Popular Science Monthly/Volume 80/January 1912/Notes on Norwegian Industry


By Professor JAS. LEWIS HOWE


THE kingdom of Norway occupies about one third of the Scandinavian peninsula, and covers approximately 100,000 square miles of territory. From Vardö, its most northern point, to Lindesnäs on the extreme southern coast is 1,100 miles, 400 miles of this line being north of the Arctic circle. The northern portion of Norway is very narrow. A strip of Russian Finland extends westward to within sixty miles of the Atlantic coast, and to within twenty miles of tidewater on Bals-fjord. Mo, at the head of the Ranen-fjord near the Arctic circle, is but twenty miles from the Swedish frontier. At Trondhjem Norway has a width of eighty miles, but from here southward it rapidly widens, till north of Bergen it reaches its extreme breadth of about 250 miles.

The surface of Norway is for the most part barren highland, except in the south largely covered with great snow-fields till late summer, and much of it uninhabitable. The whole coast line is deeply indented by fjords, each with its many branches, all of deep water, and except in the extreme north rarely covered with ice. Into these fjords descend valleys, generally short and narrow, with precipitous sides. A few important valleys, generally in the south, are longer and broader, with gentler slopes. Each valley has its stream, fed from the upland snow, and often widening into a long, narrow lake. Along the coast are countless rocky islands, known as the Skjaergaard, which so fringe the shore that it is possible for a steamer to pass from Vardö to Kristiania with but few occasions to traverse the open sea. Norway thus resembles a chain of mountains with deeply dissected valleys, which has been sunk many hundred feet into the ocean. Such indeed may be considered the bare outline of a part of its geological history. In the north, Sweden is the more gradual eastern slope of this mountain chain.

The history of Norway has been largely determined by its physiography in the past, and we can not doubt that the same will be true in the future. The only habitable portions of the country being the narrow shores of the fjords and the restricted valleys, the pasture land being greatly limited and the arable land yet more so, the population was sparse and scattered, and few cities of any considerable size arose. To-day Norway has less than two and a half million inhabitants; of these about 230,000 are in Kristiania, 80,000 in Bergen, while Trondhjem
Fig. 1. Norwegian Uplands in Summer. Snow fences on the Bergen-Kristiania railroad.

and Stavanger are the only other cities with more than 25,000 inhabitants, and only eight more have over 10,000.

Farming and grazing have always been the chief industries of Norway and at present more than half the population are so engaged. In the south, where the valleys are broader, general farming is practised, but in the north the life of the farmer is hard. Here the only crops are potatoes and barley, and these are cultivated in the bits of soil oil the rocky mountain sides, even far north of the Arctic circle, indeed, it is said that the best potatoes are raised on Andö, one of the Vesteraalen Islands, at latitude 69°. Cattle are pastured in summer as far up the mountains as grass can he found, while every wisp of hay is gathered for winter use, not only on the lower levels, but among rocks and on slopes so steep that cattle could not find a foothold. Most of the calves are shipped, as comparatively few can be carried through the winter on the meager sustenance. Sheep and goats are raised but in small numbers.

Next to farming the chief industry of Norway is fishing, and in winter all the farmers living on the fjords become fishermen. The great center of the fishing industry is the Lofoten Islands, on the west coast, north of the Arctic circle. Here in winter and early spring assemble upwards of 40,000 fishermen from all of the fjords of western Norway, even from below Bergen. The fishing is chiefly in Vest-fjord, the broad, open body of water between the Lofotens and the mainland, for here the cod swarm in immense numbers. The fishermen scatter

Fig. 2. Norwegian Uplands in Summer. Snow field near Djupvashütten. "In many places the snow has not disappeared by the end of summer, and thus furnishes a continual supply of water."

themselves in rude huts along the shore, and when the fish arrive they • are notified by telephone. A season's catch is often valued at nearly $2,000,000. The fish are brought on shore and dried; the heads and backbones are ground for fertilizer, or boiled with hay for cattle food; the livers are tried for cod-liver oil. This fishing, like that of the Newfoundland Banks, is attended with great loss of life. Brought up in such a school, it is not surprising that so many Norwegians are sailors and that Norway ranks next to England and the United States in maritime commerce, nor that Norwegian masters command vessels in all parts of the world, from the whalers of Japan to the fruiters on our own east coast. In addition to the cod fisheries, the herring fisheries occupy many men, while a smaller number fish for salmon, salmon trout, and market sea-fish, as well as lobsters.

