Norwegian Immigrants January 2007
by: Irene Davis
Norwegian Americans are the descendents of Norwegian immigrants who came to the U.S. primarily in the second half of the 19th century and the first few decades on the 20th century. There are more than 4.5 million Norwegian-Americans according to the most recent U.S. census. Most of them live in the upper Midwest.
Norwegians are the first Europeans to discover North America. The Norwegian/Icelander, Lief Erikson, reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland circa A.D. 1000, nearly five centuries before Columbus. There was a Norwegian presence in New Amsterdam (this was New York before 1664) in the early part of the 17th century. Approximately 60 Norwegians settled in the Manhattan before the British take over in 1664. How many Norwegians that settled in New Netherlands (this was the area up the Hudson River to Fort Oranje…now called Albany) is not known. There were also Norwegian settlers in Pennsylvania in the first half of the 18th century, and in upstate New York in the second half of the 18th century.
Organized Norwegian immigration to America began in 1825, when several dozen Norwegians left Stavanger bound, for the emigrants were primarily Quakers. The ship landed in New York City, where it was impounded for exceeding it’s passenger limit. The people moved and settled in Kendall, New York with the help of Andreas Stangeland. While there were about 65 Norwegian individuals who emigrated via ports in Sweden and elsewhere in following years, the next ship did not leave Norway for America until 1836.
To a great extend, early immigration from Norway was due to religious persecution, especially for Quakers and a local religious group, Haugianese. Through the years immigration was motivated by economic concerns, crop failures, Norwegian agricultural resources were unable to keep up with population growth, and the Homestead Act promised fertile flat land. As a result, settlements moved westward into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.
Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to America! That is about one-third of Norway’s population! That’s a lot of Norwegians! With the exception of Ireland, no single country has contributed a larger percentage of its population to the huge American melting pot. Meaning, Norway has the second largest percentage of immigrants
that came to America.
Here are some statics:
There are more than 4.5 million people of Norwegian ancestry in the U.S. today. 55% of Norwegian Americans live in the Midwest, 21% live in Washington, Oregon, and California.
Norwegian Americans actively celebrate and maintain their heritage in many ways- culinary, costumes, and Norwegian holidays. Use of the Norwegian language in America was at its peak between 1900 and World War I, then: Over one million Americans spoke Norwegian as
their primary language. There were dozens of Norwegian-language newspapers across the Upper Midwest. Over 600,000 homes received at least one Norwegian newspaper in 1910.
More than 3,000 Lutheran churches in the Upper Midwest used Norwegian as their sole language. Today there are 81,000 Americans who speak Norwegian as their primary language.