The industrial revolution in Rjukan

The industrial revolution in Rjukan

Around the turn of the century, Rjukan was an isolated farming valley and home to only about 50 families. Look forward some 10 years and you would hardly recognise the valley with, by then, a population of over 10,000. Sam Eyde, an engineer, was able to recognise the potential in the Rjukan waterfall. He obtained foreign investment and, with the help of scientist Kristian Birkeland, set about manufacturing the world's largest power station in Rjukan, completed in 1911. Vemork power station (as it was known) had 10 turbines producing electricity equal to 145,000 horsepower (108 megawatts). At that time, many parts of the world were stricken with poverty and famine, and the power from Vemork station helped meet the ever-increasing demand for artificial fertiliser. The original power station remained in production until 1971, when a new station was built inside the mountain.

This industrial revolution in such a small place brought great change and social upheaval. A new class of industrial workers emerged in Rjukan, with their own culture and ways. Many of these Norwegian workers were growing increasingly aware of political issues and formed or joined workers' unions.

In the old Vemork hydroelectric power station. Surrounded by magnificent scenery, the beautiful building serves as a monument to the history of Norwegian industry. During the Second World War Vemork became an Allied target. It was essential to block German research into atomic fission by halting the production of heavy water at Vemork. Learn about Norwegian industrial history and the occupation through exhibitions, film and interactive terminals.

The Norwegian Museum of the Industrial Worker at Vemork uses exciting exhibitions to portray the history of the industrial revolution in Rjukan. You can also learn of the events in Rjukan during the Second World War, taking home with you a new world of knowledge and interesting documentation.
The Norwegian Museum of the Industrial Worker at Vemork

Heavy water and the atom bomb

The process of electrolysis is used on water to isolate hydrogen. In 1928, a separate hydrogen factory was built. The hydrogen was used to produce artificial fertiliser. A biproduct of this production process was heavy water, a rather common water molecule where the core of the hydrogen atom has an extra neutron. So this common water molecule has, in fact, very special qualities. The Norwegian company, Hydro, produced heavy water at Vemork from 1934. In time, both German and allied scientists discovered that heavy water could be utilised to produce an atom bomb.

During the German occupation of Norway, the Norwegian resistance made several attempts to stop the Germans producing heavy water. There was the "Freshman" attack in the autumn of 1942, using a glider, which failed and claimed the lives of many soldiers. But in February 1943, a group of resistance succeeded where previous attempts had failed. After meticulous planning, they climbed down the steep valley sides and daringly sabotaged the German production of heavy water. The story is told in the Norwegian film "Kampen om tungtvannet" and the American film production "Heroes of Telemark".

But the Germans rebuilt the heavy water plant. In November, 143 American bombers flew over Vemork and dropped 711 bombs over the valley. The heavy water plant was only partially damaged, but this last action made the Germans decide to move their heavy water production to Germany. Once again, the resistance successfully sabotaged the German plans by placing a time-set bomb onboard the ferry which was to transport the heavy water over the Tinnsjøen lake. The ferry was destroyed on 20 February 1944, resulting in the tragic loss of many civilians.

Nevertheless, the resistance succeeded in stopping the transport of the greatest volume of low-concentrate heavy water to Germany. Hardly any heavy water was ever produced in Germany.

At the museum, you can learn more about this in the film, "If Hitler had a bomb", a documentary on the sabotage of heavy water production produced by The National Geographic in 1995.

Heavy water exhibition

The exhibition "Atomkappløpet" or "The race for the atom" gives an exciting and well-informed depiction of the four attempts to sabotage heavy water production, and the allies' attempts to develop an atom bomb.

The Summer Exhibition
In the Exodus exhibition, the Brazilian documentary photographer Sebastiao Sãlgado illustrates the great departures of the present day. In pursuit of a better life, numerous people leave their homes to travel or to flee. Through 300 pictures he imparts these people's fear, degradation and uncertainty. The exhibition nevertheless does not only show sufferings, it also shows the bravery and decisiveness of the individual in situations where hope seems to be the only motivating force.

Norwegian Industrial Worker's Museum is open every day from 1.5 to 30.9.

1st of May - 31st of December

The railway line was nearly essential to the community for more than eighty years. The exhibit shows part of the line's dramatic history focusing on its first years (1909-17), World War II, and the ending in 1991.

Tel.: 35 09 90 00

People who viewed 'The industrial revolution in Rjukan' also found interest in following Norwegian articles . . .

The Norwegian Industrial Worker Museum

Exciting exhibitions about industry and the industrial worker, the dramatic sabotages on the heavy water production plant and the race to develop an atom bomb. In the old Vemork hydroelectric power...

Rjukan and Tinn Guide service

Rjukan and Tinn Guideservice arrange a local guide service on coaches in both municipalities. Guides tell visitors about Tinn and Rjukan's local history from the start of the 19th century to the...

Rjukan KOS Ing. (Competence and Adventure centre)

Rjukan Competence and Adventure centre offer canoeing trips with sleepover and courses for those who seak knowledge and safety about paddeling canoes. Rjukan is as tough as its name. Say Rjukan, and...

Polarbadet (Water Park)

Polarbadet is an exotic activity facilities, suitable for all ages. You can find it right in the Troms county and is ideal for fitness, fun and relaxation. The resort is open all year. The water park...

Storefjell Mini Water Park

Storefjell Seterhotell was built by Gunhild and Knut Nibstad in 1930. Accommodating 30 people, the hotel became the beginning of a travel and leisure business its founders could not have imagined. In...

Norwegian Museum of Hydro Power and Industry, Tyssedal, Odda

Take part in the Norwegian industrial adventure in Tyssedal! Early in the last century hydroelectric power created the modern Norway. The Norwegian Hydropower - and Industrial Museum is presenting...

Pool with water slide

Modern swimming pool in Mo i Rana with heated pool, Olympic size swimming pool, children’s pool, water slide, saunas and more. Sun beds, sauna, steam bath and cafe. Free parking. General facilities...