Revolutionary products

The vacuum cleaner and refrigerator, adapted for use in ordinary homes, were becoming standard appliances in middle-class households. To say the least, the 1920s and 30s were eras of revolution in product development for Electrolux.

In 1921, Elektrolux introduced the V model vacuum cleaner, the first designed with metal runners. This was the first household vacuum cleaner that was worthy of the name. The idea of using runners belonged to Electrolux founder Axel Wenner-Gren. The first version of V was not equipped with runners salespeople complained that customers found it heavy and awkward. Irritated by the problem, Wenner-Gren was inspired by sleds, telling his right-hand man Sven Carlstedt: ”Take a thick steel wire and bend it, then put the cleaner on the sled and put a hose on it instead of a pipe. Anybody who isn’t strong enough to carry it can drag along behind instead.” The design was a booming success and included in advanced form within the design details of modern vacuum cleaners.

A new product: the absorption refrigerator

In 1922, two young engineers, Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, submitted a university project that gained much attention. It was a refrigeration machine that employed a simple application of the absorption process to transform heat to cold. The heat source that initiated the process could be fueled by electricity, gas or kerosene, making the system extremely flexible.

However, the two inventors needed financial backing to develop and market their product. By 1923, they had come as far as establishing two companies, AB Arctic and Platen-Munters Refrigeration System. Refrigerator production got under way, albeit on a small scale, at the new Arctic factory in Motala.

The absorption refrigeration machine was far from fully developed when Wenner-Gren began to take an interest. At the time, it was a bold move when he made an offer for the two companies, which meant the future of Electrolux would depend on the refrigerator’s success.

Once Elektrolux and Wenner-Gren were onboard, things began to happen in the refrigerator business. They began production on a larger scale and in 1925, Elektrolux introduced its first refrigerators on the market.

The first version, the model D, had a volume of 91 liters, with a cooling unit and electrical fittings built into a ‘hump’.

At the same time, intense efforts to develop refrigeration technology were under way at a refrigeration lab that had been set up in Stockholm. The primary goal was to develop an air-cooled system. Platen-Munters’ first appliance was water-cooled and had to be connected to a heat source, a water line and a drain in order to function. It was a fairly impractical solution. This was one of the reasons for bringing physicist John Tandberg to the lab. Tandberg was one of the specialists who played a key role in the development of refrigeration technology at Elektrolux, making contributions to improving the control of corrosion and rust and much more.

Interest in the Elektrolux absorption refrigerators was running high and in 1927, the US company Severel Incorporated, began to manufacture Elektrolux refrigerators under license for the American market. For Elektrolux, this cooperative arrangement offered a number of advantages. Severel manufactured refrigeration compressors for larger refrigeration cabinets and refrigeration plants. Absorption technology was not up to these challenges and instead, compressors were needed. Partnership with Severel enabled Elektrolux to enter the Swedish professional refrigeration equipment market.

During the 1930s, refrigerators developed at a breakneck pace. The first built-in refrigerator, the model M3, was introduced in 1930. Earlier models had been freestanding. The following year saw the arrival of the first air-cooled model, the L1, an eagerly awaited technological breakthrough. By 1936, Elektrolux had manufactured one million refrigerators. The refrigerator was becoming a standard appliance in middle-class households.

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Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters

Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters

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