Knud Graah (1817–1909)

Born and educated in Denmark, Knud Graah developed cotton mills in the Norwegian capital in the mid-nineteenth century and ran them and other businesses for six decades.

Knud Graah’s older brother David moved from Denmark to the city of Christiana (now called Oslo), where Knud joined him in 1833, at the age of 16. Christiana was then a small city, but it began to grow rapidly during industrialisation. Knud became a trader in the textile industry. He went to England to study the textile industries around Manchester and learn about the latest textile machinery.

When an English ban on the export of textile machinery came to an end in 1841, Graah was ready to buy equipment and bring British technicians to work it. With his brother-in-law Niels Young, he bought the site of a sawmill at a waterfall on the Akerselva river at Christiana in 1844. They built a new two-story mill powered by waterwheel. When it opened in 1846 it employed around 80 people, and it expanded over the following years. Graah also opened at the mill the first gas works in Christiana. He became sole owner in 1854 when Young left the partnership.

In 1856 there were 150 employees. The factory was rebuilt four-storeys high following a fire in 1859. Graah started weaving cotton cloth with a factory nearby at Bjølsen and in 1872 he expanded the spinning mill with a weaving shop. The factory buildings survive in new uses.

From the 1870s, Graah took an interest in other activities, including railway companies and banks. He was involved with work to tackle poverty and with a famous restaurant serving affordable food, Christiania Dampkjøkken.

Three years before he died, Graah converted his firm into a joint-stock company, of which he was chairman. By this time it employed 350 people.