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Facit and the BESK Boys: Sweden's Computer Industry (1956-1962)
October-December 2005 (vol. 27 no. 4)
pp. 23-30
Tom Petersson, Uppala University
In 1956 the Swedish company Facit, previously engaged in producing electro-mechanical office equipment, recruited a group of Swedish top engineers within computer technology, known as the BESK boys. They had developed a computer, which for a short while was the fastest in the world. Facit's plan was to produce large-scale business computers for the Swedish and Western European markets. But already after a couple of years these plans had to be revised as the former partner IBM suddenly walked away from its cooperation agreement with Facit and simultaneously introduced the new 1401-series to the European markets. Facit tried to establish cooperation with other domestic and foreign, mostly American, companies but failed to meet the IBM challenge. In the early 1960s Facit finally shut down its grandiose computer project.

1. The numbers are based on Facit's own calculations, in turn received from the annual reports of the competitors.
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10. J.W. Cortada, Before the Computer. IBM, NCR, Burroughs and Remington Rand and the Industry They Created, 1865–1956, Princeton Univ. Press, 1993.
11. Annual reports of Facit, 1938-1955.
12. Annual reports of Facit, 1922-1955.
13. M. Johansson, "Early Analog Computers in Sweden— With Examples from Chalmers Univ. of Technology and the Swedish Aerospace Industry," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 18, no. 4, 1996, pp. 27-33.
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15. CEO Rolf Dencker to vice CEO Gunnar Ericsson, 15 Feb. 1956 and 20 Feb. 1956, Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
16. The transfer of American technology, together with knowledge and experiences made within the Swedish context, was also passed on to other Scandinavian countries. Denmark, for example, had in-depth contact with Swedish computer scientists. The first Danish computer, DASK, presented in 1957, was a customized version of the BESK machine and one result of the bilateral cooperation. See P. Klüver, "From Research Institute to Computer Company: Regnecentralen 1946–1964," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 21, no. 2, 1999, pp. 31-43.
17. E. Velander to G. Ericsson, 30 Apr. 1957, 19 May 1957, and 1 June 1957; Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
18. Everett S. Calhoun to G. Ericsson, 23 Oct. 1957, Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
19. Confidential memorandum from the negotiations with IBM in New York, 19 Nov. 1958, Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
20. The quote in text is from my translation of the original letters. Bertil Nystromer to G. Ericsson, 8 July 1959, and Erik Stemme to G. Ericcson, 29 Oct. 1959, Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
21. Press release, 19 Oct. 1959; internal memorandum, 13 Nov. 1959; G. Ericsson letter to L. Hallgren, 16 Nov. 1959; and internal memorandum, 18 Oct. 1960; Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
22. Internal memorandum, 27 Nov. 1959; B. Nystromer to G. Ericsson, letter, 19 Feb. 1960; B. Nystromer to G. Ericsson, letter, 29 July 1960; internal memorandum, 20 Oct. 1960; Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
23. Minutes of the Board, 9 May 1963, Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
24. Internal memorandum, 18 Oct.1960; G. Ericsson to B. Nystromer, letter, 25 Oct. 1961; B. Nystromer to G. Ericsson, letter, 27 Oct. 1961; Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden. See also Ref. 10.
25. Confidential memorandum by B. Nystromer, Mar. 1963, Facit archive, Åtvidaberg, Sweden.
26. Interviews with G. Ericsson conducted by T. Petersson, 12 June 2003 and 18 Nov. 2003.

Index Terms:
Swedish computer industry, Facit, BESK, office machines, technological failure, managerial failure
Citation:
Tom Petersson, "Facit and the BESK Boys: Sweden's Computer Industry (1956-1962)," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 27, no. 4, pp. 23-30, Oct.-Dec. 2005, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2005.60
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