Norwegian Americans

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Author: Odd S. Lovoll
Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Topic overview
Length: 10,321 words
Lexile Measure: 1250L

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Page 343

Norwegian Americans

Odd S. Lovoll


Norwegian Americans are immigrants or the descendants of people from Norway, a country occupying the western part of the Scandinavian Peninsula in northwestern Europe, sharing borders with Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The country measures 1,095 miles from south to north, and one-third of its land mass lies north of the Arctic Circle, extending farther north than any other European country. Norway is slightly larger than the state of New Mexico, measuring 125,181 square miles (323,878 square kilometers).

According to Norway's Bureau of Statistics, in 2011 the country's population was 5,033,675, except for a minority of indigenous Sami (estimated at no more than 40,000) confined mainly to the northern half of the country. About 655,000 residents, or 13 percent of the total population, were either immigrants or children of two immigrants; about half had backgrounds from Europe, 34 percent from Asia, 12 percent from Africa, 3 percent from South and Central America, and nearly 2 percent from North America. In the early twenty-first century, Norway considered itself a multicultural society. Almost 80 percent of the inhabitants belonged to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which in 2012 lost its distinction as a state church. Five percent were members of other Christian denominations and faiths, the largest of which was the Catholic Church, and 10 percent had no religious affiliation; among non-Christian religions, Islam was the largest. Norway's form of government is a hereditary constitutional monarchy. The capital city is Oslo. The national flag displayed a central blue cross with a white border on a red field. Norwegian is the official language, rendered in two different literary forms, the predominant bokmål (Dano-Norwegian) and the rural dialect-based nynorsk (New Norse). By the early twenty-first century, Norway was one of the world's most prosperous nations.

Norwegian overseas emigration began earlier than in the other Nordic lands, commencing dramatically on July 4, 1825, with the sailing of the tiny sloop Restauration, but annual immigration—during which large numbers of families set sail for the United States in the summer months—did not commence until 1836. Norwegian immigrants showed a strong bond to a rural way of life, and a commitment to farming was an idiosyncratic quality of Norwegians in America. They were in fact the most rural of any nineteenth-century immigrant group, and the rural attachment was passed to U.S.-born generations. The upper Midwest became the home of the majority of Norwegians. They also entered the professions and found employment in a variety of occupations in cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis, and also formed colonies in Brooklyn, New York, and Seattle, Washington. By the early twenty-first century, one could well conclude that a Norwegian tradition of immigrating to the United States belonged largely to the past.

By 2010, according to the U.S. Census, the number of Norwegian-born residents of the United States had fallen to 25,854, while 4,602,337 Americans claimed Norwegian ancestry. Emigration from its beginning in 1825 until the early twenty-first century totaled some 900,000 people. Of total emigration, 87 percent, or 780,000, Norwegians left in the period between 1865 and 1930, with the vast majority settling in the United States. By the early twenty-first century, there were no longer any Norwegian enclaves or neighborhoods in the United States' great cities.


Early History Norway (Old Norse: Norvegr or Noregr) designates the sea-lane as the “north way” along the country's extensive coastline as viewed from the south. Maritime connections west and south have, as a consequence of Norway's geography, characterized its history. During the Viking Age (800–1030), expansive forces moved the Norse Vikings to the historical stage of Europe; their westward expansion extended to Iceland, Greenland, and even to the continent of North America. Some time before 890, Harald Finehair consolidated Norway under the Yngling dynasty. The martyrdom of King Olav II of this royal line on July 29, 1030, at the Battle of Stiklestad made him Norway's patron saint, secured a national monarchy, and established the Christian church as a dominant institution.

Medieval Norway attained its political height under the reign of Haakon IV Haakonson (1217–1263), with territorial dominance to the western islands (the Orkneys, Shetlands, Hebrides, Isle of Man, and Faroe Islands), Iceland, and Greenland, and

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three districts in present-day Sweden. It was then that Norway entered fully into close diplomatic and commercial relations with other European states.

Norwegian national decline manifested itself in dynastic unions with the two other Scandinavian nations, Sweden and Denmark. The bubonic plague that ravaged Europe in the mid-fourteenth century hit Norway, a country with greater poverty and fewer natural resources than the other Nordic lands, especially hard. Norway's population was devastated, resulting in a serious loss of income for the great landowners, the church, and the king. The last king of an independent and sovereign Norway died in 1380, and Norway then united with Denmark. In 1397 the three Scandinavian states were joined under one ruler in the Kalmar Union; in the case of Norway the union with Denmark lasted until 1814. The Lutheran Reformation in 1537 resulted in Norway's reduction in administrative arrangements to a province within the Danish state. The idea of Norway as an independent kingdom, however, remained alive throughout the union period and was evidenced in the term “the twin realms.”

Modern Era The big power politics following the Napoleonic wars yielded a national rebirth. Rejecting the terms of the Treaty of Kiel, which transferred Norway to the king of Sweden, a constituent assembly meeting north of Oslo at Eidsvoll on May 17, 1814, signed a constitution establishing a limited and hereditary monarchy, and declared Norway's independence. Mindful of their pledge to the Swedish throne but also not wishing to quell Norwegian moves toward independence, the European powers endorsed a compromise that established a union under the Swedish king. The union preserved the Eidsvoll constitution and was based on the will of the Norwegian people rather than the Treaty of Kiel.

The Act of Union signed in 1815 declared, in principle, an equal partnership in the double monarchy of Sweden and Norway. In reality, however, Norway held an inferior position. Politically Norway feared Swedish encroachment and sought full equality in the union. Culturally the new nation struggled against Danish hegemony—a result of the four-hundred-year union—and engaged in a quest for national identity and cultural independence. There was a surge of nationalism, which was expressed in an idealized and romantic cultivation of the peasantry as the true carriers of the national spirit. Norway's ultimate goal was a separate and respected national status within the Nordic nations. In 1905 the union with Sweden ended after a dispute over foreign affairs, centering on Norway's demand for an independent consular service. The union was unnatural from the start with few, if any, positive elements linking the two countries.

Prince Carl of Denmark was elected King of Norway in 1905, taking the name Haakon VII, Page 345  |  Top of Articlewhich linked him to the old Norwegian royal line. The first half-century of full independence witnessed a rapid transformation from a mainly agricultural society to an industrialized and commercial one. The laboring classes gained political influence, and from the mid-1930s the Norwegian Labor Party formed the government. German occupation from 1940 to 1945 suspended the party's political agenda, but in the postwar era it resumed power and transformed Norway into a prosperous social-democratic welfare state. The discovery of petroleum resources west of Norway in 1969 guaranteed substantial future prosperity. By the early twenty-first century, Norway was one of the world's most prosperous nations. In foreign affairs, the country abandoned its historically neutral stance and joined the western alliance in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Norway was a founding member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960. Two referendums (in 1972 and 1994) on joining the European Union failed by narrow margins; however, Norway was part of EFTA's successor, the European Economic Area, which included European Union countries


The first Norwegian immigrants to the United States numbered only fifty-three (with a baby born during the crossing), having set sail on the small sloop Restauration from Stavanger on the southwestern coast of Norway. The so-called Sloopers arrived in New York harbor on October 9, 1825; assisted by the kindly services of American Quakers, most went to Orleans County in western New York state and settled in what became Kendall Township. There was a strong religious motivation in the pioneer emigration, which was not significant in the later emigration: the Sloopers were Quakers, Quaker sympathizers, and dissenters in opposition to the religiously monopolistic position of the Norwegian Lutheran state church. In the mid-1830s the Kendall settlers gave impetus to the westward movement of Norwegians by founding a settlement in the Fox River area of Illinois. A small urban colony of Norwegians had its genesis in Chicago at about the same time.

