Two important features in Norwegian history of the late 19th and early 20th cent. were the large-scale emigration to the United States and the great arctic and antarctic explorations by such notable men as Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen. Three outstanding cultural figures of the period were Edvard Grieg, Henrik Ibsen, and Edvard Munch. In World War I, Norway remained neutral. The industrial development of Norway, spurred by the harnessing of water power, contributed to the rise of the Labor (socialist) party, which has predominated in Norwegian politics since 1927. In the 1930s much social welfare legislation was passed, including public health and housing measures, pensions, aid to the disabled, and unemployment insurance.
The country's chief industries are petroleum and natural gas production, shipping, and trading. Since the discovery of petroleum in the Ekofisk field in 1969, the petroleum and natural gas industries have become vital to Norway's economy, bringing increased employment, but also increased inflation and a vulnerability to fluctuations in the world petroleum market (most of the oil and gas is exported). The food manufacturing, pulp and paper, electrochemical, electrometallurgical, and shipbuilding industries are important to the economy. The great Norwegian merchant fleet carries a large part of the world's trade. The chief trading partners are the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, and the United States.