200th anniversary at Nyfossum 2022
In 2022, it’s been 250 years since Ole Witloch discovered the cobalt deposits at Skuterud. This discovery in 1772 formed the basis for 122 years of Cobalt Works operations in Modum.
There is also another important anniversary to be marked in 2022: it’s been 200 years since the industry’s heyday.
The beginning of the 19th century was an awful time in Norway. Repeated famine and British blockades led to great suffering. Life at the Cobalt Works plant was no exception: Working families suffered food shortages, while the blue dye in stock remained unsold. Things became even more complicated when the business was pledged to a Swedish merchant, Peter Wilhelm Berg, by Fredrik VI. Along with the dissolution of the burgeoning workers’ union, there was great uncertainty about who actually owned the works and its stock.
The question of ownership went all the way to the nation’s Supreme Court. In-between trials, Norway’s first Minister of Finance, Count Wedel Jarlsberg, was brought before the Court due to unregulated sales of state-owned cobalt pigment, arsenic and copper.
The Supreme Court finally gave the Swedish merchant the right to sell the Cobalt Works. The final auction was held in early 1822. The buyers were not just anyone. A very rich German financier, and the man behind Norway’s first government loan, Wilhelm Christian Benecke, became the principal owner. With him as part-owner was another German, Benjamin Wegner.
With this, the uncertain times were over. Under Benecke and Wegner’s leadership, the Cobalt Works entered a golden age. Over the next 18 years of skilled operation, the plant grew to become Norway’s largest mining operation, with over 1000 employees by 1840. Internationally, it grew to become one of the leading producers of blue pigment.
What does Nyfossum have to do with the Cobalt Work’s golden age? In fact, the architect of the house and its first owner, German chemist Friedrich Roscher, was one of the people who made the golden age possible.
Roscher came to Modum in 1822. He was headhunted for the position of “cabin master”, i.e., chemical manager, at the Cobalt Mines. One of the most important things Roscher did was to introduce a new melting method—the so-called "concentration melting method". This involved extracting cobalt metal from ore that was previously considered waste because its cobalt content was too low. But when the metal was oxidized in a kiln, the cobalt content became concentrated, and thus even poor ore could be used to produce high-quality paint. In this way, Roscher managed to create a more sustainable mining operation, resulting in even more ore extraction. The rest, as they say, is history.