The third great industry of Norway is that connected with timber. While the highlands are barren, the lower slopes, even far to the north, are densely wooded. The most important woods are pine and spruce, and in the more northern portions birch is abundant, indeed far beyond the line of conifers the white birch continues, until it becomes at last so stunted that it is hardly more than a bush, and we are above the tree-line. The fashion of building houses is evidence of the wealth of timber. In the north all houses are built of logs, hewn smooth on two sides and hollowed on the lower side to fit the unhewn, rounded top, thus avoiding a crack. At the corners and where the partitions meet the walls, the logs are carefully dovetailed together, so that the
Fig. 3. Waterfall on Hundvik-fjord. The steep walls of the fjords are often lined with such waterfalls.
houses present a very neat appearance. The roofs may be of slabs, shingles, slate, some of the latter being rather great flags of mica-schist, and in the poorer and older houses of turf. This turf often grows in a very flourishing manner, so that quite a crop of hay could be gathered from the roof. Farther south the houses are generally of the same type, but in the place of logs plank are used, from three to four inches in thickness. After my attention had been called to this point, I kept a lookout for ordinary boards, but the thinnest I saw were by actual measurement two and a half inches thick. From this almost wasteful use of lumber as it would seem to us, it follows that all Norwegian houses are very substantially built and one would imagine that they would be of rather slow-burning construction. The contrary seems to be the ease, for almost every town of any size has been repeatedly devastated by fire, so that old houses are by no means common, indeed most Norwegian cities have a decidedly modern appearance. The city of Bergen has a number of broad avenues, purposely kept open to prevent the spread of fires. It should be added that stone and brick are rapidly replacing wood in the larger cities, much reducing the fire risk. While large amounts of timber are used for building and still larger quantities are exported, by far the largest amount is used for wood pulp. Here comes into use Norway's enormous water-power, for the so-called mechanical pulp is most largely manufactured. All over southern Norway are these pulp mills, where the wood is disintegrated by rough stones, much like an ordinary mill-stone. The pulp is

Fig. 4. Falls and Power House of Trondhjem Electric Works. Only a portion of the power of this stream is at present used.

thoroughly macerated by water and pressed into sheets, which are sold to the paper manufacturers of England. America and the continent. The logs are floated down to the mills in enormous quantities and the frequent lakes along the river courses serve as storehouses for the logs till used. One may often see acres of water thus covered with logs.

The one great drawback to manufacturing industry in Norway is the lack of all fuel except wood and peat. There is a little deposit of coal in one of the Vesteraalen Islands, but it is difficult to work and very little mined. On the coast it is of course possible to import coal, but this is hardly used outside of the larger cities. The ordinary fuel everywhere is wood, but this is naturally hardly applicable to industries. But if Norway is badly off for fuel, she is unique in her waterpower. Doubtless the water-power of America surpasses that of Norway, but here it is scattered from Maine to Georgia, and from Idaho to Texas. In Norway it is everywhere, from Kristiania to North Cape. In winter the whole highland of Norway, and this includes the largest proportion of her area, is covered with deep snow. This melts very gradually and in many places has not disappeared by the end of summer. There is thus a continual supply of water, from elevations of six thousand feet down to nearly sea level. This water has a very short distance to go before reaching the sea, and few of the rivers are navigable for any considerable length. The many lakes found in their courses serve as inexhaustible storage reservoirs, while the short stretches of river connecting the lakes generally have a very steep fall. Norway thus abounds in waterfalls, the water often descending a thousand feet

Fig. 5. Vide-dal: a Typical Valley. Fifty waterfalls were counted within two miles of the spot from which the picture was taken. The valley stream flows into a lake, one end of which Is visible, and which is only 90 feet above tidewater.

or more in one or a few leaps. Her water power is thus Norway's greatest natural resource, compensating for her paucity of mineral wealth and lack of fuel. Upon this water-power is Norway's dependence for her industrial development.

