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Production of Original-Odhner Arithmometers in Russia, Sweden and Soviet Union 1912–1928

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1. Introduction

After W. T. Odhner's death in September 1905 the economic affairs of the company were managed by his older son Alexander (1873–1918). The technical director was Odhner's cousin and son-in-law Valentin Odhner (1867–1956) married with with Alma Amalia Odhner (1877–1950). Around 1905 engineer Karl Siewert (1882-1964), another son-inlaw of Odhner, married in 11.3.1905 with Julie Odhner (1882-1970) also started to work at the company. Odhner's younger son Georg (1880-1910) graduated as an electrical engineer from Berlin and married Siewert's sister Martha (1880–1981). He was a representive of Vacuum Oil in St. Petersburg even though his death announcement in St. Petersburger Zeitung suggests that he also worked for the family company. After Georg's death Alexander divorced from his wife and married the widow. Odhner had still two daughters Irma (1888–1942) married with Karl and Martha Siewert's brother Reinhold Siewert (1883-1937) and Olga (1890–1974) married with her cousin Konstantin Wildtgrube (1883–1957). Irma and Olga with their families remained in Soviet Union after the october 1917 revolution, but the other members of the family emigrated to Sweden [11]. The children and grandchildren of W. T. Odhner went into reformed church school (reformierte Kirchenschule, Петербургское училище при реформатских церквах), where the education was held in German till 1914, when the use of German language was prohibited in Russia. All Odhner's children except Alma had baltic German spouses, so they talked German at home and even wrote letters to Swedish relatives in German. Because the nationality of Irma, Olga and their husbands in passports was German, they were later declared to be enemies of the people and had to leave Leningrad even though they were not real Germans.

The production arithmometers after 1905 continued, but several improvements were made to the original design. All the patents were obtained by Valentin Odhner, but according to Karl Siewert [12] the tabulating mechanism to move the carriage used in Swedish Odhner arithmometers still 1970 (Russian patent № 18477, 28.11.1911, US patent 996667, 4.7.1911) was in fact invented by Edvard Kuikka. Improvements in register clearing mechanism (Russian patent 17990, 30.9.1910, US patent 993708, 30.5.1911, UK patent 191028465, 8.6.1911) was invented by a Russian worker of Odhner factory [19]. Probably the inventor was also Kuikka even though he was a Finn, but Finland then belonged to the Russian imperium. Kuikka himself describes these novelties [14], but acknowledges only a redesigned signal device as his own construction. The son of Kuikka claims that his father made 17 inventions that led to international patents [9] and should also have obtained some compensation for them. Most of these were, however, made in Goteborg for the Swedish Original-Odhner company. An interesting new feature is also the friction free register clearing system of 1909 (Swedish patent 324153), which is a further development of the improved register clearing mentioned above. Only half a revolution turn of the wing nut is needed to turn and and very little power is needed. The system was available for both registers or only for the result register on the right hand side of the arithmometer.

Advanced models with these improved features were for the most part exported. At least the collections of the Polytechnical Museum in Moscow and Russian internet collections seem to consist only of the basic models without any extras.

2. Time 1912–1917 in St. Petersburg/Petrograd

In 1912 the Odhner company was restructured as a joint stock company "Heirs of Odhner" with Karl Siewert as the managing director. He was a quite self-conscious person and started at once to reform the production system of the factory. As he later wrote he had to take fresh forces to modernize the factory. Thus he ousted Valentin Odhner, who then started to work at the St. Petersburg branch of Swedish telephone company L. M. Ericsson [10], and promoted tool maker Edvard Kuikka at the assembly department to workshop foreman. With the help of Kuikka Siewert then planned a reform of the production process. Up to this time the assembly was made by independent highly qualified workerentrepreneur groups making the whole assembly with help of apprentices. Siewert wanted to divide the assembly in as many stages as possible to make the factory more independent of expensive skilled workers. Naturally the young master Kuikka had to endure the resentment and hatred of the workers, which, as they later confessed, was completely unfair. To give the necessary emphasis on his will Siewert felt obliged to close the factory for six weeks, during which time not only all operating lists and piecework payments could be reworked, but also the entire workshop was reorganized. After some months the production of arithmometers was about three times as large as before [12].

The attitude of Siewert to the workers was clearly quite harsh and there exists much information about the strikes at the Odhner factory in the soviet era literature considering the condition of workers. A vivid description of the life of young workers at Odhner factory in 1912 can be found in [33].

