July 10, 2015
During Atlas Copco’s 143-year long history, countless products have been invented and then disappeared. Workers and managers have come and gone. A mountain of correspondence has been written. Thousands of photos and hundreds of film clips have been taken of equipment in operation, sales people in the field, engineers hard at work, fun gatherings and more – much more.
Where is this rich history? Beyond some samples in the history section of Atlas Copco’s website, is this vast material forever gone? No, it turns out much of it is safely stored in a giant vault in Stockholm, Sweden. A visitor to this archive will find far more than a few shoe boxes with papers. There are high shelves packed with inventory books, legal documents about acquisitions and divestments, financial statements, correspondence letters and news releases – just to name a few things. Some of the documents have been yellowed and stained as the decades have passed. Some old letters and contracts look so fragile they may shatter into pieces if you blow on them. But by and large, the documents are in good shape.
The archive is run by the Centre for Business History, an independent organization founded in 1974 that is working to preserve industrial history. It turns out Atlas Copco’s documents are part of the world’s biggest archive for corporate history. The Centre keeps more than 60 kilometers (37.5 miles) of shelf space of historic material. A recent visitor to the archive who randomly looked at old Atlas Copco press releases found for example one from September 28, 1979, which announced that “Atlas Copco is to supply all the compressed air needed for what will be Australia’s biggest coal fired power station.” Another press release, from September 11, 1986, carries the title, “Success for Atlas Copco in China.” This release announced that licensing agreements had been signed to allow Atlas Copco to soon manufacture products including compressors and rock drilling equipment in China. “The Chinese business philosophy is founded on mutual honesty; and Atlas Copco is a company one can rely on,” the press release quotes Thomas Kung, who was then Managing Director, Atlas Copco (China) Ltd.
Another corner of the archive hosts issues from the 1950s of the internal magazine “Compressed Air,” which was published by Atlas Copco Canada. In a sign of those times, before gender diversity was recognized as a big priority, the magazine’s Editor greeted the reader of each issue with “Dear Sir”. Then there are the photographs. Piles and piles of photographs. There are at least 100 000 photos in Atlas Copco’s archive, estimates Anders Gidlöf, one of the Centre’s archivists. A random look at the photos showed for example one from the 1970s of a subway construction in Sao Paolo and the first compressed air center in Iran, established in 1974. Some 17 000 of Atlas Copco’s photos have been scanned and stored in the Centre’s digital archive. There are also some 750 film clips featuring a vast array of Atlas Copco-related activities, ranging from mining workers operating our drills to fun company picnics – and much, much, more in between. “It is our responsibility to archive our history for the future, something that is seemingly more difficult the more digital we become,” said Annika Berglund, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications and Governmental Affairs. “Important is also that we include the history of acquired units. There are many fantastic companies and brands that have contributed to make our company even stronger for the future.”
The Centre for Business History’s web site is www.naringslivshistoria.se, and its digital archive can be accessed at www.cfnonline.se. Registration with the Centre is needed to view material.