In the early days on every farm might be seen little water mills for grinding grain and for mechanical purposes. At a comparatively recent date came the pulp mills and electric light and power plants. To the ordinary traveler it would seem that Scandinavia leads the world to-day in applied electricity. It is well known that Stockholm is better supplied with telephones than any other city of the world, having one instrument for every six of its inhabitants. One can send a telegram anywhere in these countries for thirteen cents. Even in the far north electric lights are generally used, and the fixtures and service leave nothing to be desired. Kiruna, a mining town north of the Arctic circle, has an electric railroad.

The larger possibilities of electric industries are now being recognized in Norway, and capital is being rapidly supplied by the wealthier countries of Europe. Unless the restrictions placed upon industry by a government strongly tinctured by socialistic ideas shall prevent, Norway will in the near future become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, industrial center of Europe. In possibilities it yields only to America. At present there are about twelve electric industries already in operation in Norway and several more are nearly ready to begin work. These include such diversified manufactures as aluminum, sodium, zinc.

Fig. 6. Odde: Carbid and Cyanamid Works. A beautiful secluded nook at the head of Sor-fjord has been transformed into an industrial center, with an ever-present pall of smoke.

pig iron and steel, calcium carbid and cyanamid, nitrates and nitrites. Two lines of this development I have recently had the opportunity of studying rather carefully, and these will be described somewhat in detail.[1]

The first is the manufacture of calcium cyanamid. The history of this substance, which bids fair to become an important article of commerce, may be worth briefly recounting. In 1836 Sir Humphry Davy in preparing metallic potassium, obtained a substance containing calcium and carbon, which gave off a badly smelling gas when placed in water. A quarter of a century later Woehler obtained the same substance by fusing a calcium-zinc alloy with coal, and he recognized the gas which was evolved when this was put in water, as acetylene. In 1890 Winckler found that by reducing calcium carbonate by magnesium the same substance could be formed, and four years later Moissan prepared the substance, now recognized as calcium carbid, in quantity, by reducing limestone with coke in the electric furnace, thus founding the great carbid and acetylene industry of the present. Since the great development of the extraction of gold from poor ores by potassium cyanid, every effort has been made to prepare cyanid more economically, and in 1904 it was found that barium cyanid, the analog of calcium

Fig. 7. Tyssa: The Power Plant fob the Odde Carbid and Cyanamid Works. The water is brought down 1,450 feet in these two pipes, furnishing 22,000 horsepower.

carbid, when heated in an atmosphere of nitrogen, absorbed the latter forming barium cyanid. But barium cyanid is expensive, so that the same experiment was carried out on the cheaper calcium carbid, now an article of commerce, in hope that calcium cyanid would be formed. Nitrogen was indeed absorbed, but half the carbon of the carbid was lost in the process, giving not calcium cyanid, but calcium cyanamid, which contains for each atom of calcium two atoms of nitrogen but only one of carbon. A study of this new substance revealed the fact that when put in water it was decomposed and all its nitrogen given off as ammonia. Now with the inadequate supply of ammonia from gasworks and the decreasing supply of nitrate from Chili, the world has been staring a fertilizer famine in the face, and every effort has been made to devise some way of combining the nitrogen of the atmosphere for the use of growing crops. Here in this new discovery was a possibility of manufacturing ammonia, needing for raw materials only limestone, coal and air, all cheap, and an electric furnace. The last could be only economically used when the electricity was furnished by water.

