(Madlaveien – “The Madla Road”. Madla was a former municipality and borough of the city of
The first car in Stavanger struggled to get up the hill from the harbor to the Kongsgård farm. But the
second car was a real monster, which scared the hell out of the farmers of Jæren.
How it looked: a “Benz Velo Comfortable:, the country’s first private car from 1895 and Stavanger’s
first car. (Photo: Wikimedia)
The author and journalist Theodor Dahl has written a thrilling account on the first car in Stavanger,
and on a wild excursion with journalists across Jæren. Here, the velocity reached 35 km/hour along
straight stretches. “We flew by the road in a red flying sofa. It was breathtaking. We thought we
would suffocate in the flight—women on the road ran for their lives. As if it was the devil himself,
rushing along with its red, frightening body. What a show! What a noise! What a country road
But this was not the first road trip, and Dahl was not a passenger in the first car in town, but the
second one. This second car belonged to the merchant Theodor Rønneberg, while the first car
belonged to his cousin, factory owner Tørres Rønneberg—a conservative but a visionary man.
Upcoming Wednesday, the Technical Museum in Oslo exhibits the first Norwegian bus, a Benz
Phaeton from 1895, in its restored glory. The bus was imported in order to establish a regular service
in the Gudbrandsdalen valley. The project turned out to be a complete failure. The country’s first
private car, however, is lost. It was a Benz Velo Comfortable, which was hoisted up on the quay in
Stavanger on October 21st 1898. The car had four thin wheels with solid rubber tires, the small
engine behind was coupled to the drive shaft with a chain, and the vehicle was steered by a small
crank. According to the newspaper, “Stavanger Avis” the engine produced 2 ¾ horsepower.
The Vågen (The name of the inlet of Stavanger (the “Bay”)
was crowded with and expectant public when the infernal German machine started. Many onlookers
reluctantly stepped aside when the driver released the brake and the automobile actually rolled by
itself. A farmer went home and told with wide eyes that he had seen “a strange carriage in the city
which went along in the streets by itself—with no horses or people to pull the vehicle. “Sure it was a
miracle, but it was typically Rønneberg like stuff.
Tørres Rønneberg came from Sola (A municipality in the county of Rogaland, Norway. Here we find
the Stavanger airport.) to Stavanger with great initiative. As a confirmed young man, he assisted his
uncle, Enoch Rønneberg in building the magnificent property “Fredheim” by (the lake) Mosvatnet, the
current bishop’s residence.
Tørres, at the age of 26, started a dry goods store at the market square together with Jens Johnsen.
But after a few years, he found it too boring to sell pants and homespun items. When Stavanger
Preserving, in 1879, began to smoke Norwegian sardines, then putting them in small boxes, and
selling them as “Norwegian sardines,” Tørres began to realize that something was going on in an
industry in which he could participate. He bought the farm “Kampen” (By now a part of the
municipality of the city of Stavanger (after the original farm, named “Kampen” –e.g. “the hill”) and
converted its barn into a factory. The “Kampen Preserving” became the second cannery in Stavanger
and the third cannery in Norway
that those who earn their income from the fishing industry, should not have their factory in the
country. When the stately Rosenkilde property, (An estate in Stavanger, built in 1812, as a home for
the merchant P.V. Rosenkilde) adjacent to the harbor, was offered in a (forced) sale in 1887, and
Rønneberg jumped at the offer. The property had been deserted and empty since P.W. Rosenkilde &
Son went broke during the crisis in 1880. Here, in the lounges where Ole Bull had given his first
concert in Stavanger, the Rønneberg family moved in. On the first floor Rønneberg installed a socalled “People’s Kitchen” in 1898—it was the origin of a popular restaurant (“Matsaiget”), which could
serve 500 lunch portions a day. The smoke house and warehouses were located in the surrounding
minced meat machines that worked 20 times faster than its predecessors, and they revolutionized the
production of canned fish balls. The factory had its own acetylene plant until it got its first electric
plant—it being the first power plant in Stavanger. And when the message came from Germany that
the engineer Karl Friedrich Benz had invented a car that could move by itself—an automobile
powered by a petroleum engine, Tørres sent his son, Arne, down to test this “wonder car”. He
bargained the price to be 2700 Norwegian Kroner. The car weighed 360 kilograms (792 pounds) and
could run 40 km on each tank of “Benzine”—also a modern invention.
It was this car that rolled through the crowd at Vågen the historic day in 1898, and it was the one who
struggled hard to get up the hill to the Konsgsård farm. (A Royal Administration Center, (formerly a
farm) in Stavanger belonging to the archbishop of Stavanger.) Today, Kongsgård has housed the
Stavanger Cathedral School since 1926. “E pur say muove”, as Galileo would have said it (and it still
After entering Stavanger, “it will, after some training, turn around more easily than any other horse” as
a Stavanger newspaper commented after a test drive–having already frightened lots of cows and
women in Jæren. The car made it from the Randaberg church to Olavskieiva (a steep hill (“kleiv”) in
Stavanger) in a half an hour. Arne Rønneberg took the vehicle to Kristiania (Oslo), according to the
newspaper, Aftenposten, “it was a great sensation” as the care drove through Torvgaten (the market
street) as the first motor vehicle in the capital’s history.