Immigrant settlements were then ready to welcome Norwegian newcomers, who, beginning in 1836, arrived annually. The Norwegian exodus rose in the 1840s; by 1865, nearly 80,000 Norwegians had entered the United States. The “America fever” had moved from the southwestern coastal areas along the western coast and inland to the central highland region. Even though no part of Norway was entirely untouched by the overseas movement, the majority of emigrants in this founding phase came from the inner fjord districts in western Norway and the mountain valleys of eastern Norway. It was an emigration of rural folk mostly consisting of families. They were economic emigrants—people leaving the straitened circumstances in the homeland caused by rapid population growth and limited opportunities for a new and better life in America for themselves and their descendants. Land and the opportunity to reestablish themselves as farmers in a new rural setting held great appeal. As a result, the character of the immigrant community that evolved in the United States reflected traditions, mores, and religious as well as secular values of their districts in the old country and conveyed strong familial and communal bonds.

From the Fox River settlement in Illinois, Norwegian pioneers followed the general spread of population northwestward into Wisconsin. Wisconsin remained the center of Norwegian American activity until the Civil War. The end of the Civil War brought about a great increase in Atlantic crossings. The number of Norwegian emigrants leaped from 4,000 in 1865 to 15,726 in 1866, heralding the era of mass migration. This mass migration occurred until 1873; in the course of the previous eight years, some 110,000 Norwegians had left their homeland. The second, and also greatest, period of emigration lasted fourteen years, from 1880 to 1893, when an average of 18,290 emigrants left annually—ten for every one thousand Norwegians—for a total of about 264,600. During this period Norway's emigration intensity was the second greatest in Europe, surpassed only by that of Ireland. Norway experienced a final mass exodus in the first fourteen years of the twentieth century, when 214,985 Norwegians left the homeland. There was considerable emigration in the 1920s as well; 88,520 Norwegians emigrated in that decade. Emigration from its beginning totaled some 900,000 people. Of the total emigration, 87 percent, or about 780,000 Norwegians, left in the period between 1865 and 1930.

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A newcomer from Norway who arrives here will be surprised indeed to find in the heart of the country, more than a thousand miles from his landing place, a town where language and way of life so unmistakably remind him of his native land.

Svein Nilsson, a Norwegian American journalist (in Billed-Magazin, May 14, 1870).

In the nineteenth century, Norwegian emigrants headed almost exclusively for the United States. Only after 1900 did other overseas areas, especially Canada, attract substantial number of Norwegians. However, the United States remained the most popular destination. Emigration dominated by families gradually changed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century to an emigration largely of individuals. Although young male laborers constituted the majority, single young women also moved overseas in large numbers; statistics show that between 1866 and 1940, women accounted for 41 percent of the total overseas Page 346  |  Top of Articlemovement. Emigrants came from the cities as well as the countryside, though the rural exodus was by far the larger. From the 1880s, young people with education and technical training joined the masses who traveled to the United States.

Improved transportation facilitated by steam passenger liners, allowed people to move back and forth across the Atlantic, yielding a two-way migration. The Norwegian Bureau of Statistics estimated that about 25 percent of the immigrants to North America between 1881 and 1930 resettled in Norway. The Great Depression and World War II impeded further emigration until 1945. The postwar emigration never attained great numbers, peaking in 1952, when close to three thousand emigrants departed for the United States. After that time there was a noticeable decline from decade to decade. From 1945 until the early twenty-first century, a total of about fifty thousand Norwegians had moved to the United States and around ten thousand to Canada. Still, as of 2010 there were 4,602,337 residents of Norwegian ancestry in the United States, nearly as many as in the home country.

The history of Norwegian settlement in America is a tale of dynamic change over time. In the 1850s Norwegian land seekers began moving into both Iowa and Minnesota, both directly from Norway and from older settlements in Wisconsin and Illinois, and noticeable migration to North and South Dakota was under way by the 1870s. The majority of Norwegian agrarian settlements developed in the northern region of the so-called Homestead Act Triangle, between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. The Norwegians took up farming or settled in the many country towns that dotted the landscape. In 1900, according to the federal census, 49.8 percent of all Norwegian-born heads of household were engaged in agriculture as owners or renters of farms or as agricultural laborers. As many as 54.3 percent of the children of immigrants were farmers. No other nationality came close to this concentration on agriculture. As the composition of immigrants changed and their destination increasingly became urban areas and as people moved to the cities from farming communities, the percentage of Norwegians engaged in agriculture declined; however, as recently as 1990, when their occupational composition was not significantly different from other Americans of European ancestry, Norwegian Americans were still somewhat overrepresented in the industry group of “farming, forestry, and fishing.”

The upper Midwest became the home for most Norwegian immigrants. In 1910 almost 80 percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans—the immigrants and their children—lived in that part of the United States. By the early twenty-first century, about half of the Norwegian American population lived in the Midwest. In 2010 about 17 percent of the population in Minnesota, 30 percent in North Dakota, 15 percent in South Dakota, and 8 percent in Wisconsin were of Norwegian ancestry. Because of its location in the center of Norwegian settlement, from the 1890s Minneapolis functioned as a Norwegian American “capital” for secular and religious activities. It replaced Chicago, which actually housed a much larger colony of first- and second-generation Norwegians. The building trades employed urban Norwegian men; in Chicago specifically shipping on the Great Lakes also attracted Norwegian men. Young single women frequently entered domestic service. In addition, Norwegians entered business enterprises of many kinds and worked in industries created by compatriots, the latter much in evidence in Chicago.

The Pacific Northwest—especially the Puget Sound region and the cities of Tacoma and Seattle—became another center of immigrant life. Fishing, in addition to other common urban trades, became the livelihood of many Norwegians there. Norwegian Americans also developed the halibut industry in Alaska, where they also engaged in shipping. Enclaves of Norwegians emerged as well in greater Brooklyn, New York, and Texas. Bay Ridge in Brooklyn had the largest Norwegian colony on the eastern seaboard; its success depended on a high concentration of Norwegians.

By 2010 the largest concentration of Norwegian Americans was in Minnesota, followed by Wisconsin, then California, Washington, and North Dakota.


