Herring Era Museum

Siglufjordur, Iceland | C.1996

Photo Credit: Amy Presley

For 50 years, the town of Siglufjörður was at the center of a herring boom that swept Iceland and transformed its economy. Thousands of people flocked to this tiny hamlet to find work in what was dubbed the “Atlantic Klondike.” Though the industry collapsed in 1969, the Herring Era Museum lives to tell the tale of the boom years of Iceland’s Herring Adventure.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, fishing technology made great leaps, and Norwegian vessel owners fished the open waters with great success. Herring towns soon sprang up, and hundreds of Icelanders found employment processing the catch. Eventually, domination of the industry changed from Norwegian to Icelandic hands.

One of the most important ports in Iceland, Siglufjörður (aka Siglo) was the site of the first processing plant, and had 23 salting stations and five reducing factories. Because the fish spoiled quickly, hundreds of “Herring Girls” were employed to process the catch as it came in. The girls lived in boarding houses and were paid by the barrel. An entire genre of Icelandic pop music is dedicated to them.

When the herring failed to appear in 1969, the industry completely collapsed. Siglo and other port towns suffered a severe depression.

Twenty years later, a group of local volunteers banded together to renovate the  Róaldsbrakki, an old Norwegian salting station from 1907, and turn it into a museum remembering the Herring Era. The government-backed project opened in 1996 and has 5 exhibits, including a boathouse, slipway, boarding house, and even salting demonstrations.

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