Mark A. Granquist
Swedish Americans are immigrants, or the descendants of immigrants, from the Scandinavian nation of Sweden. Making up the eastern half of the Scandinavian Peninsula in northern Europe, Sweden only shares a direct border with Norway and Finland, with its nearest neighbors across the Baltic Sea being Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to the east and Poland, Germany, and Denmark to the south. Sweden measures 173,745 square miles (449,964 square kilometers) in area, roughly the combined size of California and Massachusetts.
A September 2012 estimate published by Statistika Centralbyrån (Statistics Sweden) placed the Swedish population at roughly 9.5 million. Virtually all Swedes officially belong to the Lutheran State Church of Sweden, though there are small groups of Pentecostal, Methodist, Covenant, Baptist, and Roman Catholic worshippers. With a nominal gross domestic product of roughly $540 billion, Sweden's economy was ranked twenty-first in the world in the International Monetary Fund's 2011 estimates. However, the World Economic Forum's 2012–2013 Global Competitiveness Report, which rates nations' creativity, production, and ability to compete in the global market, placed Sweden fourth—topped only by Switzerland, Singapore, and Finland.
The Swedish were among the first to settle in America, establishing the colony of New Sweden in what is now Delaware in 1638. But the majority of today's Swedish American population is descended from the million or more Swedish immigrants who came to the United States after its western expansion in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, settling primarily in Illinois (particularly in and around Chicago), Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. After World War II, the nature of Swedish immigration to the United States changed significantly, with fewer agricultural and industrial workers arriving and considerably more scientists and engineers. By the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the largest demographic of Swedish immigrants to the United States comprised physicists, chemists, geneticists, and engineers, who either joined research teams and design projects or completed advanced degrees at U.S. institutions offering placement on such teams.
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2006–2010 American Community Survey—compiled for a 2011 report—placed the number of Americans of Swedish descent at roughly 4.3 million, a number roughly equivalent to the population of Kentucky. Largely in keeping with early settlement patterns, the states with the largest number of Swedish Americans are still Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin, joined now by California and Washington. While early immigrants tended to form isolated communities, contemporary Swedish Americans are, generally speaking, fully absorbed into the general population.
HISTORY OF THE PEOPLE
Early History Swedes are descended from the Gothic tribes that moved into Sweden following the melting glaciers, probably during the Neolithic period. The various Gothic settlements were centered in eastern Sweden and the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. During the Viking period (800–1050 BCE) the Swedes pushed eastward into Russia and were trading as far south as the Black Sea. In Russia, these Swedes (labeled by the local Slavs as the “Rus”) ruled many areas, but were found especially in the trading town of Novgorod. By about 1000, most of central and eastern Sweden was united in the kingdom of the Svear, although this was disputed by their powerful neighbors, the Danes and the Norwegians. Christianity was introduced to the Swedes by St. Ansgar in 829, although it was slow to take hold and was not fully established until the late twelfth century, under the rule of King Eric IX. Medieval Sweden was slowly incorporated into the European world and began to form the political and social structures characteristic of its society even to this day. King Magnus VII was able to unite Norway and Sweden under his rule in 1319, but the union was unstable and did not last. In 1397 Norway and Sweden were united with Denmark, under the rule of the Danish queen Margaret in the Union of Kalmar.
Modern Era Sweden felt slighted in the Danish-dominated union, however, and after a Danish massacre of Swedish nobles in 1520, the Swedes rose against the Danes and, led by King Gustav Vasa, freed themselves from Danish rule in 1523. Swedish king Gustavus Adolphus fought for the Protestants in the
Thirty Years War (1618–1648) and gained possessions for Sweden in northern Germany; King Charles X gained further territory in Poland and the Baltic States following victories against Denmark, Russia, and Poland. Sweden's age of glory, during which it controlled the production and distribution of nearly all grain, iron, and furs in Europe and settled an area along the colonial American Delaware River called New Sweden, ended with the rise of Russia, which defeated the Swedes in the Northern War (1700–1721).
The late eighteenth century saw Sweden join the Enlightenment culture, most notably characterized by the introduction of the world's first Freedom of the Press Act by Sweden and Finland in 1766. Significant individual contributions were made during this period by botanist, physician, and zoologist Carl Linnaeus (1707–1778), whose work pioneered both the modern taxonomical system and the science of ecology as it is known today. Such progress was made possible in part by the adoption of parliamentary governance. This so-called Age of Freedom came to an end—along with the principles of the Enlightenment—when King Gustav III (1746–1792), who had come to power in 1771, declared Sweden an absolute monarchy in a French-supported coup d'état in 1772.
It has been speculated that Gustav III's despotism significantly weakened Sweden's economy, which remained almost exclusively agricultural while much of Europe industrialized. This left Sweden weakened and vulnerable during the Napoleonic wars, and in 1809 it was forced to cede Finland to Russia after a series of military defeats but received Norway as compensation in 1814 (a union that lasted until 1905). During the nineteenth century, Sweden underwent economic, social, and political transformations that only partially stemmed a large-scale immigration to North America. These changes are commonly believed to have laid the sociopolitical groundwork for the adoption and growth of democratic principles in Sweden as it finally began to industrialize around 1870.
