Nathan & Olsen was established on 1 January 1912 by two Danish entrepreneurs, Fritz Nathan and Carl Olsen. The company was domiciled in Hafnarstræti 21. The company’s operation was successful from the outset and its activities were both diverse and flourishing. The company was engaged in import and export activities, exporting agricultural and fisheries products and importing various necessities. The company operated branch offices throughout Iceland and, for a time, owned a cargo ship that sailed between ports in Iceland and overseas.
John Fenger became a partner in the company, which today is owned by his descendants. World War I broke out that same year. In 1916, Nathan & Olsen began work on constructing the first major building in Reykjavík at Austurstræti 16. It was drawn by architect Guðjón Samúelsson and is still considered exceptionally elegant. It may be mentioned that this was the first building in Reykjavík that was lit with electric lights.
During the Great Fire in Austurstræti on 25 April 1915, everything in the offices of Nathan & Olsen, on the upper floor of Austurstræti 9, went up in smoke.
The company leased a steam-powered vessel in 1915 to transport goods to and from Iceland and subsequently purchased its own vessel, the motor cutter Harry, to use in international and coastal shipping.
On 15 September 1917, Nathan & Olsen moved into the attractive building that the company had built at Austurstræti 16. The building was lit with electricity, the first in Reykjavík.
FIRST POWER STATION IN REYKJAVÍK
The company had branches in Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður and Ísafjörður. The years between 1920 and 1923, however, were difficult times, and it was during this time that Harry was lost at sea, uninsured. As a result, the premises at Austurstræti 16, as well as property in Ísafjörður, had to be sold.
Fritz Nathan sold his shares in the company in 1936 and Carl Olsen in 1958. The company has since been in hands of the descendants of John Fenger.
The decision was made, in light of circumstances, to stop exporting agricultural and fisheries products and concentrate instead on imports. World War II was in full swing. On 7 July, the US army came to Iceland to take over the military protection provided by the British, who had occupied Iceland the previous year. The arrival of the US troops led to considerable improvements in the economy, and Icelanders benefited considerably; Nathan & Olsen’s increase in imports couldn’t have been timed better, just in time to take advantage of the increased purchasing power of the general public.
Nathan & Olsen opened an office in New York, which remained open throughout the war, as routes between countries in Europe were closed due to the war. During this time, many of the brands that would become well known in Icelandic households right up to the present day were found.
In 1968, Nathan & Olsen moved into new premises that the company had built for itself in Ármúli 8. The sale of foodstuffs, household articles and commission trade in construction materials was the main focus of the operation around this time and through to the latter part of the 1980s.
The decision was made to concentrate on importing foodstuffs and to stop importing and trading in other goods. The company moved to premises at Vatnagarðar 20.
A period of acquisitions began. Changed times in the market put pressure on the company, which needed to grow to increase its efficiency and strengthen its foundations even further.
The decision was made to divide the company’s operations into several units. The wholesale company Ekran ehf. was purchased and merged with the large kitchen department of Nathan & Olsen under the name of Ekran. At the same time, Nathan & Olsen was divided into three companies, i.e. the marketing company Nathan & Olsen, the holding company 1912 and the property company Sökklar. The Ekran branch was located at Óseyri 3, Akureyri.
All operations in Reykjavík were transferred to smart new premises at Klettagarðar 19.
By its centenary in 2012, 1912 ehf. had become one of the largest wholesale companies in Iceland dealing in groceries. Through its subsidiaries Nathan & Olsen hf. and Ekran ehf., the company boasts of an extensive distribution system to retailers, larger kitchens, industries, etc.
The decision was made to take the opportunity for further expansion, and 1912 purchased operations with many well-known brands in the cosmetics industry. Numerous employees were added and a new division established, i.e. the Nathan & Olsen Cosmetics Division.
Ekran purchased the operation of Íslensk Matvara ehf., taking an even greater step toward developing comprehensive solutions for large-scale kitchens and increasing services to customers.
In 2019, 1912 added a third unit by purchasing a controlling shareholding in Emmessís. The purchase opened up opportunities to better utilise the installed capacity of the company and to increase the product range of frozen goods.
At present, 1912 is leader in the Icelandic foodstuffs market, and the subsidiaries Nathan & Olsen, Ekran and Emmessís supply consumers and companies with a large range of goods and services.