From manual power to high technology

Industrialisation in Norway first took off in the mid 1800s, particularly in the areas surrounding the Oslo fjord. During recent decades, the greatest industrial slump has been in these same areas. On the other hand some counties in Western Norway have seen an increase in industrial employment in this period.

The industrial development that has taken place since 1829 to the present day is the subject of the publication “Fra håndkraft til høyteknologi – norsk industri siden 1829” (From manual power to high technology – Norwegian industry since 1829). Some of the material in the publication is based on new calculations by the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration and Statistics Norway. The publication also gives an overview of the development of the statistics in this area.

Little faith in industrialisation in Norway

The first regular reports to throw light on Norwegian industry were published for the year 1829. A total of 83 per cent of what was defined as manufacturing were sawmills, and a further 7 per cent were distilleries and mills. The Ministry of Finance concluded in 1842 that manufacturing “could never be carried out extensively in Norway” because it was difficult to compete with foreign factories due to the “generally high wages here in Norway”. (Report on the state of the economy in the Kingdom of Norway from 1836 to 1840). However, towards the end of the century, a range of goods were nevertheless produced in factories. Manufacturing was probably the most dynamic industry in the economy, and several areas in Norway showed signs of strong urbanisation and industrialisation.

Major productivity gains from electrification after 1900

New calculations show that the industrial growth in the first part of the 20th century was stronger than originally envisaged. Major productivity gains from electrification and a rapid growth in the manufacturing workforce helped the industry increase from 15 per cent of the gross national product (GNP) in 1896 to 22 per cent in 1910 and to 26 per cent in 1939. In addition to the energy-intensive electrochemical and electrometallurgical industries, a number of other industries such as the clothing, canning and woodware industries were also experiencing rapid growth. The interwar years were characterised by major fluctuations in industrial activity, including dramatic falls in employment in 1921 and 1931. As with society in general, Norwegian industry was strongly affected by World War II. The total industrial output fell by almost 50 per cent from 1939 to 1945 according to the production index, while employment levels remained fairly constant. The composition of industrial output was strongly affected by the lack of raw materials and the needs of the occupying powers.

Rogaland has become the largest industrial county

The first post-war years were characterised by strong industrial growth in connection with the restructuring of business and industry. The food, drink and tobacco industry and the textile and clothing industry, which both saw a fall in employment during the war, experienced particularly strong growth during these years. In 1957 employment levels were higher in manufacturing than in the primary industries combined for the first time ever. Employment in manufacturing peaked in 1974, and the share employed in manufacturing has subsequently fallen since then. It now accounts for 11 per cent of all employees. The textile and clothing industry is the industry with the highest fall in employment since World War II. The greatest fall in industrial activity has been in the areas surrounding Oslo fjord, mainly in Oslo, Østfold, Vestfold and Buskerud. Some counties along the coast of Western Norway experienced a certain increase in employment during the same period. This is partly due to the changeover that has taken place from shipbuilding to the construction of oil installations. In terms of employment levels, Rogaland is now the largest industrial county.

Majority employed in the food, beverage and tobacco industry

Norway had in excess of 10 500 manufacturing companies in 2006, and the added value was NOK 203 billion. Total gross investments were NOK 18.7 billion, and the largest investments were within petroleum products and chemical raw materials, as well as the food, beverage and tobacco industry. These industries accounted for 40 per cent of all investments within manufacturing. The food, beverage and tobacco industry is the largest manufacturing industry in Norway today, and is almost twice as extensive as the second biggest in terms of number of employees and in value added.

Source: Statistic Norway

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