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Røros and the world

The mining town was the centre of Røros, but even so completely on the very edge of the European market place. The basis for mining activity was that modern Europe was growing fast, and there was an ever-increasing demand for copper.

Jarle Simensen

The majority of the copper produced in Røros was sold to Germany and Holland. It was used to make decorations, cutlery, pots and pans, coins, statues, fittings and different types of alloys used in the production of weapons. With the revenue from sales the owners could purchase food and provisions, particularly corn products, which could not be grown in the Røros district. This connection to the European market was the sole reason for people to settle high up on the desolate mountain slopes of Røros and it was also the reason for the increase in population in the neighbouring communities. During particularly bad years in the district the owners of the concession to mine advanced money to the workers for them to purchase provisions thereby avoiding starvation and crisis.

One of the requirements to start deep mining in Norway was to recruit professional engineers and miners. Deep or lode mining and the smelting of ore were some of the most difficult technical tasks of that pre-industrial period. Expertise was available in the German mining districts of Sachsen and Hartz, which were the oldest and most developed mining areas in Europe. The King, reigning in Copenhagen, was extremely active in recruiting mining experts, and in the first part of the 1600s was responsible for sending 500 German professionals to Norway, the majority to the silver mines in Kongsberg during the period from 1620 to the 1630s. From Kongsberg many moved on to other Norwegian mines. In 1670 in Røros there were at least 30 of these German immigrants, and they made up 30% of the management staff and 10% of the technically qualified mining engineers. The management of the mine and the shaping of society in Røros, was influenced by these German immigrants. German was the language used in the management and operation of the mine until the 1670s and has, ever since, continued to influence technical expressions used in mining operations. There are still German family names in Røros such as, Irgens, Koch, Kokkvoll, Fincke, Prydtz, Hartz. This meeting of two different cultures is one of the main themes in the work of the Norwegian writer, Johan Falkberget. The way in which capital and expertise was exported to the very edge of the modern world economies of that time, can be compared to the European relationship with developing countries during our time.

In the greater European network, of which, at that time, Røros was a part, the city of Trondheim had an important go-between function. The leading Trondheim families, who owned the Company, Angell, Molmann, Meincke and Horneman were themselves immigrants from the Continent, mostly from southern Jylland. They represented a European spearhead in an essentially peripheral Norway. They were the highest authority in the Company; they supplied capital for the annual operational costs and for the procurement of machinery and they also undertook the sale and transportation of the mined copper to the markets in Europe. It was estimated that by middle of the 1700s the income of the owners was approximately 30% of the total value of production. This meant that a large proportion of the assets generated in Røros were transferred to Trondheim in the form of income from investment, management fees and marketing profits. 30 to 35% of the costs of the operation paid for the labourers in the mines and the smelting sheds whilst some 40% were payments to farmers for delivery and transportation of lumber. (Different figures have been quoted for this period by Sprauten and Olsang, see the list of refernce literature). Whether or not this was a reasonable division of the spoils depends on one’s viewpoint.

The activities at the copperworks in Røros were the basis for general local development in Røros. Early on, Røros became a trading centre, and supplies to the Company and the labour force came from far afield, cheese and butter were delivered from Western Norway, grain from Hedemark in the south, whetstones from Selbu, horses and other items of trade came in from far inside Sweden. After some time an annual market was established, the Røros Market. However, by means of the concession and the ‘Supply Store’, the Company retained the monopoly on all retail trade right up to the time of the Røros Law of 1818, which opened up for the establishment of private business, and then, by a new law of 1842, free trade was finally allowed.

The mining operations created an industrial environment in Røros with expertise that could also be used in other fields. The people of Røros became very active and engaged in economic activities as well as in politics. Local capital was made available from trading houses, savings banks and fire insurance societies and was put to use to establish alternative business ventures. Røros became a centre for crafts requiring special expertise such as, dyers, tanners, metal workers, photographers and bookbinders, and, after 1850 a weaving hall for woollen garments, a dyeing works and a sawmill were started. The railway and the introduction of electricity in the late 1800s added to development in the district, and the growth in tourism after 1945 opened up greater possibilities for local business people. In the year 2005 approximately 30% of the employable population are engaged in industry, 8% are in building and construction, some 5% are privately employed, 22% are in the retail trade and 31% engaged in public and private service activities. The last figure indicates the important effect that state and municipal bodies have on the local economy. Røros has moved from being an undeveloped part of the peripheral economy to full globalisation.

Museum24:Portal - 2024.06.11
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