The Norwegian language, along with Danish and Swedish, belongs to the mutually comprehensible northern branch of the Germanic family of languages. During the centuries-long union with Denmark, Norwegians accepted Danish as their written language. Following independence in 1814, efforts to provide a national written standard created conflict between those who worked for a gradual “Norwegianization” of Danish orthographic forms and those who wished to create a totally new written language. The Norwegian government officially recognized the existence of the predominant bokmål (Dano-Norwegian), which continued the Danish written tradition greatly modified through a series of reforms under the influence of Norwegian speech habits, and nynorsk (New Norse), which was constructed on the basis of modern dialects and most faithfully preserved the forms of Old Norse. Because of the isolated nature of Norwegian rural communities, the local vernacular was distinct, with marked dialectal differences from one district to the next.

The cultural baggage of Norwegian immigrants included their specific local dialect and a Danish literary language. The latter played a significant role in the immigrant community, attaining a nearly sacred quality. It was the language of their secular and religious institutions and of sacred and profane literature. The immigrants had little appreciation for the linguistic reforms in the homeland; often such changers were viewed as a betrayal to a common cultural heritage. A series of official reforms of the written language in the early twentieth century Page 347  |  Top of Articlein Norway made the older form even more difficult to retain in the United States. A newspaper such as Decorah-Posten in Decorah, Iowa, persisted in using a Dano-Norwegian orthographic tradition from the 1870s well into the 1950s. The situation created confusion among teachers of Norwegian at American high schools, colleges, and universities, who felt obligations to the language of the immigrant community; only just before World War II did they in principle agree to teach the written standard—generally the Dano-Norwegian bokmål, the official written language in Norway.

English was another threat to the maintenance of the Norwegian language in America. Rural settlement patterns protected spoken Norwegian, and it can still be heard in some Norwegian American communities. According to researcher Joshua A. Fishman, about half of second-generation Norwegians from 1940 to 1960 learned the language, and in 1960 there were as many as 40,000 of the third generation who had learned Norwegian. As of 1990, about 80,000 speakers of Norwegian remained in the United States, and in Minnesota, Norwegian was the second-most common European language, with 16,000 speakers, after German. Those number were thought to have dropped steeply by the early twenty-first century, and only one bilingual newspaper, the Norwegian American Weekly, of Seattle, remained. The bygdelag (Norwegian regional societies) promoted the use of rural vernaculars, and indeed, their annual reunions provided an environment where rural speech was honored and encouraged. It was, however, a mixed language, with English words and phrases integrated into it.

Greetings and Popular Expressions

Good afternoon/How do you do? God dag (“gooDAAG”).

Goodbye. Adjø (“adyur”).

How are you? Hvordan står det til? (“VOORdahn stawr deh til”).

Just fine, thanks. Bare bra, takk (“BAArer braa tahk”).

Thank you. Takk (“tahk”).

Thank you very much. Mange takk (“MAHNger tahk”).

Cheers. Skål (“skawl”).

Merry Christmas. God jul! (“goo yewl”).

Happy New Year Godt nyttår (“got newt awr”).

Congratulations Gratulerer! (“grahtewLAYrerr”).


The Norwegian Lutheran Church was a focal point and conservative force in rural settlements in the upper midwest well into the twentieth century. The congregation became an all-encompassing institution for its members, creating a tight social network that touched all aspects of immigrant life. The force of tradition in religious practice made the church a central institution

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Norwegians tend to integrate sayings and proverbs into daily conversations. Some common expressions include the following:

Det er ikke gull alt som glimrer, det kan også være diamanter.

All is not gold that glitters; it can also be diamonds.

Brent barn skyr ilden.

A burnt child avoids the fire.

Kjære barn gis mange navn.

A dear child has many names.

I mørket er alle katter grå.

All cats are gray in the dark.

Renslighet er en dyd, sa kjærringa, hun snudde serken sin julekvelden.

“Cleanliness is a virtue,” said the old woman, who turned her slip inside out every Christmas Eve.

Smuler er også brød.

Crumbs are also bread.

Tomme tønner buldrer mest.

Empty barrels make the most noise.

Mange bekker små gjør en stor å.

Many small brooks make a big river.

in the urban environment, as well. The severe reality of urban life increased the social role of the church.

In the unbridled freedom of the vast United States, Norwegian Lutherans exhibited an extreme denominationalism and established a tradition of disharmony. The Evangelical Lutheran Church—the state church of Norway—largely abandoned the immigrants and provided no guidance. As a consequence, no fewer than fourteen Lutheran synods were founded by Norwegian immigrants between 1846 and 1900. In 1917 most of the warring Lutheran factions reconciled their doctrinal differences and organized the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America. It was one of the church bodies that in 1960 formed the American Lutheran Church, which in 1988 became a constituent part of the newly created Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Even though most might perceive that all Norwegian Americans were Lutheran, there were in fact substantial numbers of Methodists among Norwegian immigrants. They were especially concentrated in Chicago; a Norwegian Methodist theological seminary was established in Evanston, Illinois. Some

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Hopperstadt Norwegian Stave Church, Moorhead, Minnesota. Hopperstadt Norwegian Stave Church, Moorhead, Minnesota. WALTER BIBIKOW / AGE FOTOSTOCK

Norwegians converted to the Baptist faith. There were also groups of Quakers, relating back to the “Sloopers”; Norwegian Mormons also joined the trek to the “New Jerusalem” in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1846.


Norwegian history in the United States begins with pioneer immigrants in 1825. Viking ancestors had, however, established colonies in Greenland—outposts of European civilization—as early as 985. From there they found America, commonly associated with the voyages of the Norse adventurer Leif Eriksson, around the year 1000 and formed colonies on Newfoundland. These had no impact on the later European settlement in the New World, but they provided Norwegians and other Scandinavians with a claim to a birthright in the United States and gave them their most expressive identifying ethnic symbol.

The pioneers on the American frontier were the new Vikings of the West; Leif Eriksson became the quintessential icon of a glorified Viking heritage. Norwegians found a second identifying quality by presenting themselves as an ethnic group with wholesome rural values and ideals. In fact, Norwegians were the most rural of any major nineteenth-century immigrant group. In 1900, for instance, only a little more than one-quarter of all Norwegian-born residents in the United States lived in towns with more than twenty-five thousand inhabitants. It was the lowest percentage for any European immigrant population. It has been claimed that the Norwegian farmer in the United States passed on a special rural bond from one generation to the next. Perhaps the greatest contribution was a dedication to farming as a way of life; in 1900, 54.3 percent of the children of Norwegian immigrants were farmers.

In their farming communities Norwegians exhibited a nationalistic solidarity that had no counterpart among other Scandinavian groups. The homeland's quest for a national cultural and political identity created a patriotic fervor that was transplanted as immigrant clannishness. Even in the early twenty-first century, Norwegian Americans appeared more focused on culture retention than their Nordic neighbors in the United States, as evidenced by the maintenance of their institutions. For example, a Norwegian-language Lutheran congregation continued to survive in Chicago, as well as in Minneapolis, whereas the Swedes, with a much larger population, had not maintained a Swedish-language church.

