Hydro's origins have become a World Heritage Site

UNESCO declared on Sunday that Hydro's origins at Notodden and Rjukan belong on the exclusive list of World Heritage Sites. "A fantastic recognition of the innovative art of engineering, goal orientation and social consciousness the founders of the company exhibited", says the current CEO Svein Richard Brantzæg.

July 5, 2015
Image of a valley in Rjukan
(Photo: Terje S. Knudsen)

The world heritage sites at Notodden and Tinn are in practical terms the industrial heritage from the first two decades after the turn of the last century. This was when the researcher Kristian Birkeland, the engineer Sam Eyde and the project manager Sigurd Kloumann together created Norsk Hydro. In addition Eyde and Kloumann built several companies separately that became central to Norwegian history. They drove forward the second industrial revolution in Norway, generated growth, optimism, workplaces and new industrial centres. In fact, the building of Hydro was not just the start of a spectacular industrial adventure, it was also the first vigorous shoot of what was to become a completely new industry.

Unusual quality

"When the founders of Hydro's pioneering collaboration project can now be decorated with the World Heritage status it is not just because what they did was great and innovative. Svelgfoss was in its time Europe's largest power station, and the development of the Rjukan waterfall some years later became the worlds largest. Of even greater importance was the fact that the work carried out by the founders was of unusual quality. More than 100 years later, we can still see what they created in it's own element and partly still in operation. This is unique  on a world scale, and will give Telemark an even clearer footprint  on the map of the world," says Brandtzæg.

He underlines that the success of the pioneers, 110 years after Hydro was founded, is a source of great inspiration for the current managers of the company.

"The unique recognition being listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site represents fills us with both pride and humility. It is this heritage we will continue to build on, in our daily work to renew Hydro in order to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," says Brandtzæg.

The Westfjord-valley seen towards the west with Rjukan and Hydro Rjukan Industral Park from above
The Westfjord-valley seen towards the west with Rjukan and Hydro Rjukan Industral Park. Såheim power-station to the left, Gvepseborg/Krossoline at the top right. (photo: Fjellanger Widerøe A/S)

Long process

It was the then Minister of the Environment and International Development Erik Solheim who in September 2010, aboard the old Hydro ferry M/F "Storegut" at Mæl, started the nomination process that was crowned in applause and full support at the UNESCO meeting in Bonn. Work on the application has been undertaken by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage in close collaboration with Telemark County Council and the municipalities of Notodden and Tinn.

In the extensive application they have presented stories about

  • the water from Hardangervidda running east to Rjukan and Notodden,
  • the water being transformed into electrical energy,
  • electrical energy being used to build a chemical  process industry,
  • a process industry that  produces the global product artificial fertiliser,

Everything is about the history of Norsk Hydro, about the start of the second industrial revolution in Norway, about two completely special industrial communities and about the start of what has been called the Norwegian welfare model.


Updated: September 22, 2016