is prominently displayed on some. Only one example is known to the author - it has been restored in Sweden. It is similar to the Plummer’s wall phone shown later, and it is probable that the top box only is Ericsson. Plummers also advertised complete phones and parts and their catalog shows a number of phones that are composites of Ericsson and U.S. parts.

In 1907 Ericssons decided to establish a new factory at Buffalo. The factory opened in 1908. 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 market of telephone manufacturers and networks, not a Government-regulated system as in Europe. Ericssons was a small player in a market dominated by local 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, supplying Bell’s AT&T, was the country's largest switchboard manufacturer, and the sole supplier to the country’s largest phone company, so phones had to be made compatible. In some ways LME phones were technically superior, but compatibility was more important.

Their local phone production seems to have been mainly of four models – the AC300 desk set, a candlestick, the desk set that became Kellogg's GrabAPhone, and the large steel wall phones of the AB2100 series The wall phones were exported to the New Zealand Post Office as well as to the U.S. They were also supplied to Ericsson operating companies in South America and Mexico. There seems to have been some assembly of imported phones, although information on which models were assembled is poor. It is also confused by the importers of the full range of phones, who still seem to have been importing and selling in competition with the Buffalo factory. There do not seem to be any surviving Ericsson catalogues, which would make documenting this company easier.

The candlestick is different to their previously imported European model and appears to use some parts sourced from Kellogg. The steel shaft is covered by an ebonite sleeve, branded Ericsson. This sleeve was a typical Kellogg design (they called their ebonite“Kellite”). The somewhat complicated Ericsson transmitter mount was replaced by a Stromberg Carlson type ball and socket joint. There was considerable collaboration with the Kellogg company, whose parts (especially transmitter mounts) appear on other branded Ericsson phones. Some examples are known of the candlestick and the steel wall phones with an “E” cutout.

Ericsson also produced a combined coil and gooseneck transmitter for use on the twin box phones. Although this unit is known in Europe as well, it appears to be more common on the U.S. phones. It is sometimes seen with Ericsson’s “Standard of the World” logo, generally only used in the U.S. It was originally fitted with Ericsson transmitters, but examples are known with Solid Back transmitters instead.

Although their phones did not sell in large numbers, Ericssons sold unbranded parts to many other companies. Other makers’ 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 wall phone from Plummers shown on the next page. The Solid Back transmitters were introduced. 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 ones. The parts are unbranded, following Ericsson’s usual pattern of using branded parts only on their own phones. They also sold complete telephones to the Federal company, who sometimes (but not always) rebranded them as Federal, or with the name of the telephone company they were selling the phones to. Federal also sold the Ericsson version of the Grabaphone.

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 and the company was finally wound up in 1920. About 82 000 phones had been produced overall.

Some of the dies, parts and equipment were bought by the Federal Telephone and Radio Company, who produced steel desk and wall phones for a few more years, and continued the supply to New Zealand. Other dies were bought by Kellogg. The early version of their "Grab-a-phone" and Federal's equivalent used many unbranded LME parts, and is often mistaken for an Ericsson. The Chicago Telephone Supply Company sold 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. Some branded Ericsson parts also found their way onto the market after the selloff, and this causes confusion when trying to accurately identify a phone.

A firm called The Swedish American Telephone Company produced a 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, and to appeal to Swedish immigrants.

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.


Typical US Ericsson Phones

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