From left: Sales wiz Axel Wenner-Gren, Lux leader C.G. Lindblom and chief engineer Sven Carlstedt helped make vacuum cleaners portable and popular.

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Electrolux, or rather its forerunner, AB Lux, turned 120 last week.

It would be another 18 years before the company that helped popularize washing machines and portable vacuum cleaners would come into being. But it was its precursor that put the lux in Electrolux.

AB Lux was started by Swedish designer, industrialist and financier Sven Carlsson. Carlsson saw an opportunity in a new type of kerosene lamp, whose “glowing-net” design produced an extraordinarily bright light. After snapping up the lamp’s construction rights, he and some partners formed AB Lux in 1901 and secured a patent for their new “Lux-lamp.”

The company got off to a brisk start, making and selling its kerosene lamps worldwide as homes, offices, factories and cities searched for ever brighter and efficient sources of artificial light.

The future looked bright for Lux until 1909, when expansion costs, competition from electric lights and a crippling strike put a crimp in the business. Looking to expand its portfolio, the company licensed the rights to make and market a barrel-shaped, 40-pound electric vacuum cleaner. But it wasn’t until a sub-contractor, under the direction of sales wiz Axel Wenner-Gren, managed to reduce its weight, cut its cost and improve its suction that Lux had found its new lifeline.

Plagued by declining sales of its Lux-lamp and forced to write down its assets, Lux was eventually sold to a gaslight competitor, AGA. But the Lux division continued to produce vacuum cleaners exclusively for Wenner-Gren, who in 1919 created AB Electrolux as a standalone sales company.

AB Lux’s innovative Lux-lamp would lead to the creation of Electrolux — and AstraZeneca.

By 1923 Lux was producing more than 100,000 vacuum cleaners a year for Electrolux, which sold them around the world. Then, following a dispute with AGA management, Wenner-Gren bought Lux back and the newly combined sales and manufacturing business, Electrolux, would go on to become a global household name.

Epilogue

Bio-pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has been in the news of late, thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine it co-developed and which much of the world is counting on to end the pandemic. But just like Electrolux, AstraZeneca got its start with AB Lux founder Sven Carlsson.

Carlsson had created a separate business, AB Keros, to provide the glowing nets for his kerosene Lux-lamps. Keros later expanded its operations to include pharmaceuticals, and in 1913 the medicinal products were transferred to the newly formed Astra, with Carlsson serving as the company’s main financier.

The rest, as they say, is history for Electrolux and AstraZeneca.