In 1912 the factory employed 159 workers. The yearly sales was 279993 rubles of which 101000 rubles came from arithmometers and 150000 rubles from typographic machines [28]. One year later in 1913 the yearly sales was 375000 rubles and the number of workers 177 [34]. In 1914 the world war was going on and the factory got many military orders. Then the amount of workers was already 250, yearly sales 350000 rubles and main products besides arithmometers also brass castings, sights and range finders [35]. According to [29] the amount of workers in 1.1.1917 was 279 and the main products during the war years were automatic presses for the manufacture of cartridge cases and mechanical airplane parts. The central military-industrial committee proposed the production of machine guns, but Odhner factory refused [16].

After the start of the world war I the name St. Petersburg was changed into a Russian form Petrograd in august 1914. This information can be used in dating the arithmometers. The first Odhner arithmometer made in Petrograd that I know has serial number 20965. According to [14] ca. 30000 arithmometers were made in St. Petersburg factory. It seem to be a good estimate, because at least serial number 27658 is known.

The only Russian Odhner price list [20] describing different models that I know was printed 1914. It includes 15 models, which is a much smaller amount than 24 mentioned by Kuikka in [14]. Of these 6 were A models with calculating capacity of 13, 4 B models with capacity of 15 and 5 C models with capacity of 18 digits. The prices of A models vary between 200 and 360 rubles, B models between 240 and 400 rubles and big C models between 240 and 495 rubles. Models with tabulator and friction free clearing only on the right side, and tabulator with normal clearing were no more in the production palette. One russian instruction manual [30] from that time is known.

3. Revolution and Nationalization

As in every other factory in Petrograd, much time at the Odhner factory went to meetings of the workers. Some resolutions of these have been published, for example in Pravda 30.3(12.4).1917 [25] and Novaia zhizn 1.11(14.11).1917 [26]. Naturally there were several strikes and as protest the management closed the factory in july 1917. The workers then decided in 12.7.1917 to continue the production [23]. A factory committee and armed red guard were also formed. Karl Siewert has written a little about difficulties in managing the factory at this time [12]. In november 1917 a delegation of Odhner workers prevented a payment to the company for delivered products claiming that Siewert will escape to Sweden with the money. Because of that Siewert then did not pay the wages on the following day and then the armed workers stopped shipping of an arithmometer order. As seen in protocols of factory committees Siewert did not accept workers control [24] and decided to leave the factory at the end of november 1917. After that he staid at his dacha in Iukki (Юкки) a little north of Petrograd and the factory was managed by workers. The number of workers in 1.4.1918 was 238 and thus a little less than at the beginning of the previous year [29].

The nationalization protocols have been published in [21]. They inform that in august 1918 the amount of personnel in the factory was about 250 of which 35 were clerks. In addition about 160 persons were laid off. Enough skilled workers were available, but there was a shortage of office clerks The factory was in good condition, well equipped and had enough fuels and raw materials. There existed orders for 9 Orlov printing presses ordered by the provisional government of Kerenskii to produce new bank notes (see also [17]) and automatic presses for the manufacture of cartridge cases needed by artillery. As the only Russian calculating machine factory the company was very important to soviet economy and was nationalized in September 1918.

During the first half of 1919 most metal factories of Petrograd produced material for railway traffic, red army and red navy. Odhner factory was one of the three general machine building factories working then at Petrograd [22].

In 1923 W. T. Odhner's widow Alma Odhner living then in Stockholm claimed from Soviet Union for the factory building 550000 rubles, inventory 1100000 rubles, raw materials 400000 rubles, finished products 1000000 rubles and bank deposit 40000 rubles, making together 3090000 rubles. In addition to these claims she also wanted to receive 57200 rubles for personal property including two dachas at Iukki and 32000 rubles for furniture etc. [1]. Naturally she did not get anything.

4. Sushchevskii Factory in Moscow

In 1919 general Iudenich with his white army approached Petrograd and Lenin himself gave the strict order of evacuation of Odhner factory with personnel, machines and other inventory to Moscow 20.7.1919 [32]. In november the operation was completed [37]. In Moscow Odhner factory was merged with factory "Tovarishschestvo Sushchevskogo zavoda nesgoraemykh shkafov i kukhodnykh plit" (Товарищество Сущевского Завода несгораемых шкафов и кухонных плит) producing safes and stoves and placed in its buildings. The name of the new factory was "Sushchevskii mekhanicheskii zavod im. Dzerzhinskogo" (Сущевский механический завод им. Дзержинского) at the address Сущевская, д. № 22. In the beginning it belonged to Trestputi trust but from september 1923 to Mossredprom trust [18].