Norwegians' past in the United States was celebrated at the Norse American Centennial in the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, in June 1925. A century had passed since the landing of the Restauration in New York harbor. President Calvin Coolidge came to honor the Norwegians for being good Americans and validated their claim of sharing nationality with the original discoverer of America, as the Norwegian Americans reflected upon a successful one hundred years as an immigrant people. The festivities displayed an attachment to traditional rural values and a cultivation of ancient and heroic Norse roots but featured heroes from their American experience, as well. An impressive pageant centered on the life of Colonel Hans Christian Heg, a hero from the Civil War. The hostilities between the North and South gave Norwegian Americans a sense of a legitimate place in the United States, because Norwegian blood had been spilled in its defense.

Old-country traditions in food, festive dress, folk arts, and entertainment were given a powerful boost with the establishment of bygdelag, or old-home societies, around the turn of the twentieth century. These groups were rooted in Norwegian localities and loyalties to the home communities in Norway. The annual reunions of the fifty or so such societies, each bearing the name of a specific Norwegian home district, became grand celebrations of a regional and rural Norwegian cultural heritage.

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The symbols and content of a Norwegian ethnic identity emerged among the more successful in such urban centers as Chicago and Minneapolis. They were the ones who most eagerly sought acceptable ethnic credentials and gathered their compatriots around the celebration of traditional Norwegian holidays.

Traditions and Customs In 1879 a Norwegian Unitarian minister and author was amazed after a visit to Wisconsin at “how Norwegians have managed to isolate themselves together in colonies and maintain their Norwegian memories and customs”; he had to ask himself if he was really in the United States. Adjustments were, however, made to American ways in clothing and food, although especially typical Norwegian dishes were retained. These became associated with Christmas celebrations, which in pioneer days were observed for the entire Twelfth Night period, as in Norway. Aaste Wilson of Wisconsin tells how transplanted Norwegians retained such old customs:

They invited one another for Christmas celebration and then they had home-brewed ale, made from malt or molasses or sugar cane. … Nearly everybody slaughtered for Christmas so that they could have meat and sausages. Then they had potatoes and flatbrød [flatbread] and smultringer [doughnuts] and sauce made from dried apples. And most of them had rømmegrøt [cream porridge]. We youngsters liked to stay and listen to the old folks and thought it good fun when they told about old things in Norway.

Aaste Wilson, “Live blant nybyggjarane.”
Telesoga, September 1917

A gradual transition to American life weakened immigrant folkways. Some traditions and customs survived and were cultivated, others were reintroduced and given a heightened importance as part of an ethnic heritage. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, lutefisk, dried Norwegian cod soaked in a lye solution, assumed a role as a characteristic Norwegian American dish. It was served at lodge meetings, festive banquets, and church suppers, most regularly during the Christmas season. The dish was served with lefse, a thin buttered pancake made from rolled dough. Madison, Minnesota, erected a statue of a cod in its city park—Lou T. Fisk—and advertised itself as “Lutefisk Capital U.S.A.” because it reportedly consumed more lutefisk per capita than any other American city.

The popularity of the peasant arts of wood carving and rosemaling (rose painting) also grew out of the bygdelag tradition. Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa, has promoted the folk arts through instruction and exhibitions.

There are numerous folk festivals in Norwegian centers. Norsk Høstfest in Minot, North Dakota, and Nordic Fest in Decorah, Iowa, annually assemble thousands of Norwegian Americans from around the nation around varied programs focusing on Norwegian American heritage, such as dancing, folk songs, and folk art.

At such events Norwegian stereotypes are regularly introduced to the amusement of those assembled. Invariably there are stories and jokes poking fun at the ignorance and foolishness of Norwegian types, such as the characters of Ole and Lena, who speak in broken English. New tales are constantly being created. A typical one might go as follows:

Ole and Lena invited a well-to-do uncle for dinner. Little Ole looked him over and finally approached the old uncle with a request. ‘Uncle Knute … vill you make a noise like a frog for me?’ said Little Ole. ‘Vy in the vorld do you vant me to make a noise like a frog?’ exclaimed the uncle. ‘Because,’ said Little Ole, ‘Papa says ve are going to get a lot of money ven you croak!’

Red Stangeland, Ole & Lena Jokes, Book 4: Sioux Falls, South Dakota: Norse Press, 1989, p. 14.

Cuisine Traditional Norwegian cuisine is mainly limited to special occasions—family events such as weddings and anniversaries, and such holidays as Christmas, when other customs are revived as well. The kransekake, a cone-shaped cake of almond macaroon rings, is traditionally served at weddings and anniversaries. It is generally decorated with costumed figures and with flags, flowers, or medallions. The observance of the

A full size replica of a Stav church at the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Minot North Dakota. A full size replica of a Stav church at the Scandinavian Heritage Center in Minot North Dakota. AMERICA / ALAMY

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1⅔ cups homemade, high-fat sour cream

1¼ cups flour

5 cups whole milk

¾ teaspoon salt


For the sour cream:

Heat 1 cup whipping cream to 95°F, then whisk in 2 tablespoons buttermilk. Let stand at room temperature at least 8 hours, until thickened.

For porridge:

Simmer sour cream, covered, about 15 minutes. Sift ⅓ of the flour into the pot. Simmer until the butterfat begins to leach out. Skim off the fat. Sift the remaining flour into the pot and bring to a boil. Bring the milk to a boil in a separate saucepan and thin the porridge to desired consistency. Whisk until smooth. Simmer about 10 minutes more. Season with salt.

Serve with the sugar and cinnamon.

Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve, when a big meal is served, followed by the reading of the Christmas gospel and the opening of gifts. Hymns and carols are sung later, accompanied in some families by the tradition of holding hands and circling the Christmas tree.

A typical old-country Christmas meal consists of lutefisk; rømmegrøt, a sour cream and wheat flour porridge; pork or mutton spare ribs with pork sausages; as well as fattigmann, a deep-fried diamond-shaped cookie; sandkake, a cookie made of butter, flour, and almonds baked in small metal molds; krumkake, a wafer baked in a special iron and rolled into a cylindrical shape while still warm; julekake, a sweet bread containing raisins, citron, and cardamom; and the essential lefse, which appears in many regional variations.

The Norwegian koldt bord, or cold table, is basically the same as the better-known Swedish smorgasbord, with selected hot dishes. Some of the traditional dishes of the Norwegian cold table include herring in many forms; sardines; smoked salmon and other fish; sliced cold ham, lamb, and beef; cheeses such as Swiss, geitost (goat cheese), and gammelost (highly pungent sour milk cheese); sylte (pickled pork, pressed into loaf shape and sliced); pickles, cranberries, apple sauce, and spiced apples; and various types of bread, including flatbread. The meal is served with akevitt (a strong distilled alcoholic drink) and beer.

