HOLMEN - A CENTER OF TECHNOLOGICAL DEVELOPMENT


For centuries Holmen was the leading center of technology in Denmark. In the many workshops and laboratories officers with insight in technical matters and skilful artisans were joining in the effort of introducing the newest techniques. In the yards and on the slipways new mechanical devices were tested and on board the ships the crew experimented with advanced techniques of destruction and navigation.
Knowledge, ideas and advanced technology were often imported from abroad. Every year a team of young naval officers with superior technical skills was sent abroad. When they returned they reported on harbors, dockyards and other accomplishments in the field of maritime technology.

The officers, however, also carried out espionage on countries that were more technologically advanced than Denmark. They stole constructional drawings of ships and machines and made the local artisans secretly produce models of the devices that were too complicated to describe in words or through drawings.

Until the English took the Danish fleet no private workshop could match the State-operated military complex on Holmen. Because of the Napoleonic war, however, the positive developments came to an abrupt halt and after the bankruptcy of the State the process had to be started all over again. In this period the Danish Navy experienced a watershed in naval technology.

The new steam- and machine technology made new demands on the technical education of the Navy’s constructors and on the artisans and craftsmen working at the dockyard. There existed, however, no formal training for engineers outside Holmen and only a few Danes had the needed insight in and practical experience with the new technology.

In 1790 Denmark got its first steam engine and in 1806 two advanced Boulton & Watt engines were bought for the anchor forge at Gammelholm. The Navy therefore was in desperate search of a person with the necessary skills to head the building up of the technical services on Holmen. During a visit to England the young naval officer, N.E. Tuxen met a technically gifted Englishman, whom he invited to Copenhagen. The name of this Englishman was William Wain and he was immediately offered a position at Holmen. In 1852 an engineering-corps and an engineering shop were founded under his leadership and ten years later he was appointed sub-director of the engineer department. As director he was in charge of the procurement of a number of new machine tools, some of which were put to use for the first time at Holmen.

In the mid-1840´s cooperation began with Burmeister & Baumgarten, a company situated at Christianshavn. Burmeister & Baumgarten delivered some of the Navy’s first iron-ships. During this period it was difficult to distinguish between the two establishments. They were both leaders in technology and had an almost symbiotic relationship. Even though the two institutions tried to keep their knowledge to themselves a slow exchange of technicians and artisans began to take place to the benefit of the still embryonic Copenhagen shipbuilding- and machine industry.