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Ericsson, Inc.

Ericsson, Inc. Company History

When we think of Ericsson today, we generally think only of cell phones – but the huge Swedish company has been a major player in the telecommunications field since the days of the telegraph. The company was founded by Lars Magnus Ericsson, an instrument maker who in 1876, at the age of 30, opened a telegraph equipment repair shop in central Stockholm, Sweden. In 1878 the company began making and selling telephone equipment, and it soon landed a contract with a major Swedish telecom company. Business grew along with its reputation, and by the turn of the century, Ericsson employed 1,000 people globally and had produced 50,000 telephones. The company’s first U.S. sales office opened in 1902.

Ericsson was responsible for several developmental milestones throughout its history. Ericsson was the first to introduce the “single-trumpet” telephone in 1878. In 1950, an Ericsson telephone exchange made the world’s first international call a possibility. More recently, the company invented “Bluetooth” technology.

In 1981, Ericsson joined with the U.S. oil company Atlantic Richfield to form Anaconda-Ericsson, a company that made cables, transmission systems and other equipment. This newly formed company would become one of the leading cable manufacturers in the U.S., and would also provide Ericsson a way into to the American telecom market, which the company had had difficulty breaking into in the past. By 1985, Anaconda-Ericsson was a wholly owned subsidiary of Ericsson, and was renamed Ericsson, Inc., with headquarters just outside Dallas, Texas.

Today, the larger Ericsson has a presence in more than 180 countries, including the U.S., U.K. and China, and employs more than 90,000 people worldwide. The company is currently the world’s largest mobile telecom equipment provider, claiming 35 percent of that market.

Products Manufactured by Ericsson, Inc. that Contained Asbestos

For about five years in the 1940s and early 1950s, a onetime Ericsson subsidiary manufactured cables using asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral known for its heat-resistance and fireproofing qualities. It was Ericsson’s venture with Atlantic Richfield in the 1980s that would tie Ericsson to these products; from 1946 to 1951, Anaconda Wire & Cable made cables for the U.S. Navy that contained small amounts of the mineral’s long, crystalline fibers.

It was not unusual at the time for asbestos to be used in products like this. Starting in the late 1800s, asbestos had become increasingly popular among manufacturers for its fireproofing, strength, durability, its resistance to heat, scratching and moisture, and its affordability. Mines across the globe were stripped of the mineral, which was shipped to the United States for inclusion in building materials, insulation, industrial parts and – as in the case of Anaconda and Ericsson – asbestos wire and cable.

Today, the word “asbestos” is practically synonymous with “danger”; we now know that exposure to the mineral can cause debilitating lung ailments like asbestosis and mesothelioma cancer, causing serious breathing difficulties and eventually even death. These days, when contractors work to remove decades-old asbestos from homes or work sites, they are outfitted with respirators and special clothing to protect them. But that was far from the case prior to the 1970s, when workers in numerous fields handled and inhaled asbestos on a daily basis, with no masks or protective gear, never dreaming they were damaging their health. To make matters worse, some experts have testified that companies and even the U.S. government knew asbestos was harmful long before they made that information public, exposing more and more people to the carcinogen for the sake of companies’ profits.

Products manufactured by Ericsson, Inc. or its subsidiaries that contained asbestos include:

  • Anaconda asbestos cable and electrical wiring

Occupations at Risk of Asbestos Exposure

Individuals who worked with Anaconda asbestos cable and wiring manufactured between 1946 and 1951 may have been exposed to asbestos in the course of their work. This includes electricians, laborers, technicians, and especially U.S. Navy veterans, as the Navy was one of Anaconda’s largest clients. Asbestos cables and wiring posed the greatest risk when they were cut and stripped, or when they were torn out and replaced; it was at these times that asbestos dust was released into the air, ready to be inhaled into the lungs of anyone in the vicinity.

Exposure to asbestos was also a threat for individuals who manufactured the cable and wiring, as well as family members of any of the aforementioned workers, who could be injured by breathing asbestos fibers brought home on the worker’s clothing, hair or shoes.

Ericsson, Inc. has also been the target of asbestos-related lawsuits because of the presence of asbestos in a 28-acre, nine-building industrial complex the company owned until 1985 in Sycamore, Illinois. Like so many thousands of buildings, this industrial complex used asbestos insulation on its boiler system and pipes. Sycamore Industrial Park Associates, the new owner of the complex, sued Ericsson in 2004 to try to get the company to remove the asbestos, but an appellate judge found Ericsson did not break the law when it sold the building with asbestos inside. The presence of this asbestos means anyone who worked in the Sycamore, Illinois plant may have been exposed.

One of the diseases plaguing former Ericsson and Anaconda employees is mesothelioma, a rare type of cancer that strikes the mesothelium, a protective sac that covers many of the body’s internal organs. Mesothelioma is most often found in a person’s lung tissue or abdominal cavity. The disease has an exceptionally long latency period, meaning a person often does not know he or she has been exposed until decades – sometimes as long as 50 years – after asbestos fibers have taken root in his or her body.

Recent News

As of May 2011, Ericsson has been named in numerous asbestos-related lawsuits by people who say the suffered by working with asbestos-laden cables and wiring.

Meanwhile, the company continues to grow. In the past two years, Ericsson has entered into management agreements with other large telecommunications companies to handle their day-to-day broadband services. In 2009, the company struck a partnership with Sprint; in May 2011, another partnership was announced with Clearwire.

In the first quarter of 2011, Ericsson reported net sales of $8 billion.

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