The Netherlands Open Air Museum is one of several national museums inspired by the example of Skansen in Stockholm, that were established in north European countries in the decades before the First World War. It was founded in 1912, and became a state responsibility in 1941. It was a haven for many refugees in the months after the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944, a subject that is illustrated by a film shown in one of the buildings. The wartime damage was subsequently restored, but in the 1980s the museum was threatened with closure by cuts in public spending, and from 1991 became the responsibility of an independent foundation.
The museum displays 85 buildings from all parts of the Netherlands, the majority of them dating from the period between 1700 and 1970. Many are traditional farmhouses but a substantial proportion relate to industrial heritage.
Wind power has always been important in the history of The Netherlands, and it is fitting that the museum should include several windmills, amongst them a 26 m high tower mill from Delft, and a wind-powered sawmill of the kind that gave the Dutch their pre-eminence in ship-building from the 16th century. Other industrial buildings include a water-driven paper mill from the Veluwe, the Freia creamery built from 1879 at Veenwouden in Friesland, a boatbuilder’s workshop of 1885 from Marken in North Holland, with its attendant slip on which vessels could be drawn from or lowered into the water, together with a fisherman’s cottage from the same village, road toll houses of 1855 from the province of Groningen and of 1850 from Drenthe, and a depot for agricultural machinery that was erected alongside the railway at Goes about 1915.
Visitors can travel round the museum in tramcars that work from an authentic tram depot. There are many small but significant exhibits, mile posts, wayside shrines, shacks once inhabited by very poor people on heathlands, and a hut in which tuberculosis sufferers were once isolated. Industry can be seen at Arnhem in a broad historical context. The museum provides a stimulating view of the economic history of recent centuries, not just in the Netherlands but in Europe as a whole.