A few years ago a calcium carbid plant was established at Odda at the head of the Sör-fjord, one of the most beautiful branches of the Hardanger-fjord. To turn the carbid into cyanamid merely requires heating in an atmosphere of nitrogen, and nitrogen composes four-fifths of the air. But the problem of separating the oxygen and nitrogen of the air is by no means easy of solution on a large scale. Suffice
Fig. 8. Notodden. Portion of the Saltpeter Works near Notodden.
it to say that it is now accomplished industrially and it was my privilege to see the working of the whole process at Odda. The air is first liquified as in ordinary liquid-air machines, and then the constituent gases separated by rectification, using much the same process as that by which alcohol is separated from water. The difficulty of the process depends upon the low temperatures necessary. Oxygen boils at -182° and nitrogen at -194° Centrigrade. The air must of course be completely freed from moisture and also from carbon dioxid, for at the temperatures used both are solids and would clog the pipes. All the difficulties have been successfully overcome and from the stills the nitrogen is boiled off in an almost pure condition. Delicate tests in the laboratory show that on the average not over 0.2 per cent, of oxygen is present. The commercial weakness of the process is the fact that there is no use for the fairly pure oxygen which is left, which in many places would be very valuable and probably pay the whole cost of operating. The calcium carbid is ground and exposed for two days in an atmosphere of the pure nitrogen. While the absorption of nitrogen is an exothermic reaction, it must be started and supported in the initial stages by a supply of heat from some external source, and for this electric heating with carbon anodes is used. The resultant mass is a fairly pure cyanamid, with uniform nitrogen content of 20 per cent. From the cyanamid ammonia is easily obtained by the action of water, and this being absorbed by sulfuric acid gives the ammonium sulfate so extensively used as a fertilizer. At present the sulfuric acid for this absorption must be imported, but an electric zinc smelter is in process of

Fig. 9. Hitterdal-kyrke. This church, which is built of wood, has stood in this smiling valley for nearly 700 years. Note that the bell tower is across the road from the church.

construction which will furnish sulfuric acid as a by-product. In many cases it has proved simpler to use the cyanamid itself directly as a fertilizer, letting the moisture of the soil convert it into ammonia as needed. On many soils the nitrogen of the cyanamid is found to be equally efficient with that of ammonia or of nitrate, while on other soils it has less value. Its use has, however, become established and we may look for the installation of cyanamid plants in many places where water-power is cheap. A plant on the Canadian side at Niagara Falls is already in successful operation.

A word regarding the power of the Odda plant may not be amiss, as it illustrates the resources of Norway in this line. The power plant is at Tyssa, some four miles distant from the cyanamid works. The water is brought down to the dynamos in two pipes of rolled steel 112 inches thick and about two meters in diameter, with a fall of 1,450 feet, developing 22,000 horse-power for the cyanamid and carbid works. This is shortly to be increased by raising the level of the water supply, and it is said that there will be a development of 125,000 horse-power. The current is transmitted from the power house at 11,400 volts and is stepped down to 75 volts for the cyanamid manufacture and to 400 volts for the liquid air plant.

Another, and even more important effort to solve the problem of manufacturing nitrogen fertilizer from the atmosphere has been the attempt to convert the nitrogen of the air into saltpeter. It has long been known that when an electric discharge is passed through air, the
Fig. 10. Rjukan-Fos Upper Power House. "The water is brought down in ten pipes, each unit to furnish 14,000 horse-power."

nitrogen and oxygen combine to form nitric oxid. This unites directly with more oxygen forming nitrogen dioxid, which when dissolved in water gives a mixture of nitric and nitrous acids. A very high temperature is necessary to cause the first union of nitrogen and oxygen, and at this temperature equilibrium is established when less than two per cent, of the nitrogen is oxidized. At a somewhat lower temperature the nitric oxid is decomposed into nitrogen and oxygen, so that it is no simple matter to cool this nitric oxid from the temperature at which it is formed, without having it completely decomposed in the process. This has, however, now been successfully accomplished at Notodden, where I was given an opportunity of inspecting the plant. A peculiar form of electric furnace is used, in which a flaming arc is driven back and forth along copper electrodes by electro-magnets. Through this arc air is blown, and in its passage a small proportion is converted into nitric oxid. It passes so quickly that very little of that which has been formed is decomposed, but on the contrary it is by the excess of air present converted into the dioxid.

