From Atlas to Atlas Diesel

It started with an idea that Sweden should become more self-sufficient in railroad building. But development, technical innovations and competition pulled Atlas in different directions.


Cleaning of casting by pneumatic chisel, 1920–1929.

At the beginning of the 1870s, Eduard Fränckel was a senior official at the Swedish State Railways. Despite being just 35 years of age, he already had fifteen years of experience in railroad construction, both in Sweden and abroad. During one of the first years of the 1870s, Fränckel held a public presentation in Stockholm in which he wondered aloud why there were no Swedish specialty companies for railroad materials, even though there were resources in the country. A.O. Wallenberg, who in 1856 founded Stockholms Enskilda Bank, was in attendance. He realized that there was potential here, and together with three other influential persons – J.W. Arnberg, C.G. Cervin and F. Didron – he founded a company for this purpose. The prerequisite however, was that Fränckel would agree to become the managing director of the company and take technical responsibility. After a certain amount of persuasion, Fränckel agreed and on March 1, 1873, he was appointed as the managing director of AB Atlas.

According to the articles of association, Atlas was to manufacture or purchase as well as sell all types of materials for railroad construction and operation, and for such purpose, establish the requisite facilities. For construction of shop facilities, a lot of 70,000 square meters was procured adjoining the tracks in Stockholm, and this area still bears the Atlas name. Once the plant was completed, Atlas became the country's largest manufacturing company. Until the beginning of the 1880s, everything seemed promising for Atlas. But a recession hit the company hard and railroad construction began to decline. The value of production sank catastrophically – by nearly 70 percent between 1875 and 1879. Radical measures were required. Among other things, managing director Fränckel was replaced by industrialist Oscar Lamm. At the shareholders' meeting of 1889, the mood was somber. Fresh capital had to be acquired if the company was to survive. At the same meeting, Lamm also stated that the company had purchased a larger pneumatic riveting machine. A machine that would have considerable significance for the company's future development in the field of pneumatics.

After reconstruction – Nya Atlas


Steam locomotive manufactured by Atlas, to be delivered to Järnvägsaktiebolaget Stockholm-Saltsjön (Saltsjöbanan, Saltjö tramway), 1906.

In November of 1890, the company was reconstructed and a new company, Nya Aktiebolaget Atlas, was founded. To take advantage of the existing production resources, operations were diversified. Immediately after assuming the managing director post, Oscar Lamm introduced three new production branches – locomotives, central heating for larger building complexes and tool machinery. But it was not just heavy duty products that Atlas manufactured and sold. In the well-equipped carpentry works, small, dainty garden pavilions and bathhouses in wood were also produced.

Compressed air by accident

At the beginning of the 1890s, young Atlas engineer Gustaf Ryd visited England and then the US. In England, he bought a caulking hammer for SEK 200, and in the US, a riveting hammer for SEK 542. Because Atlas had previously acquired an English air pump, the new tools could be immediately put in service. With no spare parts available, the company had to make them in-house, which soon led to Atlas assembling the parts into finished tools. At the time however, there were no plans to begin manufacturing the new compressed air tools for sale. At the end of the century another young man visited the US – Oscar Lamm's nephew Gunnar Jacobsson – to learn about the American manufacturing practices. There he gained personal experience of pneumatic tools, and after returning to Sweden in 1901, he became the head of the newly established pneumatics department at Nya Atlas. Riveting and chipping hammers and drills were initially manufactured, if only on a small scale. The tools were intended for metalworking in the manufacturing industries. Another step was taken in 1905 with a rock drill based on an American model. The heavy construction however, proved unsuitable for Swedish conditions and shortly thereafter, a considerably lighter model was designed. This was the Cyklop, the first Atlas drill for use in Swedish mines. It was in production long into the 1930s. Development of Atlas air compressors began in 1899 with the purchase of an American compressor for in-house use. Atlas soon began its own production and established itself as a compressor manufacturer. The company's workers dispatched to the field wanted to be able to use the same types of pneumatic hammers in the field as they did on their home grounds. A portable compressor was also soon developed. Oscar Lamm left his post as the managing director in 1909 to become the chairman of the board. He was replaced by pneumatic engineer Gunnar Jacobsson, under whose leadership the production of pneumatic material increased. The other production branches were gradually phased out. Railroad car production came to an end in 1911 and the last locomotive rolled out of the locomotive shop in 1917.

Diesels Motorer

Atlas majority owners – the brothers K. A. and Marcus Wallenberg, and Oscar Lamm – were early to see the opportunities of the new oil engine developed by Rudolf Diesel during the 1890s. In February of 1898, an agreement was reached between the parties with the Wallenbergs acquiring manufacturing rights in Sweden for SEK 100,000. AB Diesels Motorer was founded a few months later. One of the first measures was to purchase land and construct manufacturing shops in Sickla, just outside of Stockholm. John Schmidt, previously employed by AB de Laval Ångturbrin, was appointed to head the new company. Schmidt was succeeded as early as 1902 by Andreas Ljungman, from Arboga Mekaniska Verkstad. While the plant in Sickla was under construction, the shops in the Atlas area where charged with building the first engines. After one and a half years, an engine had been produced that was considered as functional. Thanks to skilled development work under the leadership of Jonas Hesselman, the diesel engines were a success. In 1917, Diesels Motorer was merged with Nya Atlas by the joint owners. The new company, Atlas Diesel, thus had two primary branches: pneumatics and compressors, and diesel engines.

Atlas Diesel anniversary movie, 1948

This film depicts the operation at Atlas Copco’s different sites, like Sickla, Ecco-verken and Björneborg.