The year was 1853. The place: the harsh west coast of Norway. Brimming with optimism, the newly educated industrialist Ole Andreas Devold returned from Germany with state of the art mechanical knitting machines. Devold began making wool underwear and mittens for the local fishermen; and a traditional Norwegian red beanie called a rødlua. A few decades later Ole Andreas Devold owned one of the largest textile factories in Norway.
A HISTORY OF INNOVATION
Ole Andreas Devold soon realized that a combination of quality and innovation was important for any successful company. In 1882, the knitting pioneer built Norway's first power station for electrical power at the Devold factory. Because one of the most important things for Devold’s production was access to water, Ole Andreas Devold built his own water ditch and a huge waterwheel. This made the Devold factory the first mechanically driven knitting business in Norway.
With a waterwheel in place, another historical milestone was reached. Just four years after Thomas Edison invented the modern light bulb, Devold installed electrical light in his weaving mill. The 125 light bulbs were the first electric light in the entire region, and could be seen from the surrounding mountains.
Ole Andreas Devold was also one of the first people in Norway to make use of the telephone. When the company moved its production from Ålesund to nearby Langevåg, Devold could not find a telephone station in the area. So, in 1892, he constructed a 30+ kilometer telephone line, stretched around the fjord, starting at the factory in Langevåg and running all the way to the office in Ålesund. Many boat trips across the fjord were avoided, and efficiency increased considerably.
The successful establishment of the Devold factory in Langevåg encouraged local residents who might have otherwise emigrated to America to stay. Devold did not only create jobs, he also took social responsibility.
The knitting pioneer established hospitals, churches, kindergartens, grocery stores; and built 20 houses for his employees. From only being able to count inhabitants on one hand, the small community of Langevåg started to grow.
The farmers in the region were also engaged. They enjoyed bringing the wool to Devold's store, as it was more profitable than treating the wool at home. The farmers were also often happy to exchange their wool for readymade clothes, rather than money.
It was a bustling life in Langevåg in the early 20th century. The factory expanded and Devold made major investments. Boats came and went, fully loaded with wool. A Devold-owned steamboat traveled along the coast, "from the Swedish border to the Russian border," to meet the demand of Devold clothing.
The original Blaatrøie (blue shirt) was extremely popular abroad, and was sent as far as the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and South Africa. The bulky knit sweaters known as Islender (Icelander) and Nordsjø (North Sea) were gaining huge popularity. And the Rødlua (red beanie), a festive piece of head clothing, continued to be recognized throughout Norway.
A HISTORY OF EXPLORATION
Devold’s success occurred around the same time as the first major polar expeditions in the late 1800s. When the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen became the first to traverse Greenland in 1888, he did it with Devold thermal underwear, socks, and heavyweight woolen sweaters.
Nansen and his team from the notorious Fram expedition (a failed attempt to reach the North Pole in 1893-96) could thank Devold's sturdy woolen clothes for helping them survive three dramatic years on the drifting ice of the Arctic Ocean.
In 1911, on the other side of the globe, polar explorer Roald Amundsen wore Devold woolen clothing when he became the first person ever to reach the South Pole. And in 1925, Amundsen flew over the North Pole in the airship "Norge 1" together with the American polar explorer Lincoln Ellsworth, well-dressed in Devold. When Ellsworth completed the first successful flight over the icy South Pole in 1933, he thanked Devold for the warm woolen clothes:
"I wish to express to you my appreciation of the excellent service you have rendered in furnishing supplies and equipment for my Expedition and to thank you for your generous consideration in connection with the charges for your products. We have found them to be of the very best quality.” – Lincoln Ellsworth (letter to O.A. Devold)
PROOF OF QUALITY
For several generations, both at sea and on land, Devold had provided well-known polar explorers and hard-working fishermen with woolen products. And for farmers, fishermen, carpenters, and anyone else working outdoors in Norway, no proof of quality was necessary -- these people were already very aware of "the Devold quality."
Further abroad in southern Europe, however, news of Nansen's, Amundsen's, and Ellsworth's successful explorations served as proof of Devold's unrivaled quality.
Since the 1960s, thousands of Norwegian and foreign expeditions have relied on Devold products. Wool has protected everything from sweaty foreheads to frozen toes, from the North Pole and in the South Pole.
Arne Næss wore Devold on his famous Himalayan expeditions in the 1950s and 60s. In 1988, Stein P. Aasheim led a Greenland expedition where he copied Fridtjof Nansen's original equipment. It was natural for Aasheim to choose Devold as a supplier of socks, underwear and sweaters. In 1994, Liv Arnesen walked over the South Pole by herself -- the first woman to undertake this journey. In order to keep warm in the extreme climate, she used merino wool underwear from Devold.
After more than 160 years of devoted research and development of wool products, Devold confidently produces the best comfort, quality, and protection available.