Traditional Dress Women especially revived the use of the festive rural dress, the bunad, wearing specific costumes of their old-country districts. A love for jewelry was demonstrated in the use of heavy silver brooches (sølje). The peasant costume of Hardanger, on Norway's western coast, a favored region for national romantics, inspired the official dress of the Daughters of Norway organization. These colorful outfits were worn at Norwegian American public events.

Dances and Songs There was renewed interest in the traditional Norwegian Hardanger fiddle and old rural dances. The Hardanger Violinist Association of America was founded in Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, in 1983 as a renewal of the Hardanger Violinist Association of America organized in Ellsworth, Wisconsin, in 1914, which grew out of the bygdelag movement. The association promoted traditional Norwegian folk music, dance, and the Hardanger fiddle, a traditional stringed instrument. Groups met to practice old folk dance steps and demonstrate their mastery. In the Seattle area, for example, the Skandia Folkdance Society, founded in 1949, was one of several popular folk dance groups in the area. Only about half the active members were of Scandinavian heritage.

Holidays The most important identifying ethnic symbol for Norwegian Americans is Norwegian Constitution Day on May 17. The day is still celebrated with a traditional parade featuring flags, banners, music, and speeches in Norwegian centers across the United States. The event, observed since the early days of settlement, communicates American patriotism as well as Norwegian memories; ethnic identities are firmly rooted in a positive view of the group's place in the United States, and images of the homeland's culture are equally prominent in the celebration.

Relations with other Americans In a letter from Chicago dated November 9, 1855, Elling Haaland from Stavanger, Norway, assured his relatives back home that “of all nations Norwegians are those who are most favored by Americans.” This sentiment was expressed frequently as the immigrants attempted to seek acceptance and negotiate entrance into the new society. In their segregated farming communities, Norwegians were spared direct prejudice and might indeed have been viewed as a welcome ingredient in a region's development. Still, a sense of inferiority was inherent in their position. The immigrants were occasionally referred to as “guests” in the United States, and they were not immune to condescending and disparaging attitudes by old-stock Americans. Economic adaptation required a certain amount of interaction with a larger commercial environment—from working for an American farmer to doing business with the seed dealer, banker, and grain elevator operator—as products had to be grown and sold, all of which pulled Norwegian farmers into social contact with their American neighbors.

In places such as Brooklyn, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Seattle, Norwegians interacted with the multicultural environment of the city while constructing a complex ethnic community that met the needs of its Page 351  |  Top of Articlemembers. It might be said that a Scandinavian melting pot existed in the urban setting among Norwegians, Swedes, and Danes, evidenced in residential and occupational patterns, political mobilization, and public commemoration. Intermarriage promoted interethnic assimilation. Beginning in the 1920s, Norwegians increasingly became suburban, and one might claim, more American. By the early twenty-first century, there were no longer any Norwegian enclaves or neighborhoods in the United States' great cities.


Early Norwegian immigration exhibited a pronounced family character, in that nuclear families moved to the United States together. In a typical settlement, such as Spring Grove township in Minnesota, for example, in 1870 there was a near gender balance—107 men for each 100 women—as compared to 128 males to 100 females for all Minnesotans. An extended communal and familial network was encouraged by this circumstance. The regional composition of most rural settlements—in that immigrants from a specific Norwegian community were preponderant in different settlements—worked to the same end, recreating a familiar and comforting cultural and social environment.

Opportunities in America, where land was cheap and labor expensive, altered immigrant practices, however. The family farm, lacking the retinue of servants and landless agricultural workers common in Norway, encouraged greater marital fertility to produce needed labor. Immigrant families were large, and the sexual division of labor changed as women moved further into domestic roles. Men took over such farm chores as milking, which had been considered “women's work” in Norway.

Greater wealth allowed immigrants to imitate urban middle-class practices in housing, dress, household amenities (such as pianos), and leisure activities, yet the bourgeois lifestyle was colored both by the local Norwegian cultural background and by the dominant position of the immigrant Lutheran Church.

The male-dominated migration of single young people toward the end of the nineteenth century was also entrenched in kinship and community. Later immigrants traveled increasingly to urban centers to reunite with relatives in the United States. Carl G. O. Hansen, visiting an aunt in Minneapolis in the 1880s, described the Norwegian environment:

My aunt sent one of her children out to make some purchases. Some things were to be bought at Haugen's, some at Tharaldsen's, and some at Olsen & Bakke's. That surely sounded as if it were a Norwegian town.

Carl G. O. Hansen, My Minneapolis. Minneapolis, Minnesota: privately published, 1956, p. 52.

The many single men living as boarders in crowded quarters in the cities did foster marriage outside the Norwegian group. Yet there was a strikingly high percentage of in-marriage in both the immigrant generation and the U.S.-born first generation. In Chicago in 1910, 77 percent of married immigrant Norwegians had wed another Norwegian, and 46 percent of the married first generation had chosen a mate within their ethnic group. When most Norwegian Americans married outside their nationality, their spouse was Scandinavian or, if German, at least shared a Lutheran culture.

More current specific data on in-marriage and divorce were not available. With regard to the latter, Norwegian Americans did not seem to deviate much from the average for the American population as a whole. Anecdotal evidence also suggests a continued high degree of in-marriage, attributable to community and church relations, and even to loyalty to ethnic heritage. A persistent sense of family cohesion and values was evident in the common practice of arranging family reunions and the compilation of family histories. Such activities fortify ties to the past.

For most Norwegian families the “American dream” was the security of a middle-class existence. Only a few Norwegian Americans asserted themselves as financiers and captains of industry. Norwegians typically endorsed the American principle of equality and rejected American materialism. This attitude was reinforced by the Lutheran ethic of renouncing worldly pleasures. Most Norwegians did attain a middle-class status. According to 2011 estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, only 5.1 percent of Norwegian American families lived below the poverty level (compared to 11.1 percent for the general U.S. population), and the median household income was $61,310 (compared to $51,484 for the general U.S. population). In total, the 2010 U.S. Census defined Americans of Norwegian descent as a well-adjusted middle-class population.

Education Higher education in the United States is greatly indebted to religion. In the Norwegian immigrant community, the Lutheran Church recognized the salutary benefits of education in a Christian spirit. It emulated American denominations in establishing Lutheran Church academies and colleges.

Norwegians placed themselves in a singular position among Scandinavian groups in the United States to question the religionless “common” (public) school. The orthodox Lutheran clergy even dreamed of replacing the public schools with Lutheran parochial schools but lacked the means to do so. The ability to read and write was common among Norwegian immigrants, and it improved greatly after 1860, when Norway enacted new laws to improve public education. The Norwegian Lutheran Church in the United States did manage to operate congregational schools, some of which continued into the 1930s. During the summer months these schools offered lessons on Lutheran faith and rudimentary instruction in the Norwegian language.

