Hydro was created to help meet the growing need for food. With its unique process for manufacturing fertilizer, the company became one of Norway’s first industrial giants.
The world could still be saved, William Crookes had said, if nitrogen could be added to the soil. Nitrogen is abundant in the atmosphere. The task was to find out how to produce large quantities at a reasonable cost.
Professor Kristian Birkeland was enthusiastic about his studies of the northern lights. But he needed money for the research. Which is why in 1901, he started the work that would culminate in the invention of the electric cannon.
The vision of a fertilizer industry in Norway had to be based on experiments and trials on a realistic scale, and results that would attract serious investors.
The foundation of Norsk Hydro should have taken place earlier, but the founders were busy men who had to find time to meet. The papers were finally signed on 2 December, 1905 in Sam Eydes office in Christiania.
1905 was the year Norway, one of the poorest countries in Europe, stepped out of the union with Sweden and went ahead to demonstrate it strength as an independent nation.
Kristian Birkeland, Sam Eyde and Marcus Wallenberg are regarded as Hydros founders. Each was a person of unusual stature in his own right. Their joining forces at a historic moment was an singularly fortunate coincidence.
Hydros first industrial and hydroelectric projects may have turned Notodden into the Klondike of the north, but this first development was soon to be overshadowed by the investments and developments that Rjukan could boast of.
The new power station at the Svelgfoss waterfall would be the second largest in the world. The construction work, which was started in 1905, came to provide more than 400 jobs.
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.
On his gravestone is written: “He bound nitrogen from the air with an electromagnetic arc. He studied the Northern Lights, solar radiation and the earth’s magnetic field.”
The outbreak of World War I in 1914 came as a surprise both to Hydro and to Norway.