The gases coming from the furnaces are cooled by passing through pipes in boilers, and thus incidentally furnish more steam than is needed for the whole plant, completely eliminating the item of coal, usually such an important part of the cost of manufacture in all industrial plants. The gases are then passed up large towers filled with broken quartz, down which water trickles. The oxid of nitrogen is absorbed, furnishing a dilute nitric acid. This is then pumped to large

Fig. 11. Rjukan-fos Saltpeter Works. Looking down the valley. From this stream "within a few years 260,000 horse-power will be available, all to be used for nitrate manufacture."

tanks where it is neutralized with limestone, forming calcium nitrate or lime-saltpeter. The solution is evaporated and the resulting nitrate fused. It is either run in a melted condition into sheet-iron drums or into large tanks where it solidifies. The drums are sealed and are ready for shipment. The nitrate which has solidified in tanks is broken up, ground and shipped in air-tight barrels. It is guaranteed to contain 13 per cent, nitrogen, but generally runs somewhat higher. The market is of course unlimited, except as far as it is in competition with Chili saltpeter and with ammonium sulfate. It has been found possible to compete with Chili saltpeter even on the Pacific coast. The greatest difficulty which would seem to militate against the artificial product, is that it is very hygroscopic, or rather, deliquescent. This difficulty seems to be practically overcome by shipping the product in excellent wooden barrels manufactured by the works themselves. Experience and experiments have proved that the nitrate shipped in this manner keeps as long as it is practically found necessary. In many soils the presence of the lime rather than soda in the fertilizer is a distinct advantage.

Another product of the same factory is ammonium nitrate, for which there is a large market in the manufacture of explosives. For this the nitric acid is neutralized with ammonia (imported at present from England) and the solution evaporated to crystallization in vacuum pans, very similar to those used in sugar factories. The product

Fig. 12. Rjukan-fos Saltpeter Works. The water is carried from the upper power house to the lower through a tunnel just within the walls of the cliff. The current from both power houses will be brought to this building, in which will be utilized more electric power than any single plant in the world.

must be sold under a guarantee of 99.5 per cent purity, but all the recent shipments I was told were 99.98 per cent. pure. Sodium nitrite is also manufactured, which is very extensively used in the color-works of Germany, and apparatus is being installed to immediately increase the amount produced.

At present in this plant 40,000 horse power are used, brought down from the Svaelgfos on the Tinelv, while farther down the same stream and in the outskirts of Notodden the Tinfos, with a fall of 65 feet, is utilized for pulp mills. Between these two falls on the Tinelv is another, the Lienfos, and here a dam is nearly completed which will furnish an additional 15,000 horse power to the Notodden works.

As soon as the success of the nitrate factory at Notodden was assured measures were taken to utilize the water of the Rjukanfos, higher up on the same watershed. This fall, though rather inaccessible, has long been considered one of the finest in Norway. The water plunges down more than 1,600 feet, almost 800 feet of this being in a single drop. Below the fall the stream is a mass of rapids for several miles before it reaches the beautiful Tinsjö, a "finger lake," some twenty miles long and perhaps two broad in its widest portion.

