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Scandinavian Americans


SCANDINAVIAN AMERICANS. In 1970, the total number of first-and second-generation Scandinavian Americans included 806,138 Swedes, 614,649 Norwegians, 325,561 Danes, and 203,826 Finns. Scandinavian immigration to America ran at above 10,000 each year between 1866 and 1930, with a high of 105,326 in 1882. Before 1860, this immigration was driven largely by a desire for

religious freedom, but from 1865 to 1910 the motivation was primarily economic. Population growth, land enclosure, Russian suppression of Finnish identity, and political repression in Denmark all contributed to the migration. Scandinavian immigrants were generally welcome in nineteenth-century America and most settled in the Midwest or Pacific Northwest.

Swedes came to America with the lifting of restrictions on emigration in the 1850s and headed for the Midwest, with Illinois as a favored destination. Many Swedes who joined the Union army settled in the Midwest during the 1870s. By 1900, 850,000 Swedes had migrated to America; they cleared ten million acres of farmland, more than any other ethnic group. Perhaps because of their growing urban population, Swedish Americans quickly learned English and entered higher education in large numbers, although they sought to preserve Swedish culture through fraternities such as the Vasa Order of America.

Following poor harvests and a famine in Norway during the 1830s, many Norwegians settled in Illinois and Wisconsin. By 1930, more than one million Norwegian immigrants had reached the United States, the largest proportion of any Scandinavian nation's population. In the late nineteenth century, many moved into the Pacific Northwest. The migration marked a significant change in occupation for most Norwegians, as wheat farming replaced fishing, although the ancestral skill of shipbuilding was practiced in settlements in New York. Norwegians were generally hostile to Americanization and the use of English, and worked to preserve the use of their own language with a network of schools and colleges and an ethnic press.

Danish migration was much less marked before the 1870s than that of either the Swedes or the Norwegians. The most distinctive early migrants were the roughly three thousand converts to Mormonism who migrated to Utah between 1850 and 1880, where they assimilated into that society and helped to establish religious cooperatives. The same impulse was manifested by those non-Mormon Danes who helped establish cooperative creameries in the Midwest in the 1880s. In contrast to other Scandinavians, assimilation came comparatively fast for the roughly 360,000 Danes who migrated to the United States.

Finnish migration to America came mostly between 1870 and 1914, and constituted only about 300,000 persons. Economic motivations drove the Finns, for American wages were much better than those in Finland and the ease of obtaining land was extremely appealing. Most Finnish communities worked to keep their culture alive through church life and religious and socialist newspapers. While Finns were much more heterogeneous in their interests than other Scandinavian groups, they proved much less easily assimilable and were regarded with suspicion by Anglo-Americans.

By the twentieth century, Scandinavians had largely embraced Americanization and upward mobility. New

Scandinavian urban communities appeared in Chicago, New York City, Seattle, and Duluth. Many Scandinavian Americans worked in building, woodworking, and engineering, but over time they entered industry, as evidenced by William Knudsen, who rose to the presidency of General Motors. Most Scandinavians have leaned Republican in politics and many have been politically active. Political luminaries include Charles A. Lindbergh Sr., Andrew Volstead, Earl Warren, and Hubert Humphrey.


Franck, Irene M. The Scandinavian-American Heritage. New York: Facts on File, 1988.

Hale, Frederick, ed. Danes in North America. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1984.

Hoglund, A. William. Finnish Immigrants in America, 1880– 1920. New York: Arno Press, 1979.

Lovoll, Odd S. The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian-American People. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.

Runblom, Harald, and Hans Norman, eds. From Sweden to America: A History of the Migration. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976.


See alsoImmigration ; Norwegian Churches .

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