Willy Maria Lundberg was an author, journalist, polemicist, and one of the most prominent figures of Swedish consumer journalism. In the 1960s she was considered to be one of the most powerful people in Sweden.
Willy Maria Lundberg was born in Härnösand in 1909. Her father worked in an office and her mother was a housewife. Willy Maria Lundberg spent part of her childhood in Bollstabruk in Ådalen. Her interest in consumer issues manifested itself at an early stage. When she was in her 20s she initiated her journalistic career at Konsumentbladet in Stockholm. This was the Kooperativa Förbundet (cooperative association) journal which preceded Vi. At Konsumentbladet she met the man she went on to marry, the journalist Birger Lundberg, who himself later became the editor in chief of Vi. They had three children together. It was while the family lived in Sundsvall that Willy Maria Lundberg set up Telepress, a company which delivered its own and other people’s articles to the local press. In 1947 the family returned to Stockholm and Willy Maria Lundberg then got a contract with Aftontidningen, and subsequently with Folket i Bild. In 1957 she was hired as a columnist for Expressen.
Willy Maria Lundberg used her columns and her reviews to confront poor quality goods and misleading advertising wherever it appeared. This could involve socks which shrank, Japanese Dala-horses, frying pans which caused food to burn onto the pan, or goods which were vastly overpriced. There was no item she would not consider. She was often defending the rights of housewives, but equally those of the consumer in general. The likes of petrol companies, manufacturers, and shop-keepers were forced to publicly defend their dubious adverts and products as a result of Willy Maria Lundberg’s journalism.
Willy Maria Lundberg was heavily involved in social issues in general and in women’s rights in particular. However, it was largely through consumer rights that she made a name for herself. She campaigned against poor quality, packaging which was not up to scratch, curtains which faded, and children’s food which contained glutamate or was poorly labelled. As she wrote, in the journal Morgonbris: “We have the right to know all the possible risks additives pose. We should all have the right to freedom of choice. If a given additive is entirely unnecessary but the industry uses it for crass reasons then we must have access to canned food without additives so that we can decide for ourselves which ones we want to use.” The environmental aspects of consumer rights were of central importance to her, particularly in terms of durability. “One may have a poor whisk and still live 90 years. However, one will not reach the age of 90 if one eats fish containing poisonous mercury”, she is known to have said. She was the sole journalist who was a member of the National board of consumers. At the same time she was considered to be one of the harshest critics of the very same national consumer information.
In order to fully comprehend Willy Maria Lundberg’s almost iconic status during the 1950s and 1960s it is important to know that at that time consumer protection was very feeble and lacked regulatory practises such as product declarations, a consumer agency, and the Market Court. It was not until 1970 that a fair trading act first emerged in Sweden. Willy Maria Lundberg also had her own personal style and was keen to discuss consumer rights in various arenas throughout the country. Her reviews and contributions often became headlines. Carl-Adam Nycop, the founder of Expressen, described her role as controversial, both internally and externally, but that her journalism was ground-breaking. In 1961 Willy Maria Lundberg generated a lot of attention during a TV-debate when she criticised the interior decorator Lena Larsson’s championing of the “slit och släng” (use and dispose) approach. Willy Maria Lundberg, in contrast, believed that it was an item’s usefulness and longevity which made it worthwhile.
In 1964 Willy Maria Lundberg was named as one of the 100 most powerful individuals in Sweden in the journal Idun-Veckojournalen. Her inclusion in the selection was explained thus: “[She is] a wailing wall for consumers, a fury against negligent manufacturers, impossible to shut up”. There were only three women in total among the 100 names and the other two were Alva Myrdal and Greta Österling (described as “wife, the gray eminence of the Swedish Academy” given her role as wife of the then secretary of the Swedish Academy, Anders Östling). Willy Maria Lundberg was also considered to belong to the inner sanctum of the 20 most powerful people in Sweden.
Willy Maria Lundberg wrote several travelogues and travel guides. Many of these are illustrated by Margareta Sylwan, signed off as MaS. It was probably their travels which contributed to Willy Maria Lundberg’s activism within the international consumer movement. She reported from various meetings and reviewed the major European department stores from a consumer’s point of view. She also contributed to bringing Esther Peterson, a well-known American consumer informer and Secretary of State, on a visit to Sweden in 1966. They both promoted the idea that those most in need of consumer information are those who have the least money, namely those on low salaries.
Towards the end of her career Willy Maria Lundberg focused solely on pursuing questions of quality from her Hälsinge farm of Träslottet, where she displayed examples of good, long-lasting high-quality products in various exhibitions. In 1982 her daughter Irja Persson, a landscape architect, took over the enterprise and continued it in her mother’s spirit until 2007.
Willy Maria Lundberg spent her final years at a home for the elderly in Arbrå. She died in 2004.