Alex I Askaroff
Alex has spent a lifetime in the sewing industry and is considered one of the foremost experts of pioneering machines and their inventors. He has written extensively for trade magazines, radio, television, books and publications worldwide.
Over the last few decades Alex has been painstakingly building this website to encourage enthusiasts around around the Globe: email@example.com
See Alex Askaroff on Youtube talking about Husqvarna sewing machines
Husqvarna Vapenfabriks Aktiebolag
(Husqvarna Arms Factory Limited)
The Husqvarna Sewing Machine Company
'Makers to the Crown'
Pronounced Huus-k-varna, Husqvarna was a Swedish firearms manufacturing company in the town of Husqvarna by lake Vättern. The company name of Husqvarna comes from the position of the factory alongside the impressive Husqvarna falls where great salmon leap upstream in the spring floods.
The Husqvarna Sewing Machine Company can rightly claim to be one of the oldest companies in the world still supplying sewing machines.
Why? Because Husqvarna originally was the arms factory to the Swedish Royal Family and was in business centuries before it started making sewing machines. Early Husqvarna history is sketchy at best and I have travelled the length of Sweden looking for details.
To begin with the company seemed to have evolved out of a need for military items in the medieval period around Jönköping just to the west of the town of Huskvarna. I'll explain the different spellings in a mo.
During the 1300's there was a fortress called Rumlaborg near Husqvarna. Records show that by 1528 the name Husqvarna was already in use to describe the Mill House (hus-house) beside the waterfalls known then as Husquernen. Also villages starting with 'HUS' often indicated a fortified encampment belonging to the crown. Even at this early time the mill was run by the nearby Rumlaborg fortress to manufacture weapon parts (throwing axes I presume).
Rumlaborg was an important stronghold for the Swedish Crown during the Middle Ages and, as it grew, attracted other weapon makers to the area. As more tradesmen came to Husqvarna and Jönköping, Gustav Vasa, gained permission for the Franciscan monastery to be rebuilt as a fortress to protect this crucial industry.
Under the orders of the King the monastery was converted into a military stronghold for the area surrounding Jönköping. Its orders to protect and secure trade and travel.
The military stronghold needed weapons and other supplies and it appears that many of these were forged locally by craftsmen (old Vikings with nothing to do I suppose). The company seemed to almost grow into one distinct business out of a multitude of small industries housed in the area.
In 1620 King Gustav II ordered all the rifle factories to be organized into a number of Swedish communities and Jönköping slowly grew from its origins of a few forest huts into a thriving town.
Initially the majority of the workforce centered around Jönköping
lived in assorted villages around Småland and
Västergötland but that slowly changed as the business
evolved from lots of small industries into one definite business.
In 1688 the requirement for reliable power led to Erik Dahlbergh, the manager at the state arsenal in Jönköping, to suggested to the King that they should construct improved milling works at the waterfalls just outside Husqvarna. At Husqvarna they had ample supply of hydropower and charcoal from the forests to heat their forges.
This was agreed and a new factory was completed in 1689. 1689 is officially the date used by Husqvarna as the date that they were founded. This combination of services led to a boom in manufacturing (long before the Industrial Revolution in Britain) and output rose in a single year from just over 1,000 rifle barrels to over 12,000.
Jönköping Rifle Company
In 1689 King Charles XI ordered the business to build muskets for the Swedish army, this allowed the company to invest in its area building premises and constructing dams at Husqvarna (Huskvarna) to provide continuous water to the arms factories and foundries. The Jönköping Rifle Factory ran successfully for the Swedish Crown for many years until becoming the Husqvarna Rifle Factory.
(Husqvarna Rifle factory)
In 1757 the Swedish Crown sold the business and for the first time it becomes a private company trading out of its assembly plant in Jönköping. At the same time the company name was changed into Husqvarna gevärsfaktori (Husqvarna Rifle factory).
By 1850, almost all activity in rifle and musket manufacture had been moved to Husqvarna at its purpose built foundry and factory. In the same year the arsenal was privatized under the ownership of Fredrik Ehrenpreus.
The first serious mention of Husqvarna as an individual company starts in 1869 with a big military order for weapons (but that was short lived as we shall find out).
Change of name, Husqvarna to Viking
For nearly 200 years the company produced mainly armaments but around 1872, with a drop in military orders (and the cancellation of the long running Swedish Crown orders), the Husqvarna factory needed new blood to maintain its business. It looked to the booming economies of the world for ideas.