The academy movement flourished for a while, and approximately seventy such schools were Page 352  |  Top of Articleestablished; an academy was a parochial school roughly equivalent to a high school. They lasted until about World War I and assisted the immigrants in adjusting to American society. Inevitably they also strengthened a national Norwegian identity. Some academies were transformed into four-year liberal arts colleges. The college movement among Norwegians began in 1861 with the founding of Luther College, now located in Decorah, Iowa. The school was a facet of the church's effort to train Lutheran ministers, and as such it was a men's school, with nearly half the graduates entering the ministry. In the 1930s it began to admit women.

An additional five Norwegian Lutheran colleges were established later. All were founded before 1900, mainly as academies. Three were in Minnesota: St. Olaf College in Northfield, which admitted female students from its inception; Augsburg College, in Minneapolis; and Concordia College, in Moorhead. Augustana College is located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Pacific Lutheran University is in Tacoma, Washington.

Norwegian women in the United States obtained higher education at a time when such studies were closed to women in the homeland. Some of these women were trained as physicians at the Women's Medical School, which opened in Chicago in 1870. As feminists and professionals, they became leaders in the Norwegian community.

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, of those who declared Norwegian as their primary ancestry, 21 percent of the women and 32 percent of the men twenty-five years or older had earned a bachelor's degree or higher. By 2011 that gender gap had closed, with an equal proportion of Norwegian American men (37 percent) and women (36.5 percent) earning a bachelor's degree or higher (American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011). Also, by the end of the twentieth century, most attended public institutions rather than one of the “Norwegian” colleges.


In the nineteenth century, Norwegian Americans succeeded in commercial agriculture as wheat farmers—following frontier practice—but soon diversified into other products as dictated by topography, soil, climate, and market. In Wisconsin such considerations drew some Norwegians to tobacco farming. In Iowa they grew corn or raised cattle and hogs; in parts of Minnesota, dairy farming was prominent. In northwestern Minnesota, Norwegian farmers engaged heavily in spring wheat cultivation. The hard spring wheat region extended into South and North Dakota, where Norwegians adapted to the demands of grassland wheat production on the semiarid northern plains.

In the urban economy, Norwegian men, along with other Scandinavians, found a special niche in construction and building trades. It was a natural transfer of skills from home, as was their work as lumberjacks in the forests of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Norwegian men in Minneapolis earned a livelihood in the large flour mills. In the Pacific Northwest, logging and the sawmills engaged many. Another significant transplanted skill was shipping. On the Great Lakes, Norwegian sailors and boat owners dominated for as long as sailing vessels remained an important means of transportation. In 1870 approximately 65 percent of all sailors on Lake Michigan were Norwegian. Shipping was important on the Eastern Seaboard and the West Coast, as well. The coastal areas provided rich opportunity for fishing, also. Norwegians on the west coast and in Alaska began to develop the halibut industry at the turn of the twentieth century. By 1920 about 95 percent of all halibut fishermen and an even higher percentage of the owners of halibut schooners were of Norwegian birth or descent.

Traditional early employment for Norwegian women involved domestic and personal service. Accessibility to higher education gradually opened up new possibilities—especially for the American-born generations—in commerce, education, and in specialized professions. An examination of the occupational picture in 1950 of Norwegian Americans reveals striking social advances for both women and men. Still, Norwegians of the first and second generations revealed a preference for farming, and men born in Norway were overrepresented in construction work. By 2011 the U.S. Census Bureau's statistics indicated no such occupational concentration among Norwegian Americans. Of employed persons sixteen years old and over, only 2.9 percent were occupied in farming, forestry, and fishery, and 6.1 percent were in construction. Also by that time, a higher percentage of Norwegian Americans (42.7 percent) were employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations than the general U.S. population (35.9 percent).


Norwegians in the United States have participated the political culture and are to be found in conservative and liberal camps of both dominant political parties.

Norwegians had a certain passion for the political arena. Familiarity with democratic reform and local self-government in Norway, a dislike of officialdom, and a heightened assertion encouraged them to participate in local government in the United States. From the community, they made their way to state and even national politics. During the early decades of the twentieth century Norwegians in Minnesota and North Dakota, for example, were overrepresented in state administrations as well as in the legislatures and U.S. Congress.

Political affiliation, as expressed in a flourishing Norwegian immigrant press, was strongly influenced by the Free-Soil Party in the 1840s and early 1850s. In the late 1850s, this same press abandoned the Democratic Party for Abraham Lincoln's Republican Party, supporting its antislavery stance and the distribution of frontier land to serious settlers. The Homestead Act of 1862 and the heroic participation Page 353  |  Top of Articleof Norwegian Americans in the Civil War assured a strong loyalty to the Republican Party and its ideals.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, other issues came to the fore and weakened Republican loyalties. In regions suffering from agricultural depression and exploitation by outside financial interests, independent political thought led many Norwegians to the agricultural protest embodied in the Populist movement. This was especially the case in the wheat-growing regions of North Dakota and western Minnesota.

From about the turn of the twentieth century, the Progressive movement gained a broad Norwegian following, and Norwegians exhibited great faith in the benefits of legislative reform. The Nonpartisan League, organized in North Dakota in 1915, was further evidence of agrarian unrest. Norwegian farmers played a prominent role in its activities and advocacy, which included such socialist goals as public control and operation of grain silos and the sale of wheat. This radical policy was, however, less a consequence of ethnic predisposition toward social reform than of economic self-interest and the problematic local conditions faced by wheat farmers.

Norwegians were also attracted to the Socialist Party; many joined local socialist clubs, and some became members of the Scandinavian Socialist Union formed in Chicago in 1910. However, they did not do so in large numbers. Due to the high concentration of Norwegians in skilled occupations, especially in the building trades, many joined labor unions. The efforts of a Norwegian immigrant, Andrew Furuseth, to improve the working conditions for sailors, which resulted in the Seamen's Act of 1915, is one example of the significant contributions made by immigrants to the American union movement.

In the 1920s Norwegians joined a national trend toward the Democratic Party. The loyalty to the Republican Party was significantly frayed as working-class and reform-minded Norwegians took part in third-party movements, increasingly for Democrats, who seemed more committed to labor concerns and social justice than the Republicans. Republicanism remained common among middle- and upper-class Norwegian Americans, however.

Norwegian members of both parties were concerned with prohibition. Under the banner of temperance and local prohibition of the sale of intoxicating beverages, Norwegian politicians gained the support of their compatriots and were elected to public office. North Dakota, influenced by the agitation of the Norwegian American press, adopted a prohibition clause in its state constitution in 1889. National prohibition legislation, passed in 1919 as the Volstead Act, was named for Norwegian American Andrew J. Volstead, a Republican congressman from Minnesota. Opposition to prohibition and the corruption and crime it yielded, paradoxically, strengthened the move toward the Democratic Party, most especially among urban Norwegians.

