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Telefonen - En Design Historia

Many thanks to Inger Hedén in Sweden for his efforts in translating this for the web site.

This translation is from a new book in Sweden on the history of telephone design in Sweden. This section of the book deals with the developement of the Ericofon.

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Translated extracts from ”Telefonen – en designhistoria
by Prof. Lasse Brunnström (Design History) HDK; University of Gothenburg, Sweden.
Publisher: Atlantis (www.atlantis.bok.se)
ISBN 10:91-7353-109-X, ISBN 13:978-91-7353-109-2

Page 220 –     The dream of the one-piece telephone

Siemens & Halske in Germany are first to produce a one-piece telephone during the latter half of the twenties. The freedom of design possible with the then new material of  bakelite is a deciding factor. Their patent is from 8 June 1930. (German patent nr 612628). Design originators are the engineers Otto Weeber and Otto Soldan.

A test series of 500 pieces are produced in black with the rotary dial assembly at the side and a switch hook underneath to regulate contacts. The ringer is separately placed in a black wall-box. The construction was tested during four years, but never put into production because its considered liable to tip over too easily and thus create an accidental line-connection. In view of its nicknames, i e “Hockender Hund” (hunching dog) and “Schinkenknochen” (the bacon bone), the overall design does not appear to have been a success either...

L M Ericsson, strangely enough, does not seem to have known of these developments at a competitor, until at the earliest  in 1939. When at last the facts became known to LME through one of their young engineers that worked as an exchange trainee at S & H in Germany, it seems to have triggered off feverish activity. The then chief technical officer at LME, Hugo Blomberg, personally got involved.

 Two separate projects are started  at LME and run parallel to one another, with the cover names “Unifon” and “Erifon”, respectively. Responsible for these development projects were Hugo Blomberg himself and the engineer Hans Kraepelien. The latter, who had just got himself out of Warsaw through the German siege lines and back into Sweden, had been technical director of the LME works in Warsaw, Poland. He brought with him the concept of a hanging one-piece telephone that he continued to work on. Blomberg, on the other hand, visualized a standing, Siemenslike telephone with the dialling mechanism underneath.

 (A lot of letters and files exist that give a very good idea of how the reasoning and the discussions progressed – below a short version:).

 It all starts in February 1941 at LME with a request for research into the patent situation. It becomes clear that there are several British and American patents to do with the creation of a Unifon, some as old as thirty years... The main problem seems to be how to deal with the signal device for ringing. “However, this problem is neatly eliminated if the unifon, as Mr Blomberg suggests, should be designed as a table apparatus, by which the signal device would be housed in a separate box...”  No hindering patents were found along these lines, nor concerning a telephone that would stand on its dial mechanism. Recommendations  to go on with a suitable signalling system for the telephone model Unifon (Kraepelen) as well as for patenting Blombergs table design (Erofon) were given and approved.

 The results would give the directions for designing Ericssons next spectacular telephone model, the Ericofon, or the so called Cobra. Even if Hugo Blomberg and Hans Kraepelien both are encouraged to develop their ideas further, it is Blomberg who has an advantage, at least in the beginning.

 This stems not only from the clearer circumstances regarding the patent situation, but also from the fact that he is better positioned in the LME organization. Another advantage for Blomberg is that he early on forms an alliance with a new force within the company, who during the next years would leave a great impression, the industrial designer Ralph Lysell.

 Ralph Lysell (1907 – 1987) is signed on in the summer of 1939. It is two months before the outbreak of war and in Stockholm the move from the central part of town to the southern suburbs (Midsommarkransen) of LME production, to a new factory has just started. Soon the company will change strategy in handling design questions as well. For well over forty years Ericsson has used consultants in architecture, artistical matters and design. But, as the first large Swedish manufacturing company outside of the traditional design industry, in 1943 they choose to incorporate design competence into the organization. A special unit, called “Aesthetic design”, is placed under the overall company construction department. Head of this unit is Ralph Lysell, who during recent years has managed to create for himself a platform within Ericsson by showing a feeling for design and an ability to create quick conceptions.

 Lysell is a man with American-like élan and go, with a fascination for fast cars and beautiful women. He is really Rolf Nyberg, but a nearly sixteen year long stay in the USA has made some marks – he has changed his surname to that of his mother as unmarried and made a onomatopoetic transcription of his Christian name to the more English-sounding Ralph. By chance, which may be conceived as a thought, he now has the same initials as his great idol Raymond Loewy, the American megastar in the design field.

 In America the artistically talented Lysell has got himself a training as “Mechanical Engineer” and learnt how to handle ink-spray gun and plastelina, two important tools for visualizing when working in the new trade of industrial design. Not much is known about his time in America, other that that he is supposed to have worked as car designer. One of his design creations from this period is an advanced and extremely streamlined white sports car which he likes to refer to when marketing his talents.

 Ralph Lysell is a completely different personality than the former design consultant of LME, Alvar Lenning. He is extrovert and verbally gifted in contrast to Lennings more careful and intellectual way of working. The pedagogically smart and somewhat smarmy  way of presenting new products that Lysell uses is something quite new in Swedish experience. Maybe for Europe too, and is clearly influenced by American practice. It seems to have impressed the company executives, because Lysell also gets work as well for a daughter company, SRA, designing radios.

 His earnings grow accordingly and soon his pay is more than somewhat above the LME:s ordinary university trained civil engineering staff. Lysell thrives and during the early part of the forties he gives interviews, lectures and trains internal staff in design and colour schemes and writes long articles in well-known publications. He is a shining representative of modern design, modern materials and technology. By spring 1945 he leaves LM Ericsson to start his own business as a designer, which unfortunately only lasted a few years. All said and done, his biggest impression is his cooperation with Hugo Blomberg in designing the coming Ericofon.

 End of page 226, start of page 227

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