Hey there. I’m Hannah. I’m an American museum professional and Fulbright Fellow living in Reykjavík, and I’m the host of a podcast dedicated to exploring Iceland’s museums. Why? Because Iceland has a staggering 165 museums (that’s way more museums per person than most places in the world), and most of them are fantastic places run by fascinating people who are passionate about their institutions and communities.
I launched the Museums in Strange Places podcast for anyone who loves Iceland, museums, stories, culture, and exploring the world. In each episode, I visit a different Icelandic museum to discover what stories they hold and how they reflect and shape Iceland’s unique cultural identity. If you’ve got suggestions for which museum I should visit next, send me a tweet @hannah_rfh.
Museums in Strange Places Podcast #15: The Industry Museum
The Industry Museum in Akureyri is the kind of place I love exploring, provided my data is topped up and I can share pictures of the many interesting, funny, and mysterious things that fill the rooms. When I say ‘fill,’ I mean every nook and cranny has neatly organized rows of typewriters, herring tins, beer bottles, printing machines, early computers, pharmacy jars, an entire hair salon chair set-up, a coffin-workshop and more. Yes, I said coffin workshop. Also, I found a jar labeled “semen.”
Behind most of the objects in the museum—wool, fish, printing, shoe-making, dairy, shipping, toys—is the story of an entire community, of hard work and days of growth. In the middle of the 20th centuries, Akureyri’s successful industries and factories meant that the town was largely self-sufficient.
Thousands found work in these industries, and jobs were available to anyone that wanted them. In fact, demand for labor and high salaries meant that at one point about 60% of factory workers were women. After a hard day of work, these women would then go home and do all the housework as well, feeding their children the food they helped produce and package.
Taken as a whole, the objects in the Industry Museum shows the lives of “so many people doing such hard work,” as Deputy Director Jóna Sigurlaug Friðriksdóttir puts it—which could easily be a tagline for most of the history museums in Iceland. Though this little country is known today for a high standard of living, from the end of the commonwealth in the late 13th century until the middle of the 20th century life here was often very hard. With harsh weather and little infrastructure, you had to rely on your own strength and develop tight-knit communities to survive.
Besides just preserving the artifacts of the industrial boom in Akureyri, the Industry Museum provides a place where older Icelanders can remember and reminisce about the hard work and the ubiquitous figures like Gósi the friendly local coffin-maker that brought the community together.
Another museum director recently told me that Iceland has so many museums because Icelanders are so proud of their history, culture, and what they’ve made. Looking at all the things in the Industry museum, people from Akureyri can and should be proud of what they made. The museum also provides a visual setting to teach the younger generations how hard their parents and grandparents worked.
Like the Museum of Sundry Objects’ Sigga Rósa said in the last episode of Museums in Strange Places, museums teach us empathy. My visit to the Industry Museums helped me make the connection between the milk cartons in my fridge and the hopes and dreams of those women in the factories. More than lists of dates and names, I think empathy and understanding is one of the most important history lessons we can teach kids today, no matter where they live.
- Ask questions. The sheer variety of objects in the museum is fascinating on it’s own, but there is relatively little text or further information available to read. Also, don’t forget to ask about Gósi the coffin-maker and his workbench. It’s a great story.
- If you are starting from downtown Akureyri, it’s about a 30 minute walk to the Industry Museum through Old Akureyri, where you can see some of the prettiest old houses in town. You’ll also go right past the Akureyri History Museum, a museum about old toys and the Motorcycle Museum.
You can listen to this episode of the Museums in Strange Places podcast on the following platforms or on the player below: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Radio Public, Libsyn, Overcast.fm, Stitcher, Castbox.
Learn more about the podcast and see other episodes here.