Most Norwegians traditionally viewed military service as an affirmation of American patriotism. The first fallen hero was a private in the war with Mexico who had Americanized his name to George Pilson. He had immigrated to Chicago and then fell in 1847 in the bloody battle of Buena Vista, with Chicago newspapers claiming that “more patriotic blood does not enrich the field at Buena Vista than that of the Chicago Norwegian volunteer.” Norwegian acts of heroism, valor, and sacrifice constituted a watershed experience during the Civil War; Norwegian men served in great numbers, suffered substantial casualties, and established themselves in America.

Norwegians supported the Spanish-American War and rallied around the American war objectives during World War I. In a patriotic spirit, Norwegian American societies and organizations published lists of “our boys” in the armed forces and memorialized the fallen of their nationality. Occupation of Norway by the Germans during World War II was a calamity that filled Norwegians in the United States with indignation and sorrow. During the summer of 1942 the U.S. Army established a Norwegian-speaking combat unit, the 99th Infantry Battalion, in the event of an invasion of Norway; it consisted of immigrants and Norwegians born in the United States.

Relations with Norway Norwegian Americans cultivated bonds with Norway, sending gifts home

Norwegian Americans in traditional dress stand in front of a large replica of a Valhalia Viking ship, Alaska. Norwegian Americans in traditional dress stand in front of a large replica of a Valhalia Viking ship, Alaska. © JEFF GREENBERG / PHOTO EDIT. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.

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often and offering aid during natural disasters and other hardships in Norway. Relief in the form of collected funds was forthcoming without delay. Only during conflicts within the Swedish-Norwegian union, however, did Norwegian Americans become involved directly in the political life of Norway. In the 1880s they formed societies to assist Norwegian liberals, collecting money to assist rifle clubs in Norway should the political conflict between liberals and conservatives call for arms. The ongoing tensions between Sweden and Norway and Norway's humiliating retreat in 1895 fueled nationalism and created anguish. Norwegians in America raised money to strengthen Norway's military defenses. The unilateral declaration by Norway on June 7, 1905, to dissolve its union with Sweden yielded a new holiday of patriotic celebration.


As in any large population, certain members of the Norwegian American community have excelled in many disciplines. A sample of group and individual achievements follows.

Academia Thorstein Veblen (1857–1929), a second-generation Norwegian, was a superb social critic. His best-known work is The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), a savage attack on the wastefulness of American society. Einar Haugen (1906–1994) was a prominent linguist and professor emeritus at Harvard University. Marcus Lee Hansen (1892–1938), of Danish and Norwegian descent, was a pioneer historian of immigration. Theodore C. Blegen (1891–1969) was also a prominent historian of Norwegians in America, and his book Norwegian Migration: The American Transition was published in 1940. Agnes Mathilde Wergeland (1857–1914) was a professor of history at the state university in Laramie, Wyoming, and the first Norwegian woman to earn a doctoral degree.

Business Nelson Olson Nelson (1844–1922) founded the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Company, which became one of the world's largest building and plumbing supply companies. Ole Evinrude (1877–1934), a self-taught mechanical engineer, developed the idea of the outboard motor; he formed the Evinrude Company in 1909. Arthur Andersen (1885–1947) was the founder of the world-famous accounting firm that bore his name. Conrad Hilton (1887–1979), Norwegian on his father's side, established one of the world's largest hotel chains and at the time of his death owned 260 first-class hotels worldwide. Fred Kavli (1927–) was raised in a small Norwegian village and immigrated to the United States soon after receiving his university degree; he founded Kavlico Corporation, a manufacturer of industrial sensors. Kavli later created the Kavli Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to “advancing science for the benefit of humanity.”

Government Knute Nelson (1843–1923) served as a Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota from 1895 to 1923. Andrew Furuseth (1854–1938) organized American commercial sailors; he was considered their liberator and referred to as the “Abraham Lincoln of the sea.” Earl Warren (1891–1974) served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969. Henry Jackson (1912–1983), Democratic U.S. senator from Washington, served from 1953 to 1983. Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978) served for two terms as U.S. vice president under President Lyndon Johnson and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1968, losing to Richard Nixon in the national election. Walter Mondale (1928–) served as a U.S. senator from Minnesota (1964–1977), vice president under President Jimmy Carter (1977–1981), and was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1984; Mondale served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan under the administration of President Bill Clinton. Warren Christopher (1925–2011), whose great-grandparents emigrated from Norway in 1853, served as secretary of state from 1993 to 1997.

Journalism Victor F. Lawson (1850–1925) was editor and publisher of the Chicago Daily News, a philanthropist, and a community leader. William T. Evjue (1882–1970) gained great influence as the editor of the progressive and reform-minded Madison Capital Times. Eric Sevareid (1912–1992) enjoyed a distinguished career in journalism and as a radio and television reporter and commentator.

Literature Ole E. Rølvaag (1876–1931), the best-known Norwegian American author, wrote such books as Giants in the Earth (1927) that focused on the Norwegian immigrant experience. Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen (1848–1895), a realistic novelist, literary critic, and social Darwinist, taught at Cornell and Columbia universities. Kathryn Forbes (1909–1966) authored the best-selling Mama's Bank Account (1943), a portrait of a Norwegian family in San Francisco. Adapted as I Remember Mama, Forbes's work became a hit Broadway play, motion picture, and television series.

Music Olive Fremstad (1868–1951) was an internationally renowned Wagnerian opera singer. Ole Bull (1810–1880) was a well-known concert violinist. F. Melius Christiansen (1871–1955) perfected a cappella singing as director of the St. Olaf College choir; he has been called the “Music Master of the Middle West.”

Science and Medicine Ludvig Hektoen (1863–1951) made great progress in cancer research, and the Hektoen Institute of Medicine in Chicago continued his work. Ingeborg Rasmussen (1854–1938) graduated from the Women's Medical College in Evanston, Illinois, in 1892 and became a prominent physician, feminist, and cultural leader among the Norwegians in Chicago. Helga Ruud (1860–1956) graduated from the Women's Medical College in 1889 and enjoyed a distinguished medical career at the Norwegian American Hospital in Chicago. Ulrikka Page 355  |  Top of ArticleFeldtman Bruun (1854–1940) was an influential temperance worker among Danes and Norwegians for the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Ernest O. Lawrence (1901–1958), a professor of physics at Yale University, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939. Ivar Giaever (1929–), a Norwegian-trained engineer and physicist, received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1973. Lars Onsager (1903–1976) received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1968. Norman E. Borlaug (1914–2009), an agricultural scientist, received the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in the “Green Revolution,” which helped to dispel the fear of famine in underdeveloped countries. Ole Singstad (1882–1969) was chief engineer for the construction of the Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River, which connects New York City and New Jersey.

