As one of the earliest telephone manufacturers, Stromberg-Carlson made devices that played important parts in history, from the phone used to call for an ambulance after President William McKinley was shot in 1901 to the military lines used at the Palace of Versailles during World War I. Founded by Alfred Stromberg and Androv Carlson in 1894, the year Alexander Graham Bell's original patent expired, the company grew to become one of the largest suppliers for the nation’s independent telephone lines.
Alfred Stromberg moved from his native Sweden to the United States in 1884 to work for the Chicago Bell Company, where he met Androv Carlson, another young Swede. In 1894, the two established their own company and began working on a magneto-operated telephone designed after Swedish models, resulting in remarkably sensitive sound transmission (not insignificantly, they also successfully avoided patent infringement). The Stromberg-Carlson electromagnetic transmitter eliminated the problems of packed carbon granules and high voltage issues common to carbon transmitters at the time. Additionally, its “switchhook” design, which required users to lift the receiver and rotate the transmitter into speaking position, bypassed typical patent conflicts.
While Bell was occupied with its dominance of the urban American market, independent companies like Stromberg-Carlson supplied much of the equipment to develop rural phone lines. Stromberg-Carlson’s superior quality helped its product become known as the “Farmer’s Telephone,” since rural users could supposedly hear not only a caller’s voice, but also the sounds of the farmyard just outside their home. In reality, the expansion of rural telephone lines was greatly improving the agrarian way of life by conveniently connecting farmers with their suppliers and ending their sense of isolation.
By 1900, Stromberg-Carlson had begun supplying switchboards and exchange equipment to larger cities as well as specialized service phones for use in hotels, police stations, and train depots. The company’s sales were at nearly $3 million a year by 1902, when the business was sold to the Home Telephone Company of Rochester, NY.
During World War I, the growth of civilian telephone-lines was halted while suppliers worked to provide equipment for the U. S. Signal Corps. Stromberg-Carlson resumed its non-military production following the war, branching out into radios as well. In 1936, the company debuted its series of Bakelite handset telephones, like the stylish No. 1212 with its conical black base, but it soon resumed its production of military equipment for World War II. By 1944, more than 90 percent of its output was for military use, from traditional items like switchboards and field radios to novel technologies like radar modulators and radio-telescript devices.
After being acquired by General Dynamics in 1955, the company returned to its roots, working exclusively on telephone equipment. Meanwhile, Western Electric had bowed to government pressure following a lawsuit over copyright restrictions, and in 1951 its desirable WE 500 design had become available to smaller firms through licensing. Stromberg-Carlson adopted the more popular Western Electric models and slowly phased out its own designs. However, the company continued to innovate through the 1960s by integrating early digital technology into its phone systems and circuits, thus allowing multiple signals to be carried simultaneously on a single line and eliminating the need for human operators.
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