The story of Hultafors started in 1883 when a young engineer, Karl-Hilmer Johansson Kollén, invented a measuring device that would facilitate Sweden's conversion to the metric system.
Man has always had a need to measure distance. In 1790, Talleyrand's national assembly ordered the Royal Academy of Sciences to produce a system of measurement units 'For all times, for all people'. The result was the metric system. Almost 100 years later the metric system was officially introduced in Sweden which meant that the old distance measurements were to be gradually phased out.
In Stockholm at that time, there lived a headstrong architect called Karl-Hilmer Johansson Kollén. He was commissioned to design details for a theatre, but refused on religious grounds and resigned his position. When the news about the new metric system came he quickly realised the educational value of being able to see both measurement systems at the same time. He developed a comparison rule. This was quite simply a measuring rule that showed both the old inches and the new centimetres. The problem was that the rule was awkward to handle in a single long piece. Hence Karl-Hilmer's next innovation – a rule that you could fold. The folding rule was born.
The first folding rule factory
An English lady who had heard about the new idea funded the first production of the folding rule. She invested 5,000 Swedish kronor and the rule manufacturing company Svenska Mått- och Tumstocksfabriken was established on Folkungagatan in Stockholm in 1883. It quickly became a success. When the factory in Stockholm became too small, Karl-Hilmer decided to move the factory to Gothenburg, his hometown
The move to Hultafors
The first Gothenburg-based factory was located at Sillgatan 12. After a second factory at Loppetorpet, located at Heden, it was time to find a new location. Joel Kollén, Karl-Hilmer’s son, had a summerhouse in Hultafors, a small village located between Gothenburg and Borås. The village had just gotten a train station as well as a proper road, and this, together with the possibility to use water power, became the decisive factors for the final move in 1907.
New Year’s Eve move
In 1905 Joel Kollén took over the operations from his father and two years later, in 1907 it was time to move the factory from Gothenburg to Hultafors. Joel and his brother in law executed the move during New Year’s Eve. Together they moved the machines and material with horse and sleigh against Karl-Hilmer’s will. Karl-Hilmer himself was banned from visiting the factory in Hultafors as his inventiveness was disrupting the factory staff from their jobs.
The village that gave its name to us
For more than 100 years now, Hultafors headquarters and main operations have been concentrated in the village that gave its name to the company, Hultafors, located between Gothenburg and Borås in the west of Sweden. In Hultafors we still manufacture folding rules, using a totally unique and world-leading manufacturing technology.
The magic number 50
For a long time, the owners tried to keep the number of employees to 50 people. Why? Because they believed that this was the magic number for the employees to be able to get to know each other and to talk to one another on a more personal level. The hope was that this would increase the satisfaction among the staff.
Factory fire fighters
The local fire brigade was initiated by the management of Hultafors and several workers in the factory had assignments connected to the brigade. In case of fire the office was contacted and the office staff then started an alarm in the factory to alert the workers.
Joel Kollén’s wife Ester cared quite a lot for the people in the village. Each Christmas she travelled to Gothenburg together with her son’s wives to buy Christmas gifts for all the children of the staff. All children aged under 14 received one toy and one “utility gift” from the company.
Creative transportation of timber
When the train arrived with new timber for the factory, all farmers in the village were informed. One by one they came to the track with horses and carriage to help unload the wagons. Being paid by the number of logs they carried, the farmer Persson from Vikhult came up with the idea to place the logs in the carriage the opposite way around. This resulted in the possibility to carry more timber each load. The creative way of earning some more money was not appreciated by the police though, as it made the load much wider, taking up almost the entire width of the road between the train station and the factory.
The holiday house
On the west coast of Sweden the factory workers and their families had the possibility to live on a farm, called Instön, for one week each during the summer. The farm was owned by Joel Kollén and the arrangement was made through a foundation started by the Kollén family. In the beginning the families were transported to the farm by truck, as many of them didn’t own a car. Later, many of them travelled there by moped.
The workers making the joints for the folding rules were not that well paid in the 1930s and the younger men carrying out the work were paid per kilo. The temptation to cheat the system was too strong for some of them. One of the most popular methods to increase their payment was to place a piece of iron with a string attached to it in the bottom of the bucket where the joints were stored. The string was attached to one of the joints on top and when the bucket had been weighed and was about to be emptied, the iron was moved to an empty bucket.
The owners were afraid that the business could be exposed to acts of espionage. To keep the secrets concerning production practices safe, several actions were taken. For example, the factory’s windows were made of raw glass for a long time and the employees’ appeals for clear glass, at least at the top of the windows, were denied. During each break the factory was vacated and locked; a guard let the workers back in 5 minutes before the break was over. When there were external visitors, some parts of the factory were barricaded. Although these may seem extreme measures, the owners never doubted the loyalty of the workers.
The laundry house
Close to the waterfall where the original factory stood, a small brick building was erected in 1945. The building was used as a laundry facility by the staff and their families. The staff received a 10% discount to use the facilities and it was quite popular. When housing standards became better in the 1960s along with the installation of washing machines in private homes, the laundry house lost some of its importance.
Toothpaste with sawdust
The 2nd World War resulted in poor years in Sweden. In the factory, the by-products from the production of folding rules were of value. For example, the sawdust was milled and sold to be used in toothpaste and bread. The wood powder was also sold to bakeries where it was used for sprinkling over the baking sheets before baking the bread.
Changes in production
When the folding rules started being coated instead of being polished, a third of the workforce could have been made redundant. Instead the management chose to change the process so slowly that the women who had polished the folding rules had time to learn new professions or retire.
The big fire
The largest fire in Hultafors history happened in 1957. The fire started in a fan and spread quickly to the lacquering department of the factory. Karl-Hilmer Johansson Kollén was at a business trip in the UK at that time, but hurried home. By this time, Arne Kollén, his grandson, had already managed to find new parts for lacquering. Because of this, the break in production could be limited to just a few days.