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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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Page 227

The standing Ericofon

 The work of finding the optimally suitable design for Ericssons coming one-piece telephone is intense during the spring of 1941. The aim is a standing model with the dialling parts placed underneath the apparatus. Ralph Lysell does paper sketches and tries versions in three dimensions in  plastelina. Sketches saved from this period shows a rather spontaneity way of working, as opposed to today’s very systematically industrial design process.

 After selections among the clay models, two wooden versions are made, with only small differences, in Ericssons wood modelling shop. One is upgraded to prototype, equipped with among other things a dialling mechanism and cord, which comes out at the back of the apparatus. In the middle of the dialling piece is a small round metal sphere, which cuts the call when depressed (as the phone is placed on a surface). This model is further developed and results in a second wooden prototype, which is painted black and equipped with a decorative edge in polished metal around its base. According to picture texts this test model is equipped with “an American finger dialling in the autumn of 1941 and is sent to USA the year after”. It is called TeM 48435. (This model is 20,9 cm high, the foot is about 8,8 x 11,5 cm ).

 Patent documents are handed in in July 1941, at the same time as the first prototype is personally tested in practical use by the top director of  the LME factory . In a letter to the manager of the phone department he expresses great satisfaction with the outcome. The model has such significant advantages, he claims, “ that it, aside from its news value, probable low pricing  etc etc might constitute the design line which future telephones might well follow”. The sales executive wants it in production as soon as possible, both as an internal home apparatus and connected to telephone exchanges.

 The work is to be speeded up, according to the above letter, since reports hint that Siemens are developing similar models. Since the directors want LM to be the first to start sales, a special work group is to be formed for carrying on this project, “besides other routine tasks”.   Hugo Blomberg by this time has gone to America in order to take part of/study the technical developments there, so it is suggested that Ralph Lysell works together with a three man team from the construction department. That group is to put down the electro acoustical, constructive and production technical demands and other circumstances pertaining to the new model.

 The outward design is by this time considered as good as fixed, only small adjustments of details remain. “A good design should have a good name” says the last sentence in the letter, and gives the suggestion that the apparatus should be named “Erifon”. This shows the high expectations of the management for this development and the suggestion is positively received by Hans Blomberg. It now becomes the unofficial work name throughout the whole LME organization.

 The work progresses slowly, however. It is primarily a question of lacking the competent personnel to do this work during the war years – almost everybody at Ericsson has to work developing material for the armed forces of Sweden. The few available for civilian production are mainly employed to go on developing the standard bakelite apparatus. Blombergs continuing absence in America is also a relevant factor in the slow progress. Sporadic messages are exchanged but what happens in Sweden at LM during 1943 - 45 is mainly unknown to Blomberg, and the mail is very slow way of discussing seriously all the technical details. Letters and reports can take several months to cross the Atlantic in those days. Meanwhile, the engineer Hans Creapelen continues work on his “Unifon”, the other LME development projects.

 Pages 230 – 240

is a description of the Unifon project , i e the “lying down” model, and is probably just as interesting to a telephone-fan, but I choose here not to go into any details. If wished for – please let me know! Suffice it to say that the competition between the ideas are sharpened, and everybody at the factory expresses opinions and suggestions. Both the developing designs are considered to be combined table an wall-apparatuses at this stage. The Unifon was trade mark registered in April 1944 and patented as regards the re-switching arrangements. As a curiosity can be mentioned the fact that the Unifon prototype was painted matt green (wooden model) and was eventually brought to the USA by Jan Kreapelin (he was promoted chief executive of the New York LM office in 1945 and nine years later became head of LM:s new  North Electric Manufacturing Co in Galion, Ohio. The prototype Unifon reappears forty years later, in 1987, and is now a museum piece at LM.

 Page 239

Heading:   Ericsson goes for the stand-up concept

As a one-piece telephone the Unifon in the design of Ralph Lysell is more original than the Erifon. There are, for example, no real forebears to point at or liken. This goes for quite some of   Kreapelens and his staffs genial and farseeing technical innovations. Even so, it is the stand-up Erifon that finally goes into production. There can be no doubt about the fact that this is because of expectations in the American market, where the stand-up concept even in the forties is highly present in everybody’s mind. There is at LME a strong wish to become recognized as a provider for the American telephone companies of the so-called independent market. This is despite the fact that the Bell company in 1950 according to statistics collected by the Swedish Tele-company covers more than 80 % of that market. There are, however, another 6.000 telephone companies in that large country and together they have in their nets over 7 million telephones, more than what then existed in France and Great Britain together. (Incidentally, also more than the number of inhabitants in Sweden at the time...)

 There is an ergonomically thought-through model of the Erofon from spring of 1950 that looks more or less exactly as the production model. It was drawn (illustrated) by Dan Sidney.   Ralph Lysell still sketches versions in the summer of 1949. Reports are received from Hans Blomberg in America that the production of American phones has come almost to a standstill  and that the need for new pieces are met to a great extent by repairing the old ones. He thinks that in this situation the Erifon should have great possibilities to replace the “candle - light- type” of phones that are still in use while retaining the old wall-covering with its induction-roll, ringer etc. He thinks this modernization will be considerably cheaper than installing a whole new apparatus.

 With his colleague Sven Ture Ĺberg, sales chief for the USA market, he has already suggested a name for the Erifon in English and initiated an advertising campaign. In order to separate it very clearly from the more common hand-set apparatuses, it should be named “Standset”, and be supported by hard selling campaigning. He writes: “The telephone has outgrown the cradle and now stands on its own feet”.  (This is not any sort of  pun in Swedish, so Hans Blomberg is sure to have written that in English – alternatively it is a later invention?). At more than one occasion Blomberg stretches the importance of acting quickly so as to be ready to start production at the end of the war. But the Erifon project goes idling while awaiting the future fate of the Unifon.

 Ericsson has had to diversify its national production so much during the war years that only about a third of it is in the telephone range by 1945. A lot of that in turn is devoted to developing the so called coordinate-choosing system for automatic exchange stations and the 1947 upgraded model of the company’s standard bakelite telephone.

 Blomberg moved back to Sweden 1946 and became chief engineer for a new department of development, which meant a drawback for the Unifonpeople, especially as Kreapelen is busy in the USA. Not until 1949 is the final and definite choosing made and the Erifon is again seriously considered. This is done under the leadership of Gösta Thames. Ralph Lysell is by this time busy running his own design company in Oslo, and is contacted for consultations.

He comes to Stockholm in order to, as he says ”play in the clay-heap” with Gösta   Thames and his colleagues. A lot of work remains but some sketches show that work in order to eliminate the specific look of “telephonespeaker” is considered important at this stage. This is achieved simply by abstaining from the traditional round shape and instead cut it at an angle at the slightly bent, enlarged handhold part. A new considerably slimmer hearing/listening construction is conceived that enables the slim shape striven for.

 Gösta Thames does not do any drawing work, and after ergonometrically working through the design with Ericssons renowned model woodworkers a somewhat more rounded foot is shaped, together with a load carrying thumb grip and a shape for the holder part that fits the shape of ear, as well as hand. The Erofon begins to take on its very specific character. A visit during the spring of 1950 from Bell laboratories to LM in Stockholm boosts the confidence of the group. There is now a blue painted wooden prototype that has an impact as an idea and starts speculations as to when it will get into production. Before the end of that meeting with the Bell people, the first order is received.

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