The from concept to museum
Between 1975 to 1985, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Norwegian Workers Education Association (AOF), in conjunction with a different union each year, arranged Worker’s Heritage Festivals. In 1978, time had come to collaborate with the Norwegian Chemical Industrial Worker Union (now a part of the Industry Energy Union) and the topic was the Industrial Worker and the history, and the future, of energy-intensive industry. The main event was situated at Rjukan. The idea of establishing an sprang out of these Industrial Heritage Days. The Old Vemork Power Station, which had been closed by Norsk Hydro in 1971, was considered as a potential location.
A Museum Committee was established to continue work on these plans and in 1980 they managed to finance the engagement of a project manager. The committee became aware that Norwegian heritage museums were mainly based round the history of the agrarian society, which stopped its narrative around the turn of the century. There was evidently a great need for preserving the history of people attached to the industrial society in from 1900 and up to the present day.
From 1981 to 1985, a variety of projects took place under the direction of the Museum Committee, such as seminars, exhibitions, and collection of oral sources. An Environment Improvement Project within three neighbourhoods at Rjukan was launched as well as courses in the planning and execution of rehabilitation of old houses. The pre-project phase concluded with the establishment of a permanent exhibition in one of the buildings at , “the Saaheim Cottage” in 1984. It was a former cowshed that had been used as a worker’s dwelling in the old part of Rjukan, “Gamlebyen”.
The total experience of the pre-project period led to the acceptance by the County Council of the Committee as an institution, entitled to operational capital from the semi-public subsidy system, as well as annual contribution from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. A contract was signed with Norsk Hydro to lease the Old Vemork Power Station as a museum and funds for starting the first building phase for turning the power station into a museum were collected. It was highly significant that a nationwide association created a Museum Foundation.
The objectives clause of the museum was formulated in such a way as to serve as strict guidelines for the future work of the museum and to define the cultural and historical areas the museum shall focus on, and during which time period. The museum shall also administer the history of the local community, to which the sabotage operations against the heavy water facility of Norsk Hydro at Vemork during World War II are central.
In 1984 the museum hired its first employee, its curator, and in 1985 another two employees were appointed, a keeper and an engineer. Their main tasks were to plan the reconstruction of the power station for museum purposes and to prepare the first exhibitions. The museum opened its doors on . In 1995, the museum gained the status of a national museum.
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