Benjamin Wegner (1795–1864)

Jacob Benjamin Wegner was a timber merchant and a major producer of cobalt blue pigment in Norway around the mid-nineteenth century. He was born in the Prussian city of Königsberg on the Baltic (now Kaliningrad been in Russia), where he was educated and apprenticed in business. At around the age of 25 he moved to Berlin and started a business exporting timber and grain from the Baltic region to Britain.

In 1822, Wegner was sent by the Berlin banker Wilhelm Christian Benecke to evaluate the Norwegian company Modums Blaafarveværket – the ‘blue colour works’ – which was for sale. Established by King Christian VII in 1776, this was among the world’s largest producers of cobalt blue pigment. It consisted of cobalt mines, calcining kilns, a works to process the dyestuffs and a glassworks. Cobalt blue was exported widely, especially to Britain’s porcelain, glass, paint and paper industries. Wegner bought the company on behalf of an investment group and was made Director-General and co-owner. He relocated to Norway and became a Norwegian citizen. From 1826, Benecke and Wegner were sole owners. The enterprise became Norway’s largest company, employing some 2,000 people. It produced 80% of the world’s cobalt pigment. The business was highly profitable but the economic crisis following the revolutions of 1848 and the invention of synthetic ultramarine led to bankruptcy in 1849. (The cobalt works and mines operated until 1893 and became a museum in 1971.)

In 1835 Benecke and Wegner had purchased the Hassel iron ore mine and blast furnace in southern Norway, which they ran until 1854. Wegner was also a co-owner of the Hafslund estate near Sarpsborg, which contained extensive forests and a large sawmill. In 1856, he co-founded the timber firm Juel, Wegner and Company with Iver Albert Juel. He undertook consular work in Norway for the Kingdom of Portugal and the cities of Hamburg, Lübeck and Bremen until his death.