Sports Norwegian immigrants brought skiing to America in the mid-1800s by introducing cross-country racing and ski jumping and by organizing local clubs, including the National Ski Association. They dominated the sport into the 1930s. Beginning in 1856, John A. “Snowshoe” Thompson (1827–1876) delivered mail on skis across the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter months for nearly twenty years, ensuring postal connection between the Utah Territory and California. Sonja Henie (1912–1969) was an Olympic and world figure skating champion, movie star, and pioneer of ice shows. Torger Tokle (1920–1945) arrived in the United States in 1939 and was unrivaled by any U.S. ski jumper. Tokle won forty-two of forty-eight competitions and in the process set twenty-four new hill records; he was killed in military action in the mountains of northern Italy while serving in the 86th Mountain Regiment, the “Ski Troops.” Knute Rockne (1888–1931), head football coach at the University of Notre Dame from 1918 to 1931, revolutionized American collegiate football; his record consisted of 105 wins, 12 losses, and 5 ties. Mildred “Babe” Didrikson Zaharias (1913–1956), a daughter of Norwegian immigrants, was a champion in basketball, track, and golf. Tommy Moe (1970–) won a gold medal for skiing in the Olympic Games in 1994.

Stage and Screen Celeste Holm (1919–2012), a versatile actress of stage and screen, appeared on Broadway and in numerous motion pictures; in 1950 she was an Academy Award nominee for best supporting actress for her role in All About Eve. The grandfather of James Arness (1923–2011), who played the lead in the long-running Western television series Gunsmoke, and his brother, the screen and television actor Peter Graves, emigrated from Norway, and the two were raised in Minneapolis. The parents of screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland, who won an Academy Award for best screenplay for the film L.A. Confidential, were born in Norway. The mother of actress Renée Zellweger (1963–), who won an Academy Award for her performance in the film Cold Mountain, was born in Norway, and her heritage is Norwegian and Sami.


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News of Norway

A magazine published by the Norwegian embassy in the United States, with news of Norway aimed at a general audience.

Kenneth Krattenmaker, Editor
Royal Norwegian Embassy
2720 34th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20008-2714
Phone: (202) 333-6000
Fax: (202) 337-0870

Norwegian American Weekly

The only Norwegian American newspaper published in the United States.

Kelsey Larson, Editor
7301 Fifth Avenue NE, Suite A
Seattle, Washington 98115
Phone: (206) 784-4617
Fax: (206) 448-2033

The Scandinavian Hour

A program featuring Scandinavian music and news that has aired on Seattle radio since the 1920s. Doug Warne began hosting it in the 1960s. It airs every Saturday morning on KKNW-1150AM and can also be streamed on the station's website, .

Doug Warne
2125 1st Avenue, Suite 2303
Seattle, Washington 98121
Phone: (206) 441 9490


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American-Scandinavian Foundation

Promotes international understanding by means of educational and cultural exchange with Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. It has an extensive program of fellowships and grants, and publishes the Scandinavian Review.

Edward P. Gallagher, President of the Board of Trustees
725 Park Avenue
New York, New York 10021
Phone: (212) 779-3587

Norwegians Worldwide (Nordmanns-Forbundet)

An international organization founded in Norway in 1907 to strengthen ties between men and women of Norwegian heritage in and outside Norway. It functions as a cultural and social organization and has chapters throughout the United States.

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Hanne Aaberg, Secretary General
Rådhusgaten 23 B
Oslo, NO-0158
Phone: +47 23 35 71 70

Norwegian-American Historical Association

Founded in 1925, the association is the primary research center for Norwegian American history. It possesses large documentary archives and extensive library holdings. The association publishes one to two volumes annually; more than ninety volumes of high scholarly merit on the Norwegian American experience have been released under its imprint.

Jackie Henry, Associate Director
St. Olaf College
1510 St. Olaf Avenue
Northfield, Minnesota 55057-1097
Phone: (507) 786-3221
Fax: (507) 786-3734

Sons of Norway

An international order founded in Minneapolis in 1895 as a fraternal society, with lodges throughout the United States as well as in Canada and Norway. It provides insurance benefits for its members and publishes a monthly magazine, The Viking.

Eivind Heiberg, CEO
1455 West Lake Street
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408
Phone: (612) 827-3611
Fax: (612) 827-0658


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Little Norway

Provides guided tours through a Norwegian pioneer homestead settled in 1856. It features the building patterned after a twelfth-century stave church built in Trondheim, Norway, for exhibition at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition in 1893.

Scott Winner, Owner
3576 Highway JG North
Blue Mounds, Wisconsin 53517
Phone: (608) 437-8211
Fax: (608) 437-7827

Nordic Heritage Museum

Opened in 1980 in Seattle, its purpose is to collect, preserve, and present the Scandinavian heritage in the Pacific Northwest. It has an extensive collection of objects from Scandinavia and the Pacific Northwest.

Sandra Nestorovic, Director
3014 NW 67th Street
Seattle, Washington 98117
Phone: (206) 789-5707

Norskedalen Heritage and Nature Center

Features objects specific to Norwegian immigrants who settled in Vernon and LaCrosse counties, Wisconsin, before 1900, and two separate pioneer homesteads. It arranges an annual Midsummer Festival in late June.

Chris Hall, Executive Dirrector
P.O. Box 225
Coon Valley, Wisconsin 54623
Phone: (608) 452-3424
Fax: (608) 452-3157

Norwegian American Genealogical Center and Naeseth Library

Founded in 1974, the center is involved in a variety of activities related to Norwegian American genealogy.

415 West Main Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Phone: (608) 255-2224
Fax: (608) 255-6842

Scandinavian East Coast Museum

Founded in 1994, the museum documents and celebrates the Scandinavians who settled along the East Coast of the United States. It has begun a building fund campaign to create a permanent museum.

Victoria Hofmo
c/o Lutheran Elementary School
440 Ovington Avenue
Brooklyn, New York 11209
Phone: (718) 748-5950

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

A major ethnic museum, it maintains high professional standards and supports an outdoor museum as well as a large collection of objects relating to the Norwegian homeland and life in the United States. It also features a museum store with Norwegian American crafts and books. The museum conducts workshops in Norwegian folk crafts.

Steven L. Johnson, Executive Director
502 West Water Street
P.O. Box 379
Decorah, Iowa 52101
Phone: (563) 382-9681
Fax: (563) 382-8828

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Anderson, Wilford Raymond. Norse America, Tenth Century Onward. Evanston, IL: Valhalla Press, 1996.

Bergland, Betty A., and Lori Ann Lahlum, eds. Norwegian American Women: Migration, Communities, and Identities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011.

Gjerde, Jon. From Peasants to Farmers: The Migration from Balestrand, Norway, to the Upper Middle West. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Haugen, Einar. The Norwegian Language in America: A Study in Bilingual Behavior. 2 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1969.

Lovoll, Odd S. A Century of Urban Life: The Norwegians in Chicago before 1930. Northfield, MN: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1988.

———. Norwegians on the Prairie: Ethnicity and the Development of the Country Town. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006.

———. Norwegian Newspapers in America: Connecting Norway and the New Land. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010.

———. The Promise Fulfilled: A Portrait of Norwegian Americans Today. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

———. The Promise of America: A History of the Norwegian American People. Rev. edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

Schultz, April R. Ethnicity on Parade: Inventing the Norwegian American through Celebration. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300133