AB Optimus International by Ross Mellows Optimus was founded on June 19th 1899 by three engineers – Carl Böös, Carl Neiglick & Petter Östberg. In 1900 they made an agreement with export company A.R. Bildt & Co to market the Optimus range of stoves & blowlamps. In time the Bildt family became a majority shareholder in the company. The company quickly outgrew its premises in Kungsholmen, Stockholm and in 1907 purchased a site in Upplands Väsby. Here they built housing for staff as well as a new factory that opened in 1908. In 1919 the sales department was also moved from Stockholm into new premises adjoining the factory. From very early on Optimus exported its products all over the world and to further it's business abroad they set up agencies and subsidiary companies all around the world. In 1914 A.R. Bildt expanded the business with the acquisition of all stove production, including warehousing, machinery and tooling from competitors AB Lux. AB Lux had 14 models in their range and were producing about 4000 stoves a week but were not finding the enterprise economical and were looking to invest in their new venture with the vacuum cleaner. In the same year the First World War broke out and prices for copper and other raw materials essential to Optimus increased dramatically. To add further to the companies troubles the confusion caused by the Russian Revolution diminished what had been it's biggest market. By the time peace came Optimus were in severe financial difficulty and the company was sold. However it was not long before the Bildt family were again majority share holders and the export markets renewed and the company strengthened. Click on each poster for larger image In the inter-war years Optimus introduced padlocks, oilcans, pressure lamps and lanterns to it's list of products and expanded it's range of stoves to include twin-burner ranges. Like other Swedish makers they faced stiff competition from abroad, with major producers in Britain, Germany and elsewhere but the Swedish had a reputation for very high quality that allowed them to command a higher price for their products. By the 1940’s exports accounted for nearly 90% of the factory’s output. As a result the outbreak of WWII had a big impact on the company with profit's dropping by approx 95% in the first year of the war as exports stopped and kerosene shortages at home severely impacting the domestic market. However certain factors worked in their favour. Optimus were able to avoid large scale lay-offs as many of their workers were called up for military service. They also secured government orders for padlock and munitions production. Imports of padlocks into Sweden had stopped which left Optimus as one of the few producers in the country. Sales soared as wartime insecurity led the public to lock up their belongings. Fuel shortages also led to increased bicycle sales and their subsequent theft so Optimus also started to produce locks for bikes. By the end of the war Optimus was still strong and prosperous and ready to face the challenges of the peace. In the aftermath of the war the demand for their products was huge and many of their European competitors had been severely damaged. Optimus struggled to keep up with demand. This was a prosperous era for the company with ever-expanding markets and demand. In time however, some of their old European competitors regained their strength and new competitors appeared in Africa and the Far East and started to take market-share from Optimus. In the 1950's the development of LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) appliances for cooking and heating and the increase of electrification in remote areas in the following decades put further pressure on the company. To combat some of this competition Optimus Zimbabwe (Pvt) Ltd was set up in 1982 as a development project with Swedish government aid organisations, to supply the African market with quality stoves (Models No:1, 2, 3 & 45) at a low price. The Zimbabwe factory also made tanks and other parts (excluding burners) for Optimus in Sweden. After an initial good start their products failed to be a real alternative to Chinese and Indian imports. Optimus actually only held a small, symbolic share in the company in return for the supply of machinery, tooling during the start-up. In 1962 Optimus were acquired by an investment company, AB Promotion. Their main Swedish competitor the giant BAHCO decided to concentrate on the LPG market and sold Optimus the rights to their paraffin and petrol fuelled products. Optimus set up a separate company, Primus Trading AB, to sell the Primus branded products. The following year they purchased the market share and trademark from ailing rival AB Radius for the sum of 75,000 Swedish Kroner. In 1969 they further increased their dominance of the albeit shrinking market by the acquisition of the Svea brand paraffin and petrol stoves and blowlamps from Primus-Sievert AB. During the 1970's and '80's ownership passed between various investment companies. Increasing competition from LPG appliances and cheaper far eastern products caused the company to reduce it's operations at home and abroad. 1980s store display During the '80's most of the subsidiary companies were sold off and in 1983 Optimus sold it's factory in Upplands Väsby and outsourced it's production. The remaining development, sales and administration departments were moved to smaller premises in Gnosjö. The product range now concentrated on camping stoves, blowtorches and lamps. Optimus also took on agencies for LPG stoves with Camping Gaz. Toward the end of the 1980's the then owners built a group of companies around the Optimus brand with the intention of launching the group on the Swedish Stock Exchange. However one of the companies in the group went bankrupt and the launch had to be abandoned. In the turmoil that followed AB Optimus International was acquired from the group by Anders Rönn on the 1st January 1991. The 1927 patent for the classic Optimus stove inside a box with drop-down front. This was used in the Campingo range & later models like the No: 22, 111 & 8R Hunter (above) Today Optimus is a small family run business specialising in liquid fuelled camping stoves. Since the 1980's Optimus had been involved with developing a stove for the US military. The US Defence department later decided it was more economical to utilize designs already in use in the civilian market and in 1995 Optimus won a contract to supply models 111, 8R and 10. In the same year the Explorer 11J was developed and supplied to the Swedish military. The company has continued to modernize the range of camping stoves in it's range and today has a range that combines the best of traditional and modern design. Click on each image below for larger view 'Apparatus for baking, roasting, cooking & the like' Patent 1922 Diagram: Crown Copyright Reproduced with permission from the UK Patent Office Acknowledgements I am greatly indebted to the following: Staffan Rönn, Managing Director of Optimus, Mikael Bonnevier, archivist, Upplands Väsby Kommun, Ulla-Britt Guiance Ljung, head of culture and recreation, Upplands Väsby Kommun, Bo Ryman Ola Dolk for his assistance in translating much of the Swedish material for me.