In America, Britain, and Germany, factories were popping up like mushrooms in Autumn, many making sewing machines. So, Husqvarna came upon the idea of producing their own sewing machines.
Switching some of its production to sewing machines and other useful items took three years, with the foundry coming online in 1874.
Before long the company was on a boom, making just about everything for the household from cooking pots and stoves to bicycles.
Sewing machines were the "new thing" and selling like hot cakes around the world and the skilled company, used to forging steel and bending hot metal, took to them like a duck to water. Once their selling techniques caught up with the competitions, sales boomed. But not before a little hiccup!
Their first sewing machine was one of the most beautiful sewing machines ever made, the Northern Star or North Star. A simply stunning machine. Unfortunately, it did not sew as well as it looked and was too delicate, it was soon updated.
The Husqvarna North Star or Northern Star sewing machine circa 1874
The Husqvarna Northern Star sewing machine is one of the most sought after sewing machines. Few people have seen a real one. I have even scoured Sweden looking in every shop I came across; no luck.
The prototype Husqvarna North Star may have been a failure in sewing terms (as the arms giant learnt a new trade) but what a beautiful looking machine! Only about 500 of these beauties were made and, to make things worse for collectors, Husqvarna recalled many, offering a part exchange on their new improved model.
There may be only a handful that survive to this day. The Husqvarna Museum in Huskvarna have a treadle on display. I tried to slip it into my rucksack but was promptly escorted of the property!
Husqvarna to Huskvarna
This may be a good time to explain the spelling of Husqvarna and Huskvarna. Simply, when the town changed its name to Huskvarna the Husqvarna Company, that had been trading across the world, decided to keep the original spelling, and has done to this day. That simple bit of information took me a week to track down, crazy or what, with Google today, I expect I could have done it in an hour or less!
The next machine Husqvarna produced was a much improved model using many patents that had expired, basically copying the best of what was around in the 1870's.
They bought the rights to produce the American Weed sewing machine and came up with a super reliable model. The model below was an almost direct copy of the popular Weed sewing machine of the day and sold well in Europe, especially Germany, until it became outdated and phased out around 1895.
The Husqvarna machines were first imported into Britain by the American Sewing Machine Company (who were in fact were not American at all but simply imported mainly American machines).
The American Sewing Machine Co was founded in 1863.
Also E. Todd, makers of the Champion of England, imported the Husqvarna Freja sewing machine model as early as 1886, and sold the machine to stores with their own decals on the front (like Reed sewing machine for example).
Todd and the A.S.M.C. were somehow tied up together but I have yet to discover how. Probably just agents and importers.
This needle plate from an 1880 Husky Freja sewing machine holds a host of information. Legend goes that the seven stars were to mark the seven states of the Confederacy that held out against the Union in 1861. Items marked with these stars were sold amongst the Southern States in the 1870's. It could be just a legend but feelings ran high after The Civil War in America and products that were for the Southern States from a neutral country sold well.
The Freja Sewing Machine
History of Husqvarna by Alex
By the 1880's Husqvarna, who use the more common name Viking (they are known quaintly in the trade as Huskies or Husky's) produced their first really big selling machine The Husqvarna Freja. This was pretty much identical to many of the German imports, which in turn based their machines on the best selling Singer transverse shuttle.
Nordic Sewing Machine
Early Husqvarna sewing machines are rare. The most likely model to turn up is the Husqvarna Freja or Husqvarna Gota which first started production in 1883. The magnificent Freja model was based on the mighty Singer 12k transverse shuttle model of 1865 but with a more Scandinavian high-arm square look. The Husqvarna Dextra was also a high-arm German-design transverse shuttle of the late 19th Century, very rare today using a 331 needle. The Husqvarna Nordic sewing machine was based on the popular Singer model 15 design and ran right up until the outbreak of the Second World War.
For over 40 years the Husqvarna Freja was one of the companies best selling sewing machines and has earned a reputation for fine engineering and seemingly everlasting beauty.
Husqvarna were one of the pioneers in self-oiling, low maintenance machines. Although sintered steel had been around for many years it was Husqvarna that patented its use as bearing material in sewing machines. Other companies used cast iron that had similar properties with the ability to absorb oil. This made their machines very popular with schools in Europe for their durability and toughness.
Often, when the Freja model was sold, all that was on the top was Made in Sweden. Values on these rare machines are hard to say. There is a growing collectors market, especially in Sweden. They still sew better than many new machines and look utterly beautiful.
