Perfumes and acrylic sheet in the bofors family

    Acrylic sheet and scents were two new branches of the Bofors family tree after World War II – with production that many would not perhaps associate with Bofors. Here again it started out from a need in the defence industry that would also lead over time to civilian applications.

    Nobelkrut started to manufacture Bonoplex, a fully transparent or coloured translucent plastic which was mainly designed for the windows and canopies of aircraft. Production began at the facilities in Björkborn where a clear, highly mobile liquid with a fruity odour was first developed. The raw materials were hydrogen cyanide and acetone. The liquid was then transported to the factory in Tidholm where work began on converting it to a solid mass, by a process called polymerisation. The liquid became thicker and thicker, turned into a jelly and finally into a solid hard mass. It could then be cut to the required shape and to different thicknesses.

    In 1950 around 30 people worked on the production of Bonoplex in Tidaholm, the majority of whom were women. Olga Blom had started working ‘on the glass’ in 1949 and talked about her job in a newspaper interview:

    “The sheets have to be absolutely clean, otherwise it doesn’t work. It’s a bit hard on the legs to have to stand the whole day when you’ve been used to working sitting down. There is also a red dye in it. We have plenty of work and do piecework.”

    One disadvantage of Bonoplex was that the glass could easily get scratched and so it was not suitable for car windows at a time when Sweden mainly had gravel roads. However, the acrylic sheet was suitable for greenhouses and sun verandas and the company found more and more applications for it over time. Examples of these are lenses in optical instruments, shatterproof glass on watches, hair brushes, hair dryers, siphons and whisky tumblers, jewellery boxes and night lights. Art glassware was even used in the medical field for artificial eyes, dental plates, knee joints and pieces of bone.

    Bofors Plast gradually turned into an entire industry and made instrument panels for cars, fittings for caravans, shelves for refrigerators, roof lanterns and light domes (including those for the SIF (Swedish Union of Clerical and Technical Employees in Industry) building in Stockholm), telephone kiosks and the Bofors flagpole.

    Nobel Powder. Factory Exterior.
    In Björkborn, the subsidiary Nobelkrut manufactured everything from dyes and perfume ingredients to pharmaceuticals, toothpaste and plastic flags. Here the factory area in the 1960s. Bofors AB archives.

    The only perfume library in Scandinavia

    Another factory that came into being after World War II was the scent factory at Björkborn, managed by graduate engineer Josef Weiss. There was a perfume library, the only one in Scandinavia, with 4,000 different odours from all corners of the earth scientifically catalogued and contained in small bottles lined up just like books on shelves from floor to ceiling around the walls of the room.

    The most expensive perfume cost SEK 12,000 per kilo: pure jasmine. You had to pay SEK 6,000 per kilo for pure rose oil.

    The aim was to develop artificial scents that mimicked the valuable natural substances. You could see employees in the laboratory wearing gas masks and rubber gloves walking round among the pots and stoneware, steel containers and manometer-equipped distillation units. There was a pungent odour from the many tests.

    Engineer Weiss explained to a newspaper reporter that paradoxically enough it might often be the most foul-smelling raw materials that were used to ultimately obtain the most refined perfumes. “A true jasmine perfume without a slight discreet undertone of the musky secretion from the Abyssinian civet cat or from indole never has the same refinement,” he explains.

    The Bofors factory produced the finest pineapple fragrances from caproic acid – pure goat concentrate. The most delightful scents for the perfume and tobacco industry were obtained from phosgene – the terrifying gas used in World War I. But synthetic vanillin was also produced, which was used to replace real vanilla in items such as vanilla sauce for apple cake and gateaux in the country’s patisseries.

    Chemical civilian products.
    Some of Bofors Nobelkrut's pharmaceutical products, including aspirin, local anesthetics Benzocaine and Carbocain, and Nobecutan, a means of wound treatment.