“Are we still discovering new knowledge about Sam Eyde in 2008? Definitely. And it’s all very interesting,” states Bjørnar Johansen at the Hydro Museum in Notodden as he looks across at Paulina Armata, one of the museum guides this summer. Hydro’s founders continue to fascinate. Hydro’s pioneers still attract people’s interest more than a century after the company was founded.
“There's a lot of interest shown by the many who visit the museum in the summer weeks and also by schoolchildren, students and other specialists. That’s why we constantly need to keep up and try to acquire even more knowledge,” says Bjørnar Johansen, manager of the Hydro Museum at Notodden.
More than just a guide...
Right now Johansen feels he’s very fortunate, for one of the guides in the museum this summer is Paulina Armata (24), who has completed a master’s degree in International Relations at Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun in Poland. Here she specialized in Scandinavia and in Hydro as the epitome of modern Norway. She is now preparing a doctoral degree in the industrial and political relations between Poland and Norway.
“In a marvelous way Sam Eyde is also interesting and relevant in this context, because he was Norwegian envoy to Poland during the important period from 1920 to 1923,” she explains, adding that her first visit to Eyde’s archives was like having a field day at the National Library of Norway. She has several more archive visits lined up, in both Norway and Poland.
Larger than life
Johansen nods in agreement when she says that Eyde’s life history bears witness to a larger than life personality. He covered a lot of ground and operated in both a Norwegian as well as international arena.
“It has struck me, says Armata, that Eyde’s life until 1919 appears to have been studied in detail, while the next 20 years have only been researched in a more superficial manner. The difficulty in doing so is compounded by the fact that the manuscript of the second volume of his autobiography went missing at the publishers, Gyldendal, during the Second World War. Nobody seems to know what happened.”
Armata states that Eyde stood for the Storting in 1918 and was elected, but she also makes the point that he should not be called a politician...
“The years between 1919 and 1924 form an interesting part of his biography, with ingredients such as politics, conflict resolution and diplomacy. As envoy to Poland, an assignment he directed himself, his industrial interests are highly visible. He is an industrialist in the diplomatic service.”
“Are you able to fix the time when Eyde’s interest in Poland commenced?”
“The museum here at Notodden has documents that reveal his contacts with a chemical laboratory in Poland as early as 1906. Over the years Eyde built up a big network. Actual events that I would single out are his participation in the 1919 peace conference in Versailles, where he met a delegation from Poland, which had re-emerged as an independent nation at the end of the First World War."
On 13 October 1919 Eyde held a lecture in Kristiania, attended by the King of Norway, in which he outlined how trade and cooperation between Poland and Norway could be developed.
"Fertilizers, herring, oil, naphtha, coal and zinc were the relevant commodities here. Eyde also headed a major Norwegian trade delegation to Poland. This created quite a stir because as many women as men took part!”
Armata adds that Eyde was keen not only to develop industrial and trade relations, but also – in his own inimitable fashion – inter-personal relations.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that he was a friend and confidant of Józef Pilsudzki, Poland’s acting head of state. This is all the more gripping when we recall that Poland in summer 1920 was attacked by the Soviet Red Guard in a relatively short war that was a disaster for Lenin and Stalin and their ambitions. It would not be going too far to say that the Norwegian interest for Poland and Eyde’s engagement was also about supporting democratic ideas and a young nation that had just taken its place among the world’s free states,” states Armata.
Neither she nor Johansen is in any doubt that more knowledge about Sam Eyde’s colorful personality will emerge during the course of the research. Armata also believes that Kristian Birkeland is a worthy subject for further study – but that task will have to be postponed for the time being!