The rise of Wibe Ladders is the story of the many inventive people who have made their mark on the company over the years. People used to say that Wibe Ladders’ employees were quite ingenious. Nowadays we’d tend to call them innovation-driven. Because that’s exactly what we are.
The story of Wibe Ladders is the tale of a technical designer and a financier. Two men with different talents, but with a shared interest in steel.
Anders Wikstrand was born in Vika, a village quite local to Mora town, in 1872. From a young age he had an interest in engineering, and he was said to be ‘born with a technical designer’s eye’. He also had a great interest in doing business. At the age of 14 he began working in a shop in Mora, and at 16 he was off to Stockholm. He stayed in the capital for a few years but before the turn of the century he was back in Mora, where he started a general store with his brother. But Anders wanted more. Alongside the store he started doing business in forest holdings, and soon after that he began inventing machines and devices that could make demanding tasks easier in some way.
Anders Wikstrand was General Manager of Wibe Ladders from the beginning until 1954. By then he was 82 and was succeeded by his son, Torsten.
Victor Berg arrived in Mora in 1886 at the age of 15. He started work as an office clerk at forest company Korsnäsbolaget. Victor was an industrious young man who did his job well, and as time passed he was entrusted with more and more responsibility. He eventually took over management of Korsnäsbolaget’s Mora district from his father-in-law Schollin.
After financing the initial founding of the company, Victor’s main involvement with Wibe Ladders was of a financial nature, but he was also Chairman of the Board. Victor was active in the company for 13 years until the end of his life, when he was succeeded by his son, Per-Erik.
The story of Wibe Ladders actually begins a few years before the company was founded. In fact, it was a chain of ideas that eventually led to the birth of the steel ladder. And it all started with a berry-picker and a handle. Let’s go back to the beginning.
Long before Wibe Ladders was founded, inventor Anders Wikstrand had developed several products made out of steel. One of these products was a popular berry-picker, a stump grubber that reduced labour in forestry, and something called an ‘Autotractor’, which helped people get their cars out of ditches.
The Autotractor came about with the increasing popularity of the automobile. More and more people owned one, and when a neighbour came asking Wikstrand if he could borrow a tool to get his car out of a ditch, Anders had the idea of developing his stump grubber for just that purpose. The result was the Autotractor.
At the end of the 1920s Wikstrand began designing steel ladders, and it was the handle of the Autotractor that sowed the seed of the now-famousladder from Wibe Ladders. This was because the handle was made out of round steel tubing. Wikstrand had noticed that the handle bent when the resistance of the rescued car grew too great, so he replaced the round tubes with oval ones, which he fitted on their ends. This made the handle stronger in terms of bend resistance.
In fact it was so strong that Wikstrand soon came up with the idea of using oval steel tubes as side sections on ladders. But it was soon evident that oval tubes made it impossible to fit rungs well enough. The solution was to press the tubes into a hexagonal shape. This not only created the ideal fixing point for the rungs, since they could be fitted on a flat surface; despite its flatness and low weight, the tube was even more resistant to bending. And so the hexagonal Wibe Ladder profile was born.
Looking back on the products developed by Wibe Ladders over the years is like going on a journey through time. Many of the products launched in the mid-20th century were inspired by events in the wider world.
1930 was when steel ladders with hexagonal tubing began being manufactured – an invention that would reap great success. In subsequent years the range was expanded with scaffolding and ‘large ladders’ for heights of up to 18 metres, often with wheels for ground transport. Step ladders and rescue ladders also became part of the range. But times were tough, and the company continued to develop and manufacture anything that could be sold, one example being ironing boards.
In the 1940s, the Wibe Ladders range was clearly influenced by the wider world. For instance the company started making roof racks for cars, which made it easier to transport wood gas fuel and sacks of coal. After the Second World War there was great potential to expand production, since Sweden was relatively unaffected by the war and could act quickly to furnish post-war Europe with goods.
For instance, Wibe Ladders saw an opportunity to make aircraft ladders for passengers once scheduled flights had started up again. These ladders were not only made in Sweden, but also the Netherlands and South Africa. There was also scope to invest in several other areas of production.
1948 saw the arrival of aluminium ladders. These light metal ladders initially sold far worse than ladders with steel tubing, but over the years they came to dominate the ladder market.
The first half of the 1950s saw the launch of cable ladders for electric cable management, and later also for rubber pipes and plastic hoses. This was a time when a new area opened up as well: masts.
By the end of the 1950s, Wibe Ladders was a brand associated with TV and modern communication technology. In 1958 the company won a large order for TV masts, an effect of the breakthrough of television. Even before that Wibe Ladders had made masts and radio antennas for the armed forces.
Wibe Ladders’ focus on masts was a success, and products were made both for the Swedish market and for export.
Not until the 1980s did Wibe Ladders start focusing exclusively on ladders and scaffolds. During the 1980s and ’90s, Wibe Ladders acquired several companies, including NorBas and Vikingstep. Under the ownership of Thorsman Group, in 1996 ladder production was moved from Bodafors to Nässjö, where a new warehouse was established. The range was also expanded to include rescue ladders for the Swedish fire and rescue services.
Let's have a closer look at some of the products we have produced over the years.
THE BERRY-PICKER (1910s). The first patent Anders Wikstrand took out was for a berry-picker he designed in the 1910s. It offered a new function: a trap that kept the berries inside the container. The berry-picker proved to be a tremendous success, and by 1915 more than 30,000 had been produced.
THE EXTRACTOR (1920s) Anders Wikstrand felt that mechanical stump grubbers were far too awkward, weighing 500 kilos and requiring both man and horse to do the job. His solution was to develop a simpler, lighter version of stump grubber that weighed just 102 kilos. He called it the Extractor, and it turned out to be a best-seller. In fact, it was Wikstrand’s most successful product of the 1920s.
THE AUTOTRACTOR (1930s) To Anders Wikstrand, nothing was impossible. One day a neighbour came round wanting to borrow a tool to get his car out of a ditch. Wikstrand lent the man his smaller model of Extractor, and the neighbour could easily salvage his car with it. This obviously set Anders Wikstrands thinking about developing a product specifically for the purpose. The end result was an evolution of the stump grubber called the Autotractor, which was ideal for salvaging heavy objects like cars. The Autotractor was also useful for pulling speedboats and other small craft into shore.
AIRCRAFT LADDERS (1940s) Following the Second World War, Wibe Ladders could see an opportunity to make aircraft ladders for passengers, now that scheduled flights had started running again. Over the next few years Wibe Ladders made ladders for aircraft not only in Sweden, but also the Netherlands and South Africa.
THE WILETT CHAIR (1950s). The Wilett chair was the first folding camping chair to be produced in Sweden, made of lightweight metal.