Electrolux designed the first ever vacuum cleaner with metal runners and launched the world’s first countertop dishwasher. Here you can follow other notable years in the company’s design history.Read more
Growth and industrial design
Electrolux increases its share of the Swedish market. On September 3, 1926, Axel Wenner-Gren personally bought Elektriska AB Volta from Skandinaviska bank.
At the time, Volta manufactured stoves, immersion heaters, electric heaters and vacuum cleaners, and was a tough competitor for Elektrolux. The objective of the acquisition was to sell Volta products solely through retailers, while Elektrolux vacuum cleaners would only be available through home sales. It gave Elektrolux better market coverage, and beginning in 1934, Volta belonged to its former competitor, Elektrolux, after Wenner-Gren transferred his shares to the company. Volta now concentrated solely on vacuum cleaners sold through retailers.
Initial public offering
When Elektrolux was listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1928, a new issue was floated, greatly increasing Elektrolux’s share capital from six million to 60 million kronor. The company recorded sales of 70 million kronor with five factories, some twenty subsidiaries and 350 offices around the world. Two years later, Elektrolux was introduced on the Stockholm exchange, having been delayed by the crash in New York in the fall of 1929. ”When Elektrolux shares were introduced on the Stockholm Stock Exchange on May 26, 1930, they were met by a healthy ration of disbelief.
The company’s transformation from a tiny, obscure organization to a global corporate group had gone a bit too fast, and been overshadowed, not always to the company’s advantage, by the meteoric career of Ivar Kreuger.” The Economist was also skeptical of Elektrolux stock, believing the company to be more vulnerable in an economic depression than matches and the other Kreuger shares. Time would win out, though; by 1932, the Kreuger crash had brought the entire empire to its knees, with disastrous consequences for private shareholders among others. Elektrolux, on the other hand, continued to grow.
The great fire of 1936
On Saturday, July 4, 1936, a major fire broke out in the vacuum cleaner plant at Lilla Essingen. The production facilities were devastated, the value of the damage totaling SEK 4.3 million kronor.
Miraculously, Elektrolux managed to keep up deliveries with no major delays as a result of the extensive fire and water damage in the factory. There were several reasons for this. A major addition to the vacuum cleaner factory was already under way and was not significantly damaged by the raging fire, much of the fire-damaged equipment could be repaired, and many machines could be purchased and delivered quickly. There were fairly large buffer stocks of ready-to-sell appliances at the sales companies, which prevented any lengthy delivery delays. The Elektrolux plants abroad also helped ensure that there were vacuum cleaners and floor polishers ready for delivery.
By the following year, the factory had been rebuilt and modernized. A new central research facility including both vacuum cleaner and refrigerator labs opened its doors in March 1937.
Industrial design, an important competitive edge
An epoch-making event in the history of white goods was the introduction of the new Super Six Coldspot refrigerator by the American mail order company Sears Roebuck in 1935. It was designed by Raymond Loewy, one of the leading American designers of the 1930s. The new refrigerator, a spectacular sales success, incorporated gently rounded edges and a cream color that gave it a ”hygienic” look. The idiom was termed ”streamlined” design, and was inspired by the new cars, planes and trains that were shaped to minimize air resistance. This style was in vogue for over 20 years for all refrigerator manufacturers. Streamlined shapes represented speed, quickness and modernity, and became the dominant fashion: everything should look streamlined.
That same year, 1935, the design of vacuum cleaners began to change, too. Manufacturers were eager to boost sales figures and drew inspiration from the auto industry, with its constantly changing annual models. In 1937, American Elektrolux presented the first streamlined vacuum cleaner, designed by Lurelle Guild.
The following year, a version was launched in Sweden and the rest of Europe. This model was no longer round in cross-section. It had an arched upper half and a flat base with sheet-metal runners attached directly to the bottom plate. As a result, it was nicknamed ”the bread loaf.” Elektrolux also contacted Raymond Loewy during the 1930s, taking him on as a consultant to design refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and floor polishers. Among the results was the Elektrolux L 300 refrigerator, which was introduced in 1940 and was a smashing success.
From now on, esthetic design was an essential element in the development of new products and models.
New products despite a world war
The World War brought many of Elektrolux’s factories and subsidiaries to a standstill. The Group retooled some of its production facilities to keep them busy. The Lilla Essingen plant, for example, began making air purifiers for the Swedish armed forces. The Motala plant replaced its reduced refrigerator production with production of steel fittings. At the Luton plant in England and the plant in Australia, production was shifted to other ends from 1939 until 1945. The company now supplied the British armed forces with various types of materiel.
Despite the war, Elektrolux introduced one brand new product in 1940, the kitchen assistant designed by Alvar Lenning. It was to become a major seller for many years to come. Elektrolux moved into a brand new product area – outboard motors when it bought Archimedes in 1941. The company continued growing, and three years later it bought Bohus Mekaniska Verkstads AB in Gothenburg. In this way, the Group broke into yet another important new product area – commercial laundry equipment.
That same year, 1944, the company strengthened its position in the marine engine market by acquiring Penta, an outboard manufacturer. Electrolux stayed in the marine engine manufacturing business until 1965, when Penta and Archimedes were sold to Monark-Crescent.
Post-war period: rebuilding and new influences
There was great demand for small electric motors. Up to now, Elektrolux had manufactured them at the Lilla Essingen plant alongside the vacuum cleaners. But in 1948, production was moved to a new factory in Västervik, providing 300 people with jobs.
In Germany, operations were resumed following the war. The machinery at Tempelhof had to be replaced, since it had been seized as spoils of war. Refrigerators began being manufactured in Berlin, while vacuum cleaners were produced at a new plant in Willhelmshafen on the Baltic coast.
In 1951, Elektrolux introduced its first home washing machine, the W 20 with the ”floating wing” or ”double wing,” which was manufactured at the Gothenburg plant. It was an agitator machine incorporating a centrifuge on the same base. With this product launch, Elektrolux moved into the new home washing machine market.
For Elektrolux, the most important trend of the 1950s was in the food storage segment. Refrigerators rapidly grew larger, and for reasons of operating economy were gradually forced to shift to compressor operation. The result of the transition was apparent by the late 1950s, when the brand new tall refrigerators were introduced. They were combined appliances with refrigerator, freezer and cool compartments.
The increasingly fast-growing deep-freeze industry created demand for freezers, and Elektrolux introduced its first in 1956, the City Box.
Wenner-Gren sells his Elektrolux holding
In August 1956, Marcus Wallenberg of Stockholms Enskilda Bank brokered a contract with AB Separator, which bought Wenner-Gren’s 49.6 percent share of Elektrolux. Separator had identified cooperative opportunities, having recently made a commitment to white goods as a complement to its separators. Among other things, they had begun manufacturing washing machines, and felt they were better at it than Elektrolux. Elektrolux, on the other hand, had a superior sales organization. Major cooperative efforts between Separator and Elektrolux never materialized, however, and in March 1959, Separator sold its Elektrolux holding to ASEA.
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