This exhibition will tell you the tale of the industrial town Rjukan. It shows you how the entire valley developed from being an agricultural society to become a unilateral industrial town. At an incredible speed Norsk Hydro raised huge industrial structures for production of electrical power and calcium nitrate (fertilizer).
Through photographs, films, items, models and texts we display the industrial landscape and processes of production, housing conditions, social differences, political organization and education. But also shines a light on the problems that came along with the downsizing of the cornerstone enterprise and depopulation. The exhibition roughly tells the tale of how the 20th century affected the valley.
Before the Industry Came to Rjukan
Approximately 2400 people lived in the area today known as Tinn by the year 1900. And in 1920 the population had grown to 12 000. When the industrial entrepreneur Sam Eyde arrived in the area in 1902, the population primarily nurtured itself on farming. The farmers cultivated corn and potatoes and bred livestock. Timber, hunting, fishing, craftsmanship and tourism gave extra money to livelihood.
Hydro was a popular workplace where the workers had well-paid jobs. Although Hydro was a well-sought place to work, the labour was often be tedious and one-sided. The workers worked isolated from each other and knew very little about the production. It was also a dangerous workplace. From 1933 until 1943 ten workers died at the Norsk Hydro site.
Heavy water (D2O) was initially a by-product in the manufacturing of hydrogen gas. From 1934 until 1987 Hydro produced heavy water in cells that extracted the water. Some of these can be found in the exhibit.
Architecture and Housing
Rjukan is Norway’s first fully designed city. It was raised by Norsk Hydro at a record speed, everything planned out beforehand. In the exhibit you will get to know some of the most frequent house models in Rjukan, and also how the city was built. A series of experienced architects and structural engineers were hired. Sam Eyde himself was very interested in architecture and wanted his new city to be a patterned society characterized by order and esthetical values. New ideas of improved living standards for the working class had begun reaching the most northern parts of Europe. The housing conditions in Rjukan raised the bar for both Norwegian and international standards. Here the homes were built with fully operating water- and electrical systems. But the rapid influx of workers presented the city with a housing shortage and overcrowding, a situation that lasted for many years.
The People’s House
The People’s house was finished in 1930. In its time it was considered being one of the finest People’s Houses in Scandinavia. It was financed by workers and became a venue for the members of the labour movement. It was used for meetings, parties, funerals and several different events. Here we also have a display of banners with information about how they were used, their role models and how they were designed. The political activity has been strong in Rjukan. The first union to be founded here was in 1907. But it was also an environment for the radical syndicalist movement who wanted to win over the socialist revolution in direct operations with their employers. The 17th of May 1914 there was a collision between workers on the one hand and citizenship and police on the other.
Working Class Homes
In the exhibition you can see the typical interior of a working class home from the 1930s. There were no bathrooms, and the toilets were either in the hallways or in tiny sheds outside. The contact between the upper class and the workers primarily occurred through labour in housekeeping. Other typical female occupations included cooking and sewing.
It was important to Norsk Hydro to recruit adolescent people to many of the company’s positions. Thus they raised vocational schools with special education within fields such as: electricians, mechanics etc. Generally the standard of public school structures was extremely high within the local community. In addition the teachers had good salaries. This offer became a pattern for other districts. Even if the population in the district has decreased greatly since the 1960s school and education still has a high priority.
An Evolving Local Community
In the 1960s Norsk Hydro utilized a new technology to manufacture hydrogen. This involved creating ammonia using oil rather than the outdated water electrolysis-method. This is when the problems for Rjukan initiated. Nearly 1500 jobs were to be gradually abolished. We follow this development and the political struggle to give the local community the best conditions available. From 1960 to 2001 the population decreased by nearly 36 %. Still the district has a range of varied opportunities for the population and a positive faith in the future.