The Boy From Djúpivogur

The story of a young man who rose from meager means to becoming an innovative entrepreneur that introduced many technological novelties to East Iceland.

Johann Hansson, founder of East Iceland's first mechanical shop.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Jóhann Hansson was born on 21. May 1884. He was later to become one of Iceland‘s first master mechanics.

Thorunn JónsdóttirWife of Hans Ludviksson . Mother of Jóhann Hansson.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Jóhann's parents, Hans Kristján Lúðvíksson and Þórunn Jónsdóttir lived in Djúpavogur village in the Eastern Fjords of Iceland. They had eight children and rather meager means.

Hans Ludviksson from Djúpivogur.Technical Museum of East Iceland

At two, Jóhann was fostered by neighboring Danish merchant Gustav Iversen and his wife Sigurbjörg.
Sigurbjörg and Jóhann’s father, Hans Lúðvíksson, were related. He kept good contact with his parents and foster parents throughout.

Letter of recomendation for Johann HanssonTechnical Museum of East Iceland

Merchant Iversen, also a professional blacksmith, taught Jóhann the trade. In 1902 he travelled abroad to work his craft and further his studies. This letter of recommendation is from Jóhann's foster father, praising his abilities and asking those concerned to assist the young man in furthering his career.

Jóhann Hansson, Fireman (stoker).Technical Museum of East Iceland

Jóhann worked for almost one year as a fireman (stoker) aboard the steamship Juno from Haugesund in Norway. He longed to become a 1st engineer aboard a large ocean going steamship, but he was very seasick and was never able to overcome that disadvantage.

FactoryHhouses in Stavanger, Norway.Technical Museum of East Iceland

In Norway, Jóhann found work as a „screw turner“ at Stavanger Ironworks. There he became acquainted with the art of metal-casting and life in a modern factory and bonded ties with lifelong friends.

Technical drawing by Jóhann Hansson.Technical Museum of East Iceland

In the autumn of 1905 Jóhann‘s path had led him to Köbenhavns’s Tekniske Skole where he learned the art of technical drawing.

Booklet from producers of Danmotor marine engines.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Working alongside school to support himself, Jóhann found a job in P. Jörgensens ironworks that produced a series of awarded marine engines they had developed.

Stefán Th. Jónsson, merchant with wife Ólafía Sigurðardóttir.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Stefán Th. Jónsson

As the nineteenth century came to its end, watchmaker Stefán Th. Jónsson in Seyðisfjörður had become the most influential merchant in East Iceland.  His operations encompassed a wide variety of activities; import/export, clothing production, fishing and more.  In 1905 he established the first boat building company in Iceland that produced motorized boats.

Passenger boat on Lagarfljót river.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Stefán Th. Jónsson was an agent for many foreign companies in Iceland, including P. Jörgensen‘s ironworks and their crown jewel, DANMOTOR marine engines. During a trip to Copenhagen he asked them if they could help to find a „motor specialist“ to work in his boat building factory and they introduced him to an employee, Jóhann Hansson from Djupavogur, Iceland.

A page from Merchant Stefán Th. Jónsson's "contract book"Technical Museum of East Iceland

A page from merchant Stefán's "contract book" A line reads "Motorist Hansson began 24. April. Gets 100 krónurs a month and room and board free". Most certainly very good wages.

Stefán Th. Jónsson, merchant and family.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Merchant Stefán and Jóhann were very good friends from the beginning. Merchant Stefán was a member of the Seyðisfjörður town council and in the autumn aftur Jóhann‘s arrival he made a proposal that the town would grant Jóhann a building lot by the pier and guarantee a 8.000 krónur loan as well so he could build a mechanical shop in Seyðisfjörður. In 1922 their relationship became even more intimate when Jóhann and Nina, Stefáns beautiful daughter, were married.

Jónina Stefánsdóttir with her horse.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Johann Hansson's Mechanical Shop.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Jóhann Hansson's
Mechanical Shop 1907

During the first decade of the twentieth century Iceland witnessed dramatic change in everyday life. Numerous shore-based fishing vessels, previously human-powered or wind driven, were motorized and new boats were built with motors. Mechanical shops were established around the country to take care of necessary repairs and maintenence. Vjelasmiðja Jóhanns Hanssonar (est.1907) in Seyðisfjörður was one of the earliest and the very first mechanical shop in East Iceland.

Shaper.Technical Museum of East Iceland

While Jóhann's mechanical shop was being built he travelled to Copenhagen to finish his education and used the opportunity to choose and buy the necessary machines and equipment. All of the machinery was completely state-of-the-art.

Metal lathe and turner Benjamín Hansson.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Benjamín Hansson, Jóhann Hansson's brother was a master turner and is seen here working on a propeller in a lathe.

LatheTechnical Museum of East Iceland

The largest lathe in the shop was seen as a "technical wonder" because of the size of material it could work with.

All of the machines were connected with flatbelts to a central axis powered by a 11 horsepower kerosene engine made my MOLLERUP.

Pelton style Water turbines and generator.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Jóhann Hansson pioneered many aspects of modern technology in Iceland. In 1909 he imported a turbine to harness hydraulic energy from a reservoir he made 112 meters up in the mountain behind his shop. The turbine replaced a 11 hp. kersosene engine to power the machinery. Two years later he produced his own turbine to power an electric generator. Many turbines followed.

The first turbine (in corner) in Jóhann's shop made it self-sufficient regarding power for the machinery. The second turbine, installed 1911, was homemade by Jóhann and encased in a concrete cover. The generator was imported and produced sufficient energy for lighting in the shop. This was the first hydro-electric installation in East Iceland and one of the very first in the whole country.

Instruments and controls for East Iceland's first hydro-electric power station. (1911)

Pelton type turbine rotor.Technical Museum of East Iceland

A turbine wheel of Pelton type. This is the type of wheel invented by Lester Allan Pelton in the 1870s and used by Jóhann Hansson in his first hydraulic energy stations. He made numerous wheels of this type for farmers all around East Iceland.

Machinery in mechanical shop.Technical Museum of East Iceland

Inside Jóhann Hansson's Mechanical Workshop in 1913. A small shop, by European standards, it was still the only one in East Iceland, completely state-of-the-art and the only house in all of East Iceland with electric lighting. The company grew and prospered until its demise in 1993. During its lifetime, numerous innovations gained foothold in Iceland through its activities.

Credits: Story

Narrative,texts and translation: Pétur Kristjánsson

Color photographs: Litten Nyström

Artefacts and b/w photographs: Technical Museum of East Iceland

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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