From mills to computers

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Denmark is all but synonymous with bacon in most other countries. For the past two centuries, Denmark has been one of Europe’s most productive agricultural countries, and an exporter of large quantities of food – most notably bacon and butter. Industrial producers, on the other hand, needed to import most of their raw materials. And until the early 1960s, most industrially produced goods were sold on the domestic market. Danes as well as foreigners still consider Denmark an agricultural country, even though diesel motors built by Burmeister & Wain churn away in ships from around the world, and FLSmidth rotary kilns can be found in cement plants in even the farthest corner of the world.

Fields as far as the eye can see
Outside the country’s towns and cities, farming dominates the landscape. Some 60 percent of the country is agricultural land. Industry takes up less space, even if the factories are easier to spot along railways and motorways, on waterfronts and on the outskirts of towns and cities. Factories can make use of Danish gravel, clay and chalk, but raw materials such as coal and iron are all but absent from the country’s soil. Denmark lacks vast industrial producing areas similar to Germany’s Ruhr area. Denmark’s factories are found in urban surroundings and share ground with commercial and transport businesses.

Out of the shadow of agriculture
Danish politics have also been influenced by agriculture. True to form, as late as 1945, the Conservative Party platform named agriculture as the country’s largest economic sector, even though industry had begun to impact the country as far back as 1840, and that by 1930 manufacturers were the largest employers. But it wasn’t until the 1950s that politicians began to talk in terms of “industrialisation”, “growth”, “efficiency”, “regional development” and “the social welfare state”. Despite agriculture’s historical dominance, the size of the Danish industrial sector is close to the European average. Topping both since 1970, however, has been the service sector.

Coal-fired growth
Denmark has neither coal nor iron deposits, and it wasn’t until the 1970s that North Sea oil began flowing. But Denmark is located close to other European countries blessed with more resources, and with Europe’s two industrial powerhouses: central Britain and south-western Germany. By the 19th century, it cost nearly the same to sail coal from Newcastle to Copenhagen as was to sail it to London.

Inspiration from abroad
Denmark has also benefitted from its tradition of adopting foreign innovations, whether it be institutions such as universities and trading companies, or trends in music, fashion or architecture. Manufacturers were no stranger to co-opting foreign ideas, and just as in neighbouring countries hammer mills were built to process copper and iron – despite the lack of raw materials. One example dating from the 19th century is Godthaab Hammer Mill. During the 20th century, a handful of steel mills began operation.

Sustainable industrial power
Mills date back to the Middle Ages in Denmark, and by 1802 there were about 940 water mills and 650 windmills across the country. Most were used to mill grain. Starting in the 16th century, the Crown, working with some of the country’s largest merchant houses, established an arms industry. Cannons and gun powder were produced in Frederiksværk, rifles in Hellebæk, uniforms and ships at Holmen in Copenhagen. And the strings of mills along streams such as the Mill Stream Valley in northern Zealand, created linear industrial landscapes.

Mechanical revolution
In Britain, society underwent dramatic changes during the First Industrial Revolution around 1770. Technological advances alone led to the mechanisation of the textile industry, the introduction of forgeries, machine shops and steam engines, as well as the use of cotton, coal and iron. The developments were copied in Denmark, and mechanised factories were built in Usserød and Brede, but their impact was limited.

New factories, old style
Around 1840, industrialisation took hold for good. It began in Copenhagen, but soon spread to Odense, Aalborg and other large towns in eastern Jutland. The country’s first railways were built, and cities grew. But Danes built as they always had, even if much of the construction itself had become mechanised and steam engines were the order of the day. New city neighbourhoods resembled the historic city centres with their mix of commercial and residential buildings. Familiar building types continued to be built, often including at least one courtyard. One such example is the Old Carlsberg Brewery, which features courtyards, production buildings, an administration building and gardens – not unlike a manor estate.

A centre of service and commerce
The Second Industrial Revolution around 1890 saw the spread of electricity as the primary source of power. Steel also became common. Companies grew, and to accommodate their growth bureaucracies, as well as production and financial planning, became more common. Meanwhile, the service sector began to emerge. Central Copenhagen was a centre of commercial and service companies. A move towards separating housing and commercial properties began and the first industrial districts were set up. Factories were starting to be built to suit the production process. Aalborg Portland and Copenhagen’s Meat Packing District are two of the best examples of the growing importance of the sciences and engineering on manufacturing.

The assembly line
Mass production and planning made their breakthroughs in the 1950s. Oil became the primary source of power for manufacturers, while lorries and cars overtook railways for good. Danes took their cue from the US and built vast, planned industrial estates. Manufacturers could move into single storey buildings that allowed them to set up and rearrange their assembly lines as they saw fit. Factories moved even further away from the shops and offices of urban centres. Manufacturers were also moving further away from Copenhagen and major towns in eastern Jutland. Soon former agricultural land was now home to the industrial sector. On Funen, Lindø Shipyard began assembling supertankers on an assembly line, and in Als, Danfoss began an expansion that saw one industrial production hall after the other built up around the farm where the company was founded. Both Lindø and Danfoss built employee housing. The town of Herning became a centre of knitwear production.

Computers take over
The Third Industrial Revolution after 1970 has seen information technology take on increasing importance. Automated production and inventory control rely on computer controlled machines. The number of industrial jobs has fallen, while production planning and maintenance jobs are on the rise. At the same time, the 1973 oil crisis made energy efficiency an important consideration. Pollution and occupational health requirements have also become stricter.

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