Home: Images of Norway 
 Highlands   Lowland   Road   Man-made   Churches   Springtime 

Rjukan

(who quit smoking nearly a century ago)

By the end of the eighteen hundreds the valley Vestfjorddalen in Telemark had become a tourist attraction, mainly because of the Gausta Peak (second last picture) and the fantastic Rjukan Waterfall (last picture). The peak still stands (with some minor scars), but the waterfall is nearly dry except on rare flooding conditions. Incidentally, originally Rjukan was the name of the waterfall, meaning "the smoking", referring to the waterfall spray. Sic transit ... Well, it's called progress.

The end of the picturesque times came a decade into the twentieth century, brought about by the industry developer Sam Eyde. He knew there was a large demand for nitrogen fertilizers. The scientist Kristian Birkeland had just found a method for binding nitrogen from the air (as nitric oxide) in an electric arc. Sam Eyde industrialized the process which required huge amounts of electric power. Rjukan was a natural place for power stations, and since long transmission lines were rather lossy those days, Rjukan was also chosen as the site for the production. In 1911 the first fertilizer was shipped to the market. It was a complete success and the town still shows evidence of the good times.

In 1929 the Haber-Bosch ammonia method superseded the Birkeland arc method, saving three fourth of the electric power. This involved hydrogen production by the electrolysis of water (actually lye, but only water is in effect decomposed).



Knut Birkeland (1867–1917) on the 200 kroner bill. There were many other important results fom his research in physics, notably on the aurora borealis.



Statue of Sam Eyde (1866–1940) in Rjukan with the Såheim power station (1915) in the background.



A Pelton wheel exhibited in Rjukan, showing how power turbines for high heads work.



The first power station was built at Vemork, then (1911) the biggest in the World, near the Rjukan Waterfall. It is now an industry museum. During World War II heavy water was produced her, actually as a byproduct of the water (lye) electrolysis. Did you see the film "Heroes of Telemark", staring Kirk Douglas, showing saboteurs blowing up the factory in February 1943?



Present time summer activities, bungee jumping from the bridge across the ravine at Vemork.



The steam ferry "Ammonia", one of two ferries left, at the Mæl dock. The ferry "Hydro" was sunk with the last shipment of heavy water 20 February 1944 by Norwegian saboteurs. The products from Rjukan were transported 14-16 kilometers on the railway to Mæl and the cars ferried 30 kilometers down the lake Tinnsjø to Tinnoset where the rails continue. The last transport of fertilizer took place in 1991 and since then there have been plans for making the railway/ferry a living museum. But ..., you don't have a few millions to spare, have you?



This is Krossobanen, a telpherage built by the Company in 1928 to enable the people of Rjukan to enjoy the sun during the winter months. The top of the telpherage is five hundred meters above the valley floor.



Rjukan seen from the top of Krossobanen. The town is long and narrow as Nature has dictated and it houses 3600 souls. Once the population was thrice that number. On the south side of the valley (Vestfjorddalen) resides the Gausta Peak, altitude 1883 meters. No wonder the sun is absent for several winter months near the valley floor.

(All pictures above taken 2005-08-02/03)


Rjukan waterfall

U.S. Library of Congress, Photochrom Print Collection.

The Rjukan waterfall before 1900.

top of page

changed 2010-09-17