The history of Ny-Ålesund is both interesting and dramatic. Below we present a summary of the history of Ny-Ålesund and Kings Bay AS.
Ny-Ålesund was originally founded as a mining community in 1916. In 1964, the European Space Research Organization (ESRO) established a satellite telemetry station in Ny-Ålesund. This was the start of Ny-Ålesund as an international research center in the Arctic. Today, 11 institutions from 10 countries have established permanent research stations in Ny-Ålesund, carrying out research in fields such as atmospheric physics, biology, geology, glaciology and oceanography.
Founded and owned by Kings Bay AS, Ny-Ålesund was originally established as a mining community in 1916. Coal was extracted from 1916 to 1929 and a fishing station and a hotel was established between 1930 and 1940. During WW2 everyone on Svalbard was evacuated. Coal mining operations started again straight after the war, but were hindered by a series of major accidents. Mining operations ended in 1963 after a major accident on November 5th 1962, where 21 people died. Since the 1960s research has been the main activity.
Ny-Ålesund has been the starting point for many famous polar expeditions, including Roald Amundsen’s and Umberto Nobile’s journey to the North Pole. The “Amundsen mast” is one of the many cultural heritage remains that can be observed, alongside Svalbard’s largest concentration of protected buildings.
First referral of Ny-Ålesund
The English whale hunter Jonas Poole referred to the coal deposits on the south side of Kongsfjorden as early as 1610. Another three hundred years were to pass before commercial exploitation of the coal deposits in the area commenced, when Peter S. Brandal – a Polar Sea captain – needed coal to fuel his steamships during the First World War. In 1916 he and three partners established Kings Bay Kull Compani AS (KBKC) in Ålesund in mainland Norway and started to mine coal around Kongsfjorden. Due to the low price of coal the company constantly had to apply for government aid in the form of advance payment for coal supplies to the state. In 1929 all mining operations in Ny-Ålesund were stopped, and in 1933 the Norwegian state acquired all the shares in KBKC.
Ny-Ålesund 1928. Behind town can we see the mines and the airship hangar. Photo belongs to Svalbard Museum.
North Pole Expeditions
In 1926 Roald Amundsen, the American Lincoln Ellsworth and the Italian Umberto Nobile set out on a joint expedition in the airship “Norge”. The historic expedition was a success. As planned the airship flew over the North Pole and landed in Teller, Alaska. In 1928 Umberto Nobile came back to Ny-Ålesund with the airship ” Italia”, modelled on the same basic design as “Norge”, but with certain technical improvements and operated by an almost all Italian crew.
The airship “Norge”, 1926. Photo belongs to Svalbard museum.
Unfortunately, this expedition ended in disaster – after having flown over the North Pole the airship crashed onto the ice north of Svalbard. Roald Amundsen took part in the rescue operation with the seaplane Latham but crashed somewhere into the Atlantic Ocean on his way north to Svalbard, Amundsen and the plane were never found.
Fishery station established
During the 1930s a fishery station was established in Ny-Ålesund to serve the hundreds of vessels fishing in the waters surrounding the archipelago.
Nordpolhotellet open its doors
Later the idea of starting a hotel was proposed, and Nordpolhotellet opened its doors to guests for the first time in 1939. Neither of these two activities was a financial success.
summer of 1941
Restart of the mining operation
In the summer of 1941, 80 workers were sent to Ny-Ålesund to restart summertime operations in the mines, but only shortly afterwards all inhabitants of Svalbard were evacuated.
Recources was destroyed
During the evacuation the power station, radio masts, railway track and entrance to the mines were destroyed to prevent these resources from falling into the hands of the enemies.
After the Second World War
After the Second World War in 1945 mining activity was restarted in Ny-Ålesund. The operating conditions were difficult and in December 1948 Ny-Ålesund was hit by a major mining accident – an explosion in one of the mines cost 15 lives. Two more fatal accidents followed, in 1952 and 1953, where a total of 28 people lost their lives.
Closure of the mines
Establishment of a Norwegian satellite telemetry station in Ny-Ålesund with ESRO
In 1964 the Norwegian authorities signed an agreement with the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) regarding the establishment of a Norwegian satellite telemetry station in Ny-Ålesund. The station was operated from 1967 to 1974. KBKC resumed primary responsibility for the practical operation of the facilities in 1974. Ny-Ålesund was becoming a popular destination for scientific field research.
Kings Bay Kull Compani AS changed its name to Kings Bay AS
It was not until the 1990s, however, that research activities really took off in Ny-Ålesund and in 1998 Kings Bay Kull Compani AS changed its name to Kings Bay AS, thereby removing the reference to coal and the mining period.
Ny-Ålesund Research Station
The strategy for development of Ny-Ålesund was prepared by The Research Council of Norway at the request of the Government. The vision is for Ny-Ålesund to be the foremost research station for Arctic research in the natural sciences, where cultural heritage research is also emphasized.
Develop the research infrastructure so that it becomes more thematically based and better adapted for collaboration. The Norwegian Polar Institute is given hosting responsibility.
The exhibition shows in texts and pictures, the early history of Ny-Ålesund, when it was a mining town. Science has played an important role the last 50 year the new exhibition also focuses on this aspect of Ny-Ålesund history. The loft of the building has been dedicated to the attempts to reach the North Pole in the 1920ies.
The Museum is always open and meant not only for visiting tourists, but also the inhabitants and scientists in Ny-Ålesund.