Here is a brief presentation of the history of Isafjordur.
Centre of trade
Isafjordur was settled some 1.100 years ago. For centuries, the only houses on the spit where Isafjordur now stands were those that belonged to the church. However, with its excellent natural harbour, Isafjordur little by little became an important site for merchants who did their trade with the farmers and fishermen in the area.
Isafjordur was granted municipal status in 1786, after the King of Denmark (who then ruled Iceland) had abolished the Danish monopoly of trade in Iceland. Soon things were booming in Isafjordur. Production and export of saltfish was the key to the growth of the town, and its status as one of Iceland’s main trading posts until the early 20th century.
The golden days of the fish industry
The second part of the 19th century and the early 20th century were grandiose times for Isafjordur. The town was the home of Ásgeirsverslun, Iceland’s biggest saltfish exporter and, in fact, one of the biggest companies in the country. The use of motorised boats for fishing and freights started in Isafjordur, and this is the town where the Icelandic shrimp industry began. The list goes on and on.
The period following World War II saw huge changes in the fishing industry. The ships grew ever larger and new methods of production called for quick-freezing plants to be built. None of this changed the fact that Isafjordur was in the forefront of this industry and the fish plants were the workplaces of several hundreds of men and women. Life was not just hard work though, as the inhabitants of Isafjordur have always known the art of enjoying the rich cultural life and ample recreation opportunities the town has to offer.
In the 1980s things changed for the worse in the fishing industry, as well as in the economic life in general. Fishing plants were closed, people lost their jobs and several of them moved away to look for new opportunities. Little by little the town has managed to bounce back. The fishing industry is still important, although it has changed its focus to a fleet of small boats rather than the big trawlers of the 1970s and early 1980s. High-tech industries and research, based on the knowledge and tradition of the fisheries has also developed, plus numerous new opportunities, not least in the rapidly growing sector of tourism.
The political scene
Politics in this town have always been quite lively, or even fierce. Many of Iceland’s leading political figures in the 20th century are the products of this environment, from the first ever Icelandic minister, Mr. Hannes Hafstein in 1904 to the current president of Iceland, Mr. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson.