Sam Eyde (1866–1940)

Eyde was a civil engineer and entrepreneur who pioneered hydroelectric power and its industrial uses in Norway. With Kristian Birkeland he developed the electric arc process to manufacture calcium nitrate (Norwegian saltpetre) for use in fertilizer and sewage treatment.

Sam Eyde was the son of the shipowner of the same name (1819-1902). He studied structural engineering in Berlin and became a railway engineer in Hamburg. In 1897 he and his mentor from Hamburg created the engineering design firm Gleim and Eyde and they opened offices in Norway and Sweden.

When Eyde saw opportunities to develop hydroelectric power around 1902 he acquired rights to waterfalls in Norway. In 1903, he worked with the Norwegian scientist Kristian Birkeland to develop the Birkeland-Eyde process for using high-voltage electricity to make fertilizer. In this process electric arcs reacted atmospheric nitrogen with oxygen to produce nitric oxide and then potassium nitrate.

He had little capital of his own but in 1904-5 he created two new companies with large-scale capital from the Wallenberg family of Sweden and other investors. He was director-general of both. One was Elkem (Det Norske Aktieselskap for Elektrokemisk Industri). The other was Norsk Hydro (originally Norsk hydro-elektrisk Kvælstofaktieselskab). Eyde began producing hydroelectric power for fertilizer production at the 104-m high Rjukan waterfall at Telemark in 1905. He opened other hydroelectric power stations at Notodden using the Svelgfossen waterfall in 1907 and at Glomfjord in 1920. He also invested in other plants, port facilities and railways, and established towns such as Rjukan to house workers in remote areas. In 1912 he established a smelting works for silicon carbide near Arendal.

Eyde was the major figure in Norwegian industry in the early twentieth century. He remained on the boards of Elkem and Nork Hydro until the mid-1920s. He was also briefly a member of the Norwegian parliament. A statue of him was put up at Rjukan in 1920. He completed his autobiography in 1939, soon before he died.