Save the world's oldest dynamite factory!

By Ivar Libæk
Engene dynamite factory around 1900. Photo: National Library of Norway.

In 2014 Norwegian authorities in Buskerud County are involved in a serious fight. The politicians strongly want to preserve the old dynamite factory at Sætre in Hurum. Their opponent is the present owner, Orica Mining Services. This Australian company wants to tear down or burn the buildings.
The old dynamite factory was built in 1876, and Alfred Nobel gave instructions and good advice as long as he lived. In 1976 the factory was turned into a museum, but a few years ago it was closed by Orica. Today the old dynamite factory in Hurum is the last one in the world from the lifetime of Alfred Nobel.

The history behind the conflict
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was the inventor of dynamite. In 1866 he finished developing a method that made it possible to use liquid nitroglycerin safely. At that time this was the strongest explosive in the world, and Alfred Nobel's invention made an explosive that could be molded, stored and transported without danger. Dynamite became a success. Nobel built factories all over Europe and in the United States, and this industrial adventure made him Europe's richest bachelor when he died.

Alfred Nobel owned only a small, almost symbolic, part of the old factory in Hurum. However, his advice was always accepted by the Norwegian factory management. Documents, diaries, accounts, buildings and old equipment show this, and papers and artifacts were preserved after the production was stopped and the factory closed down in 1976. The factory buildings were turned into a museum run by former workers and experts on explosives.

The old factory at Hurum is a distinct footprint from one of the world's most famous inventors, industrialists and philanthropists!
Workers at Engene dynamite factory around 1900. Photo: National Library of Norway.

Unfortunately, Orica closed the museum in 2007 arguing that the area was a ticking bomb because of production of liquid nitroglycerin for more than a hundred years. Norwegian responsible experts, however, disagreed, and the factory was temporarily protected the same year.

A young man's initiative: Henrik Arctander

In 2011, twelve years old, the young student Henrik Arctander wrote his name in the history of explosives. His school arranged a seminar named "Find old memories and bring them to the class", and Henrik decided to write about the dynamite museum. Soon he was fascinated by the history, and when he presented his work, local people became interested. But Orica would not give this young historian access to the museum buildings. Therefore he decided to use his efforts to get the museum reopened and see to that the old factory was permanently protected.

Henrik mailed and tried to meet the leaders of Orica, he got the newspapers and Norwegian Broadcasting interested and he arranged public meetings. Therefore he was nominated to "The name of the year" in Hurum. No doubt Henrik Arctander's efforts have encouraged and strengthened the position of Norwegian authorities in the struggle for preservation of the old dynamite factory.

Nobeliana's opinion

Norway has a particular responsibility to preserve the last factory in the world that shows how Alfred Nobel thought when he created his enormous fortune. In his last will and testament from 1895 he decided that an independent committee of five persons appointed by the Norwegian national assembly (Stortinget) was to be responsible of awarding what we today call the Nobel Peace Prize. The prize is meant to promote disarmament in the world and brotherhood among nations. Every year the whole world looks to Norway when the laureate's name is announced in Ocober and during the award ceremony on December 10th , the day Alfred Nobel passed away.

Luckily the Norwegian National Archives has taken care of written material and drawings from the long history of the factory, but there is a need of money to get the archive available for researchers. Who will contribute?

Finally, it is fantastic that the Norwegian Nobel Institute and the Nobel Peace Center this autumn support Norwegian authorities to have the old dynamite factory protected for ever.