Norway: Scientific Anniversaries

After the discovery of silver there in 1623, the silver mines at Kongsberg became Norway's first significant mining operation. At their peak around 1770, the mines had 4000 employees and were Norway's largest industrial workplace. The mines were opened up by German engineers recruited by King Christian IV, who had good contacts with German princes. Contact between Norway and Germany was important for the transfer of technology and Norwegian mining engineers also began to travel to Germany.

Much of the work at the mine was unskilled work involving hard manual labour. Mining of ore, for example, was not mechanised until the introduction of drilling machines around 1900. Other work tasks, such as pumping out water and hoisting stones, were mechanised at an early date. Power transmission techniques came to Norway, and first to Kongsberg, in the 17th century. Large water wheels, which imparted forward and backward movement to wooden rods leading into the mine, provided power for the water pumps in the mine shafts. These water-operated devices required a knowledge of mine surveying and building.

Mine surveying and mapping were necessary to find one's way about the network of rock cavities. Mine surveying, which was based on mathematics, and mineral analysis were essential fields of learning in the mines. This knowledge was mainly passed on personally from master to apprentice.

An apprenticeship scheme, patterned on the German system, was introduced at the Kongsberg mines at the beginning of the 18th century. As time went by a number of countries in Europe established mining academies and technical colleges. Norway was one of the first to do so. The Mining Academy of Kongsberg was founded by Royal Decree in 1757. Initially, it was a very small institution, but in 1786 it was given a large new building and its own statutes, curriculum and examination system.

After the silver mines were closed in 1805, it became difficult to run the Academy. Mining continued on a smaller scale, but there were few students. When plans were made for Norway's first university (1811), Kongsberg was passed over as choice of location. The Mining Academy was closed in 1814 and a professorship in mining was set up at the University of Christiania (Oslo).

The Academy of Science and Letters was founded in 1857. For 150 years its object has been to advance science and scholarship in Norway. It acts as a national liaison body between the different scientific disciplines, initiates research, arranges meetings and symposiums, and publishes scientific works.

Issue date: 23 November 2007

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