It took a long time before the production of arithmometers could take place. This must be caused partly by problems with materials, fuel and skilled workers. During season 1924–1925 the plant produced the first 819 arithmometers being 130% of the planned amount 630. The director of the factory was then worker V. M. Kol'tsov and the deputy director engineer F. V. Drozdov [18]. Drozdov was a well-known specialist who wrote a book [19] and several articles about calculating machines and later became a professor of precise mechanics.

The arithmometers produced in Moscow 1924-1928 were made with drawings from Odhner factory and were still called Original-Odhner but using the new 1918 orthography. They are identical with the Ag model with bell and decimal tabs made Petrograd but of course equipped with a new logo. Two different logos exist, the older round one resembling more the Odhner logo. Also the serial numbers seem to go continuously the smallest known number being 31731.

The amount of arithmometers produced at the Sushchevskii factory was only about 30% of the amount needed in Soviet Union and during the first half year of 25/26 calculating machines were imported for 123000 rubles. Besides of that the soviet Original-Odhners were in many ways inferior to foreign calculating machines and also more expensive. The sales price in summer 1926 was 331 rubles while the prices of foreign arithmometers varied between 120 and 200 rubles. For example the manufacturing cost of an arithmometer at Sushchevskii factory was 260 rubles and at Swedish Original-Odhner factory only 90 rubles. [36].

In february 1927 began the design of a new arithmometer model which should be modern, small and suitable for mass production. The construction was led by young engineer Margulis. The project was completed 7.11.1927 and the new arithmometer presented to the party organization and board of the factory [37]. A description and photo of the prototype appears in [15] but it is still nameless. This prototype has frictionless clearing facility for both registers, but this feature was evidently not realized in the actual production. The official introduction was promised to be held 1.5.1928. Later this arithmometer was named Feliks and its first instruction manual [27] was published in 1928 in 500 copies.

5. Swedish Original-Odhner Company

The life in Petrograd during the revolution time was not quite comfortable and the Swedish embassy advised all swedes to return to Sweden. Alexander Odhner was still a Swedish citizen and decided to go to Sweden for a few weeks waiting there till the situation would be more peaceful. 14.11.1917 he together with her wife and the 4 children of Georg Odhner started the long railway trip to Sweden through northern Finland. They had with them only normal travel luggage needed for a short trip and all articles of value were placed in the safe of the Odhner factory. Alma Odhner, the widow of W. T. Odhner came to Sweden a little later in June 1918 [1].

During the war the production of calculating machines in Europe was very small but the demand was, however, quite great. Sweden did not participate in the war and at this time several other calculating machine plants were founded there, the most important of them being Facit and Addo. Soon Alexander Odhner began to study the possibility of founding a calculating machine factory in Sweden. He had no money with him, but succeeded to find investors for the enterprise. Among them were his second cousins Sven and Erik Wingquist of which Sven was the well known inventor of the spherical ball bearing and at that time the president of the Swedish ball-bearing company S.K.F. in Goteborg. As early as 13.12.1917 a proposal for agreement between the founders of a Swedish joint-stock company for the manufacture of Odhner calculating machines was signed by Alex. Hj. Odhner and representatives of the new company. Karl Siewert remained in Iukki and was kept informed about the negotiations. For example he sent recommendations about the needed dimensions for the factory in a telegram sent 5.1.1918. At the end of January 1918 Siewert arrived to Sweden without his family. The final contract of forming the company called "Aktiebolaget Original-Odhner" situated in Goteborg was signed 1.2.1918. The company took over all legal rights of the Russian Odhner firm and produced only calculating machines. Hugo Schaumann was appointed as the managing director. The company rented provisional factory space and began the production of tools and special machines for the manufacture [14]. The capital stock of the new company was 3 million crowns of which 536000 crowns was estimated to be the value of the patents and know-how [5].

The foreman to organize production was Albin Kling, who hired the first 5 workers in July 1918. The beginning of the production was not very fast, because not all of the construction drawings were available and the special tools and machines had to be made. Edvard Kuikka also emigrated to Sweden invited by Siewert and naturally had much knowhow on the practical aspects of the manufacture. He spoke Russian and Finnish and had communication problems with Kling in the beginning [3]. According to his son, Kuikka provided the drawings to Sweden [8] and not Siewert as claimed by the the history of Odhner [14]. Siewert visited Soviet Union in the latter half of 1918 to fetch his family, but he staid at Iukki and did not dare to go the factory.

