Fredrik (1875 - 1964) & Birger Ljungström (1872–1948)

The Ljungström brothers of Sweden were internationally recognised inventors and designers in mechanical engineering and materials science. They registered hundreds of patents and established companies to exploit their innovations. Their work on the design of steam turbines for electricity generating was particularly significant. They jointly patented the Ljungström Turbine in 1908.

Their father Jonas Patrik Ljungström was a land surveyor and inventor who became a map-maker for the Swedish government and ran his own factory making precision instruments. Birger was born first and Fredrik three years later. Both worked while teenagers in their father’s instrument factory and trained at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. Their mentor was the inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel.

As early as 1892, they invented the ‘Svea Velocipede’ bicycle with their brothers Axel and Oskar and took out their first patent, which was for a freewheeling wheel hub. They created the New Bicycle Company and from 1895 to 1898 they sold 2,000 bicycles in Sweden and 150 in Britain.

In 1895 Frederick developed a steam generator that Alfred Nobel supported financially for use in steamboats. Nobel suggested they move to Britain to further their work in mechanics. They remained in Britain until 1903, where they opened the Ljungström Engine Syndicate Limited in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. They also developed an early milking machine for dairy farms.

Their most important invention was the double counter-rotating turbine, which they refined in stages from 1894 onwards. They created a company to develop their turbines in 1908, ALA (AB Ljungströms Ångturbin). They then began another company to manufacture them at a large factory in Stockholm in 1913, STAL (Ljungström Swedish Turbine Manufacturing Company). They provided complete steam turbines that were more efficient and more compact than earlier models for generating electricity and driving ship propellers. They had contracts with Siemens and General Electric among others.

After a take-over of the manufacturing company in 1916 they resigned from it to focus on their development work. They began working on steam-turbine driven railway locomotives. The brothers also produced inventions in many other fields, including air preheating, shale oil extraction, naval engineering, engine transmission and hydraulics. Power stations around the world continue to use the Ljungström air preheater to save fuel and the concept of their turbine lives on in modern designs.