The early history of Jan Mayen is rather obscure. Some historians believe that an Irish monk, Brendan, who was known as a good sailor, was close to Jan Mayen in the early 6th century. He came back from one of his voyages and reported that he had been close to a black island, which was on fire, and that it was a terrible noise in the area. He thought that he might have found the entrance to hell.Viking sailors are also believed to have known about the island.
The Dutch whalers established several whale oil boilers on the island where they extracted oil from the blubber of whales. When whaling was at its highest more than 1000 men were based on the island during the summer months. They also established fortifications on the island to protect their bases from plundering. Some years ago two big guns were found in the area where the main whaling station was.
As a result of the hunting activities the Greenland whale nearly disappeared and whaling near Jan Mayen came to an end between 1640 and 1650.The island was deserted and for the next 230 years only a few ships visited the island.
FIRST INTERNATIONAL POLAR YEAR
At the beginning of this century Norwegian trappers began to spend the winters on Jan Mayen. Their main prey was blue and white foxes and an occasional polar bear. Overexploitation of the fox population resulted in a fast decline of the hunting profit, and in addition the barren island and unpleasant living conditions made the hunting come to an end in the 1920’s.
Weather reports from Jan Mayen are important for weather forecasting in Norway and the Norwegian Sea and in 1922 the Norwegian Meteorological Institute annexed the island for Norway. By Royal Decree of 8th May 1929 Jan Mayen was placed under Norwegian sovereignty and by law of 27th February 1930 the island was declared a part of the Kingdom of Norway.
WORLD WAR 2
Jan Mayen was not occupied during the World War II, and remained as «Free Norway». In 1940 the crew of the met. Station burned down their station and left the island, but in 1941 they came back with a few Norwegian soldiers. They re-established the meteorological station and were in continuos operation throughout the war years in spite of frequent air attacks from the Germans. Two German planes crashed on the island during the war. A four-engine bomber with 9 crewmembers hit a mountain near the Norwegian garrison in 1942. In 1950 a party of British geologists found the wreck of a German plane with 4 crewmembers on the south-west side of the island. In 1959 all remains of the crews from the two planes were moved to the war cemetery in Narvik.In 1943 the Americans were allowed to establish a radiolocating station on the island. It was built on the north side and they called it Atlantic City. The main task of the station was to locate the secret German weather and radio stations on Greenland.
In the period 1945 – 59 the only activity on the island was weather observations and this was supplemented by radiosoundings. That is balloons which are sent up to an altitude of 25 – 30 km carrying a package of measuring instruments and a small radiotransmitter which reports back information about temperature, pressure and humidity of the air together with information about wind speed and direction.