Revolutionary products

The vacuum cleaner got runners and was adapted for use in ordinary homes and refrigerators were becoming standard equipment in middle-class households. To say the least, it was an era of revolution in product development for Electrolux.

In 1921, Elektrolux introduced vacuum cleaner model V, the first vacuum cleaner on runners. This was the first household vacuum cleaner worthy of the name, adapted for use in ordinary homes. The idea of using runners was Wenner-Gren’s own. The first version of V did not have them, and salespeople complained that customers found it heavy and awkward. Wenner-Gren, irritated by the problem, asked for a thing that looked like a sled. As far as design went, he told his right-hand man Sven Carlstedt: ”Take a thick steel wire and bend it more or less like this, then we 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 a more or less advanced form all the design details of a modern vacuum cleaner.

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 degree project that gained them 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.

The two inventors needed money to develop and market their product, however. By 1923, they had come as far as establishing two companies, AB Arctic and Platen-Munters Refrigeration System. Refrigerator production got under way now, 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 in it. It was, then, a bold move when he made an offer for the two companies, which meant Electrolux’s future would depend on the success of the refrigerator.

Once Elektrolux and Wenner-Gren entered the scene, things began to happen in the refrigerator business. They began producing 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 Elektrolux’s absorption refrigerators was running high, and in 1927, an American company, Severel Incorporated, began to manufacture Elektrolux refrigerators under license for the American market. From Elektrolux’s point of view, 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; instead, the 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 M 3, was introduced in 1930. Earlier models had been freestanding. The following year saw the arrival of the first air-cooled model, the L 1, an eagerly awaited technological breakthrough. In 1936, Elektrolux manufactured its one millionth refrigerator. The refrigerator was becoming standard equipment in middle-class households.

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Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters

Baltzar von Platen and Carl Munters

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