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The Røros Copper Works

Røros Copper Works was founded in 1644 and continued in production for 333 years, until 1977.

Astrid Nyhus

In 1644 the General Manager of the mine at Kongsberg gave a letter of permission to exploit one lode of copper in the mountains near Rauhaammaaren which is to the east of what later became the mining town of Røros. Norway was in a union with Denmark, and King Christian 4th. had, during the same year sent out an order to search for minerals and metal deposits. Kvikne Copper Works, to the south of Røros had been in production since 1631, and the German mining engineer Lorentz Lossius from Kvikne, ensured, after a visit to obtain the necessary papers to start mining at Rauhaammaaren. The work did not start until 1645, and then the deposit was considered of such poor quality that work was stopped after only 3 months.

A strike at Storvola, or Storwartz, was also started up in 1645. This site is about 10 km. due east of Røros, and the mine, GamleStorwartz or Alter Berg became one of the Company's most important mines. The General Manager at Røros Copper Works, Peder Hiort (1716 - 1789) writes in his memoirs of the Company and of the Røros Parish, about an unwritten story concerning the discovery of copper. A farmer, Hans Aasen was one of the few people who lived in the area when mining started. One day he was out hunting near Storvola and he shot a reindeer buck, when the rest of the herd scattered in fright they kicked up the moss. Hans Aasen caught sight of a stone "which thereby caught his attention and glance." He broke off a few pieces, which he took with him and showed Lorentz Lossius who used to lodge with Hans Aasen. In this same area during the 1600s, many mines were started up and Storwartz field was one of the most important mines for the Røros Copper Works.

Nordgruve field was the other important mining area. This lies to the north east of Røros mining town and has mines wit famous names such as, Kongens, Christian Sextus, Mugggruva etc.

In 1646 the first smelting house stood ready. It was situated on the Hitter River at the place where the mining town eventually sprang up. The ore from the mines underwent several processes such as heating and pulverising and then smelting before the pure copper was extracted. In addition to the fact that firing up, a standard method of cracking out the rock in the mine, required enormous amounts of firewood, charcoal as well as firewood was used in great quantities in the smelting process. In the early production period the firewood came from the immediate vicinity of Røros, but fairly quickly the hills were deforested and fuel had to be transported over long distances. Several smelting houses were therefore erected outside Røros at places where there was still forest. The Company's privileges were listed in a concession made by the King in 1646. These privileges applied to an area within a circle having a radius of 4 Ancient Norwegian miles and inside this area the Company could exploit all minerals, forest and waterways. The technology that was used in the mining operations in the 1600s came from abroad. Other countries in Europe, particularly Germany had long traditions in this type of work. It therefore made good economic sense to recruit experts to the first mines opened up in Norway.

The period starting in 1740 and onwards was a period of greatness for the Røros Copper Works. Several mines were yielding well and between 600 and 700 people were permanently employed. In addition, there were all the workers who felled wood, made charcoal and transported provision, wood and ore - and this could be as many as 1,000 men at certain times of the year. The mining community was a closed hierarchical society, with the General Manager at the top of list. Even though Røros was very isolated from the rest of the world it is easy to see the influences from abroad in building styles, technology and fashions, etc. A mining town is in many ways a state within the state, where the company had responsibility for law and order, defence, education, social system and provisions. In 1784 a new church in Røros stood ready. By its sheer size and decoration it made a statement of the Company's wealth and authority.

After a time, the majority of people who were dependent on the copper works usually acquired a small farm or smallholding. In this way they had some security in case things should go badly with the copper works. In the early part of the 1800s Røros was subject to poor provision of supplies. The profits from the mine varied and the participants suffered a loss on their shares. But in accordance with the Røros Law of 1818 changes were made in the organisation of production, smelting, the rights of the participants etc. The Law also allowed others than the Company to enter into trade at Røros.

The processes of digging out the rock in the mines, was also improved, among other things dynamite was utilised from 1870 and, towards the end of the century, the first drilling machines. The electrical generating station of Kuaasfossen built high-tension power lines to supply the mines and started up in 1897. Another effort to meet world competition led to the restructuring of the smelting houses. A revolutionary improvement in the smelting process, the Bessemer method, under Frenchman Mahne's patent, was introduced at the end of the 1800s.

During the 1800s the road network was built up and improved and when the Røros Railway was completed in 1877 it was of vital importance for transportation to and from the copper works.

Developments at Røros Copper Works during the first part of the 1900s were marked by setbacks. After the First World War (1914 - 1918) the work came to a standstill for some years. Work was resumed but the State had to go in with funds to keep the works going. One bright spot was the discovery of copper ore at Olav's mine in 1936. Production continued during the Second World War (1940 - 1945) but the activity in the smelting house was stopped and did not start up again until 1946. The period after this was a stable and favourable period for the copper works. A massive search for minerals was conducted from the air in 1959 and, when Olavsgruva was closed in 1972/73, efforts were made on deposits at Lergruvbakken where mainly zinc was mined, but also some copper. The Copper Works also installed flotation plants at both Storwartz and Kongens mine.

High prices for both copper and zinc gave good results in the early part of the 1970s, but then the prices dropped and there were several years with large losses. In 1977 the Board of Røros Copper Works found it necessary to submit notice of bankruptcy to the courts. Thereby, 333 years of mining activity in Røros ceased.

Museum24:Portal - 2024.05.28
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