Freja, can be spelt many ways such as Freyja or Freya. She is the Norse Goddess of great legend. Even today she is one of the most popular Scandinavian names for girls, being the Goddess of fertility. We know her each week for Friday is still from the old Viking for Freja's Day.
Husqvarna also made the Husqvarna Triumf sewing machine and Husqvarna Gota sewing machine. By the 1920's most of there machines looked similar to many other manufacturers and they also turned to industrial lockstitch machines.
Husqvarna CB class 15 circa 1910-1930
And now for a little Laugh
I once came across a Husky that had been dropped from a school table and thoroughly abused in its time as a school machine. Across the machine face was scratched, I hate Dave! Although disfigured by an upset schoolgirl the machine still made a superb stitch.
The only way to travel in 1899
Husqvarna continued to expand their range adding new items as the markets opened up. In 1895 they produced Sweden's first typewriter. By 1919 the company were manufacturing their own engines and just went from strength to strength, always keeping their quality at the highest level.
Husqvarna Nordic Sewing Machine
By the 1930's Husqvarna was still labelling its sewing machines with Husqvarna Vapenfabriks or Husqvarna Arms Factory.
By the 1950’s there were over 100,000 sewing machines a year pouring out of the factory.
In 1967 Husqvarna finally closed the doors on its last rifle, one of its first products built centuries before.
The Husqvarna Museum Sweden
Even as late as 1900 Husqvarna were proud to be associated with the Swedish Crown and used the logo on their cases to enforce their royal patronage.
Today, Husqvarna still pride themselves on quality and make a superb range of machines from basic sewers to incredible embroidery machines. They have an impressive Museum open to the public in Huskvarna, Sweden. It is well worth a visit and set in one of the most beautiful settings you will ever see.
As far as I am aware Husqvarna kept no records of the serial numbers of their early sewing machines so dating them is done more by machine style more than anything. In fact I cannot find out any of the names of their designers either, which is a shame as there are some incredible innovative features on many Husky machines.
By the 1950's the Husqvarna Company, from its early beginnings in the woods outside Huskvarna and Jönköping, had become a world renowned manufacturer. Interestingly besides being the No1 sewing machine in Sweden, Finland was also a keen follower of the Husky machines. Only Singer outsold Husqvarna in Finland. This may have been due to the fact that until about 30 years ago around 10% of native-born Finns spoke Swedish as their Mother Tongue.
The Husqvarna Model 18 was a brut of a machine, as heavy as a pregnant elephant and only capable of straight stitching (without attachments). That said it would stitch through just about anything you could throw at it. Based loosely on the Singer 15 principles it had many unique ideas, including an easy hold bobbin case. With a simple bolt-on hand assembly or motor, it was very popular with busy sewers. Even today they are still in use. Regularly maintained they will last as long as the metal holds together.
In America Husqvarna boosted sales by joining forces with White Sewing Machine. The company went on to promote an excellent range of sewing machines across the states.
Today Husqvarna produce a wide range of domestic goods from fridges and microwaves to chainsaws as well as their world-renowned motorcycles (though that arm was sold off). Always the trendsetters, for over 50 years, Husqvarna have also been producing space age looking microwaves.
The machines above were the last all-metal Swedish Husky machines that were built to last a lifetime, circa 1950-1960. Unhindered by plastics the machines are already 60 years old and still sewing like new.
However with all its faults give me the first Husqvarna Northern Star sewing machine any day of the week, only 500 were ever made and now just a handful survive. I have never seen a real one!
Husqvarna are currently VSM, Viking Sewing Machines and is still based in Huskvarna, Sweden. Presently they also control Singer and Pfaff machine sales.
South Africa Viking
As I write, Viking is a trademark belonging to KSIN of Luxembourg. However there is a tale that is worth telling.
In South Africa the Viking name was already in use and trademarked by the Berzack Family who ran Harrison Sewing Machines from Harrison Street, Johannesburg.
Because Husqvarna could not come to an agreement with the South African business Harry Burzack informed me that they still cannot officially use the Viking name on machines there?
Now, if you come across any pictures of early Husqvarna sewing machines please do mail me as I would be really interested in adding them to my site. Early Husqvarna sewing machines are incredibly rare today:firstname.lastname@example.org
For more sewing machine information click on the links below. Oh, and do let me know what you thought of this Husqvarna page?
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See Alex Askaroff on Youtube talking about Husqvarna sewing machines