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Updated: Nov 13, 2021

By David John Smith

Today we take a look at two very different towns - Rjukan and Notodden - the backbone of the Rjukan-Notodden Industrial Heritage Site.

Notodden: Two Pillars of Industry

It was in January 1904 that Sam Eyde negotiated the lease of 2,000 horsepower from Tinfos AS for the ‘Continued Test Operation with a Method invented by Professor Birkeland to recover Nitrogen from the Air’. This early cooperation represented an important element in setting the stage for town development over the next years.

The development would rest on two pillars of industry – with both Hydro and Tinfos driving forces in this process. This lends an important nuance as to understanding Notodden in the early industrial years – and what the town of Notodden is today in the post-industrial era.

These first Hydro activities in Notodden were related to testing and production, having an important direct connection to Svælgfos I, which provided electrical power to what would later become the Hydro Industrial Park.

It was at Svælgfos that the first workers housing was constructed, to be followed by larger scale housing in Notodden.

Notodden was already a small town with elements of industry situated in an established area of large farms and landowners when Hydro came on the scene – and the fact that Tinfos could lease electricity was one determining factor in the choice of Notodden as the location for testing and the first production. Another factor was its fairly accessible location, offering a direct route by water to the sea in the south.

Rjukan - A true company town

On the other hand, Saaheim – later to be called Rjukan – was indeed isolated in many ways. Saaheim and the surrounding fields situated alongside the river Måna in the deep valley of Vestfjorddalen was a farm area populated by just a few hundred people when Hydro began with the construction of the Vemork Power Plant in 1907.

The town was a pure Hydro enterprise from the very beginning, and the company always maintained ownership and developmental rights of both the industry as well as the town functions – supervised and planned as a true company town – the first in Norway.

To facilitate major projects being undertaken simultaneously, Hydro established the Rjukan Town Development Office in 1909 under the name of Rjukan Byanlæg. The town development office functioned as a town planning office, which, in addition to housing, also attended to tasks that normally belong to local and central government authorities.

It put in place schools, a children’s home, hospital, library, post office, parks, sports grounds and assembly halls as well as overseeing significant practical and financial support of church building projects. Hydro was also responsible for ensuring the safety and well-being of its workers and families, and a system encompassing areas such as fire protection, police, medical and legal were all put into place and managed well.

Rjukan was a true company town.

Special thanks to NIA for photos 1,2,4 and 5.

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