Welcome to Norway’s Factory Towns


The story of how Norway in the course of one hundred years went from poverty to riches started in the factory towns. In the period 1905-1920, the towns were established by the deep fjords in the valleys where there was access to power: Rjukan, Notodden, Tyssedal, Odda, Høyanger, Sauda, Ålvik and Glomsfjord.

Every day the residents of these towns crept out of their architect-designed houses and showed up at the factory. Afterwards they visited Norway’s best libraries, were swimming in one of the country’s first swimming pools, were kissing in the back row in the finest theatres and watched sports games at the country’s best stadiums.

Eva Royrane has written a book on the “Factory Towns in Hardanger”. “In the early 1900s the most modern cities of Norway was to be found here,” she writes. The book is an encyclopedia of contemporary Norwegian architecture. The country’s foremost architects got frolic in these factory towns.

The industrialists needed family people and stability should they make money. They must have had a purpose and a philosophy to create fine cities. There were music pavilions, large “city schools”, parks, gardens and alleys.

Sam Eyde, photo 1908
Sam Eyde, photo 1908

“This way you don’t only build towns, you build societies,” writes Royrane.

From Aalvik, Hardanger
From Aalvik, Hardanger

White waterfalls were tamed, and the power used for industrial electrochemical and electrometallurgical production. The waterfalls were the Norwegian, white gold.

Tyssedal power plant
Tyssedal power plant

The industrialist Sam Eyde, who founded Norsk Hydro at Notodden in 1905, had seen how the Germans secured labor using good homes in beautifully designed urban areas. He brought his knowledge with him to Norway, and the workers came. Why should they leave for America, when they could find work at the factory and have houses with water closets?

Rjukan, Notodden, Odda and Tyssedal were placed on the prestigious Wold Heritage List on 5 July 2015 with the following description of “prominent, universal value”:

“Located in a dramatic landscape of mountains, waterfalls and river valleys, the site comprises hydroelectric power plants, transmission lines, factories, transport systems and towns. The complex was established by the Norsk-Hydro Company to manufacture artificial fertilizer from nitrogen in the air. It was built to meet the Western world’s growing demand for agricultural production in the early 20th century. The company towns of Rjukan and Notodden show workers’ accommodation and social institutions linked by rail and ferry to ports where the fertilizer was loaded. The Rjukan-Notodden site manifests an exceptional combination of industrial assets and themes associated to the natural landscape. It stands out as an example of a new global industry in the early 20th century.”

Feature photo (on top): Odda, February 2004

Welcome to Norway’s Factory Towns, written by Tor Kjolberg