The community in which Hydro started its life was tiny at the start of the 20th century. Industrialization and the development of hydroelectric power would soon bring about major changes in Notodden.
The population of Notodden, previously a small settlement in Telemark, Southern Norway, had already exceeded 2,000 in 1907, when the construction work was completed. A few years later it reached 10,000, and in 1913 Notodden was given town status. This was the place to move to – to jobs on the construction sites and in the factories or the service industries that followed the wave of industrialization. The attractions of new types of work and a modern lifestyle drew both casual laborers and people with education, women as well as men, all of whom sought to escape from the toil and struggle of the old agricultural society. Arriving in the town, they became part of a monetary and class society.
It was this partly nameless workforce that enabled Norway to become a modern industrial nation.
”A hive of activity – American style”
”This is a hive of activity. Private houses are going up, and there is altogether an American feel,” reports a local newspaper as early as 31 October 1904. One and a half years later Notodden has its own newspaper, ”Teledølen”, which confirms the rapid rate of development: “New shops are established, businesses are starting up, the old buildings are being modernized. Rents are rocketing to Christiania prices...” it writes in March 1906.
Under ”the iron hand of civilization”
”Dreamy Notodden with its peaceful forests and roaring waterfall..., this same Notodden is now falling under the iron hand of civilization. The pine trees on the moors and along the river must make way for factories, houses for the workers, shops for people to make their purchases, newcomers, assembly rooms. There are not enough houses, and everywhere there is building, building, cutting down trees, clearing land and building...” reports a local newspaper on 15 April 1906.
The national newspaper Aftenposten also highlights in several of its reports from the town that there was a housing shortage. “As a result of the sharp increase in population, there is at present a shortage of conveniences. But, as already mentioned, there are streets and even town planning. Notodden still does not have its own local council or church, but all in good time. It does, however, have a post office, police station and, of course, a printing press and newspaper,” Aftenposten reports on 2 November 1908.
The Klondike of the north
”Notodden is the Klondike of the north. It has shot up like a toadstool and is far too loosely organized to be considered a proper town,” comments the national newspaper Socialdemokraten on 5 December 1908.
At that time it was not usual for employers to build homes for their workers. Managing director Eyde had new ideas. On his initiative, Hydro started an extensive construction of homes for both blue and white collar workers.
However Eyde admits that he ”had some trouble persuading the French directors to agree to this work – having to think about their subordinates’ housing was quite alien to them”.
The green town the first workers quarter to be built at Notodden. The year is 1907. Hydro went on to build more homes for both blue and white collar workers.
Green painted homes
”During our visit on Monday we saw streets with three storey stone buildings on both sides; and where trees grown for masts had previously stood, rows of green painted buildings now make a homely impression”, writes a local newspaper on 11 June 1909. The first workers’ homes project had been completed. Several more would follow.
On 14 March 1910 a local newspaper writes that the nitric acid factory has purchased a large plot of land with room for around 50 homes for factory workers. Ten homes are built first, and more follow. They will cost from NOK 2,800 to NOK 4,300 (EUR 350-550 at 2003 exchange rates), and the workers can choose according to type and price. Loan arrangements have also been set up, the newspaper reports.
Villamoen and Admini
The homes built for white collar workers on Villamoen were highly attractive, but were overshadowed by the splendid administration centre – Admini – which was built as early as 1906, following the design of architect Henning Kloumann. Admini was a carefully thought out move in true Eyde spirit. Hydro would now be in a position to receive any visitor from near or far.
But that was not all – Admini could also be used advantageously within the company. ”If we hit difficulties and there was pessimism in the air, I would often gather my colleagues to a little party here. It is remarkable what comradeship and mutual trust and confidence can do to renew hope and efforts. The administration centre at Notodden, and in particular the large hall with its rich carvings in the Norwegian style, hold a wealth of memories from these early, stormy years,” writes Eyde.
These pioneering times were in general coloured by the fact that it was young, hand-picked employees who organized and ran the work, as this little anecdote illustrates.
General Negrier came to visit from France, and was shown round the plants by Dr. Emil Collett, who had taken over responsibility for the factory operations at the time.
”Young man,” said Negrier, ”I am very impressed, but I would also very much like to meet the factory manager.
”Couldn’t be easier,” replies Collett. ”I am the manager, and as for being young – I am the eldest of the company’s staff, apart from the managing director Eyde himself”. Collett was 30 at the time.