At the Goteborg fair in may 1919 ten handmade Odhner arithmometers were already presented. One of them functioned and the others stood in a showcase behind glass doors. A new magnificent factory building was completed in the beginning of 1920 and it consumed a great part of the capital of the company [3]. In 1919 the company also bought for 500000 crowns all shares of competing Swedish firm "AB Svenska Raknemaskiner" established 1918 in Malmo to exploit the inventions of mechanic W.O.J. Andersson [4]. With this purchase Odhner also secured themselves of the first-class tool machinery that the company in Malmo had procured. In autumn 1920 Original-Odhner employed 450 persons and had produced some hundred calculating machines, but then began difficult times. The demand of products crashed and in spring 1921 the personnel consisted only of 10 officials and 6 workers [3]. Hugo Schaumann then left the company and was succeeded by Hans Herlitz who successfully served as the director of Original-Odhner until his death 1942.

The relations between workers and the direction were not good during the first years. The salaries were small and there were often strikes. The first strike lasting 6 weeks occurred already in 1919. The workers were also hungry and too tired to make overtime work [3].

AB Original-Odhner could never pay any dividends for its shareholders and in 1923 it had used its capital and was taken over by bank "Skandinaviska Banken", which owned all the shares till 1934. At the beginning the new company was called AB Nestor its capital being 420000 crowns [6]. One year earlier the competing Swedish calculating machine company Facit owned by Axel Wibel also became insolvent and taken over by a bank [13].

The serial production of Swedish Odhners started in 1920 and the machines made before 1923 were called Arithmos and instructions [7] were printed. Arithmos calculators are otherwise identical with the Russian Odhners but the crank holder was of different form. Five different models were made, all with 13 digit calculating capacity:

  1. Arithmos 1, basic model,
  2. Arithmos 2, with frictionless clearing of both registers,
  3. Arithmos 3, with frictionless clearing of both registers and tabulating keys,
  4. Arithmos 4, with frictionless clearing of both registers, tabulating keys and security facilities,
  5. Arithmos 5, with tabulating keys.

Of these Arithmos 5 is by far the most common. New, much smaller models were introduced in 1923. Of them the most remarkable is the LuSiD model which was capable of calculating in old English currency, where 1 pound was 20 shillings and 1 shilling 12 pennies.

It is interesting to notice that during the NEP period, AB Original-Odhner studied possibilities of founding a concession factory in Soviet Union. Several letters written 1924-1927 concerning this enterprise between soviet officials and Original-Odhner have been preserved in the Facit archive, Atvidaberg, Sweden [2]. This project was never realized, but a Russian instruction booklet of the Swedish Original-Odhner arithmometers [31] was published in 1926. However, Original-Dinamo arithmometer made in Kharkov around 1935-1940 seems to be almost identical copy of the basic model 7 of Swedish Original-Odhner.

6. Odhner Universal Calculator

For the sake of completeness one can still mention "Odhner Universal Calculator Aktiebolag" company founded in Sweden by Valentin Odhner. He arrived in Sweden in january 1918 and worked 1918-1926 as a free inventor obtaining several international patents for the new Odhner Universal calculating machine, for example US patents №1348575- 1348576, 3.8.1920 (Calculating-machine); №1355565, 12.10.1920 (Transfer mechanism of calculating machines); №1377269, 10.5.1921 (Transfer mechanism of calculating machines); №1388746, 23.8.1921 (Supporting means of the ten-pin, hundred-pin, etc., of the calculating wheels in calculating machines); №1440028, 26.12.1922 (Calculating wheel of calculating machines); №1510100, 30.9.1924 (Calculating machine); №1534242, 21.4.1925 (Calculating machine); №1594749, 3.8.1926 (Device for indicating the number of revolutions of rotating machine elements). The company was founded, stock certificates were printed etc. However, the production was never started and Valentin Odhner began 1926 again to work for L. M. Ericsson, this time at their Budapest branch [10].

Acknowledgements: I express my thanks to The National Library of Finland, Turku university library, National Library of Russia, National library of Sweden, National archive of Sweden, Facit archive at Atvidaberg, Universitatsbibliothek Erlangen-Nurnberg, Lennart Odhner, Bengt Sundin, Rolf Jinton and Tat'iana Bugrii


  1. Claims of property left to Soviet Union by Alma Odhner & Martha Odhner, Kungliga utrikesdepartementet, Sweden
  2. Concession papers of Original-Odhner, FHA 315, Facit arkiv, Åtvidaberg
  3. En av tio snurror på mässa fungerade, Ciceronen: Åtvidabergsföretagens tidning, 1968, № 2, p. 12
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  6. Gustafsson: 33 år med Original-Odhner, typescript, 9.4.1956
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