The engineering problem at the Rjukanfos was by no means simple, but is being solved by bringing the water down in two steps. From the top of the fall the water is carried in a tunnel and by open canal to a point above the upper works, which are near the foot of the fall, but not on as low a level. To these works the water is brought down in ten pipes, each unit to furnish 14,000 horse power. After being utilized here the water is to be carried through a tunnel in the side of the mountain walls for about four miles, where it is again dropped, this time to the bottom of the valley. In the lower works 120,000 horse power will be obtained. Judging by the progress already made it would seem probable that within a few years the full 260,000 horse power will be available, all to be used for nitrate manufacture. The Tinelv drains an area of more than a thousand square miles of highland. One lake alone near its head waters has an area of fifteen square miles and an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet, while the water of Tinsjö which is below the Rjukanfos, drops 550 feet in reaching Notodden.

The development has been largely carried on by a ScandinavianFrench company and by the Badische Anilin-und Soda-Fabrik, the great dyestuff manufacturers of Germany. These two companies have now combined their forces and each has a half interest in the Rjukan plant. A railroad has been built from Notodden to the foot of Tinsjö, and another from the head of the lake to the Rjukan works. A steam ferry-boat conveys freight trains the length of the lake and a larger one is now building by means of which all trains will go through without change from Notodden to Saaheim, where the lower Rjukan works are situated. It is said to be rather a cross for the owners of the railroad to run passenger trains, but this the government compels them to do. A busy town has sprung up at Saaheim and here, as at most industrial towns in Scandinavia, the workmen are well housed. Every house has a garden where not only vegetables, but also flowers are cultivated with great care. When I was there the poppies and dahlias were in magnificent bloom. In every window, and this is practically true all over Norway, were pots of flowers and Nottingham lace curtains. Notodden, on the other hand, resembled a western mining camp. It has the reputation of being the toughest place in Norway, and though prohibition is legally enforced, there is said to be a large amount of drunkenness. I must add, however, that during two months travel in Scandinavia I saw but three drunken men, one in Stockholm, one at Gellivare in northern Sweden, and the third in Notodden. It is safe to predict that this region of northern Telemarken, which includes the watershed of the Tinelv, will become one of the most important centers of electric industry in the world, though there may be a question as to whether Norway will be able to furnish sufficient labor for the increasing development. The Norwegians are by tradition and habit farmers and fishermen and it remains to be seen how effectively they can be transformed into industrial labor. Nitrate factories will naturally spring up elsewhere, since it is an industry, remarkable in that the demand for the product is actually unlimited, while the raw materials cost almost nothing, limestone being the only expense, and no fuel is required. Any place where water-power is cheap and limestone can be obtained is suitable for a nitrate factory. With increasing supply the price of nitrate will of course drop, which will be a boon to the farmers. As there is unlimited water-power in Norway, and the industry is already established there, that land will have a great advantage in future competition.

As regards mineral resources, for a land of mountains Norway seems to be exceedingly poor. At Kongsberg are silver mines which have been worked for nearly three centuries, but the output is now comparatively small. They are more celebrated for the fact that the ore consists largely of native silver and some of the specimens, especially those taken out at earlier periods, are magnificent. The work in these mines seems to be kept up at present, not so much from productiveness or profit, as for the purpose of furnishing employment to the families of those who have been brought up in the mines.

In various parts of Norway copper is found and has been worked from time to time, but the deposits have thus far proved poor and limited in extent, and none of the mines have been commercial successes. The same may be said of the few deposits of coal and iron. It seems possible, however, that Norway may find an unlooked-for value in some of her deposits of minerals of rare elements, for which at any time there may be a great demand. Among her older rocks have already been discovered many minerals of great scientific interest, including Broeggerite, the most radio-active of known minerals. Nevertheless, it is to her unrivaled water-power that Norway must primarily look for her industrial development.

  1. For much of the data regarding these plants I must express my indebtedness to the courtesy of Mr. G. W. Sinclair, of the Northwestern Cyanamide Company of Odda, and of Mr. A. Scott-Hansen, of the Norsk Hydro-Elektrisk Kvaelstofaktieselskab of Kristiania. For any comments I am alone responsible.