Parliamentary governance was reinstituted in Sweden in 1917, forming the constitutional monarchy and representative democracy still in place today. Sweden maintained political and military neutrality throughout World Wars I and II, though it did manufacture military equipment for Germany under duress during the latter war. Beginning in 1943, however, Sweden aided the Norwegians in their resistance against Nazi Germany and mounted efforts to rescue numerous Danish Jews slated for internment. As the war drew to a close, Sweden stepped up its efforts, aiding in numerous internment rescue missions and providing various other humanitarian services to its European neighbors.
Political neutrality slowly fell out of favor during global financial crises in both the 1970s and late 1980s. Though it had long declined participation in global organizations, namely the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), popular and political pressure to correct a devastated economy led Sweden to join the newly formed European Union (EU) in 1995. Since that time, Sweden has also joined NATO, Page 307 | Top of Articleproviding logistical and military support for operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan. From July to December of 2009, Sweden chaired the EU, with Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (born in 1965) serving as president of the European Council for that term.
SETTLEMENT IN THE UNITED STATES
In 1638, during Sweden's era as a European power, a Swedish merchant company founded the colony of New Sweden in Delaware. This became an official Swedish colony under the leadership of governor Johan Printz but struggled because of indifference from the Swedish government; the colony never prospered, reaching a total of only about five hundred inhabitants. In 1655 the Dutch took the colony by force; the Dutch were in turn defeated by the English eleven years later. A Swedish-speaking enclave existed in the Delaware River valley until the nineteenth century, however. In fact, Swedes from this area played key roles in early Revolutionary America. John Hanson of Maryland, a descendant of the New Sweden settlers, was the first president of the U.S. Congress, from 1781 to 1782.
The immigration of Swedes to the United States during the nineteenth century was a movement of youth—young Swedes leaving their homeland for improved economic opportunity in the United States. The first waves of immigration were more rural and family oriented, but as the immigration continued this pattern changed. Young, single men (and later women) left Sweden to find employment in American cities. There were those who resented the political, social, and religious confinement of nineteenth-century Sweden, of course, but research has shown that the overwhelming motivation driving the emigrants westward over the Atlantic was economic advancement.
Trade and adventure brought a small number of Swedes to the United States in the early national expansion, but large-scale immigration did not occur until the construction of the railroads, as the rail companies began advertising the sale of their newly acquired lands. From 1851 to 1930, more than 1.2 million Swedes immigrated to the United States, a number that represented perhaps 25 percent of the total population of Sweden at the time.
The first great wave arrived between 1868 and 1873, as famine in Sweden and opportunity for land in the United States drove 100,000 Swedes, mainly farming families, from their homeland. They relocated primarily in the upper Midwest. The largest wave of immigrants, approximately 475,000, arrived between 1880 and 1893, again due to economic struggles in Sweden. This time not only farmworkers emigrated, but also loggers, miners, and factory workers from the cities. The American depression of 1893 slowed Swedish immigration until the first decade of the twentieth century, when 220,000 Swedes came to the United States. World War I halted emigration again, and improved economic conditions in Sweden have kept it to a minimum since 1920.
The geographical dispersal of Swedish immigrant settlement also changed during the course of the nineteenth century, varying with economic conditions and opportunities. The initial wave of immigration in the 1840s and 1850s was directed toward rural areas of Illinois and Iowa, especially in areas surrounding the Mississippi River valley and Chicago. In the 1860s and 1870s immigration shifted toward Minnesota and the upper Midwest, and the Swedish population of Minneapolis grew substantially. In the 1880s rural migration spread to Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. With the changing complexion of immigration later in the century (more single youth heading toward urban areas) came the growth of immigration to both coasts. Significant Swedish American centers were established in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine in the east and in Washington and California in the west, along with a Swedish colony in Texas.
By the turn of the twentieth century, about 60 percent of Swedish Americans were settled in urban areas. In fact, by 1900 Chicago was the second-largest Swedish city in the world (second only to Sweden's capital and largest city, Stockholm). Among American cities with significant Swedish populations were Minneapolis, New York City, Seattle/Tacoma, Omaha, and San Francisco. Smaller cities with a relatively high concentration of Swedes included Worchester, Massachusetts; Jamestown, New York; and Rockford, Illinois. By 1930, Swedish America (a term generally referring only to first- and second-generation Swedish Americans) had peaked at a population of 1.5 million, and secondary, internal migrations had dispersed the Swedes around the country.
The U.S. Census Bureau's 2006–2010 American Community Survey placed the total number of Americans with Swedish ancestry at roughly 4.3 million, with their geographic dispersal changing very little since the early twentieth century. By the Census Bureau's estimations, the states with the largest Swedish populations (by percentage of total state population) were still Minnesota (9.9 percent), North Dakota (5.0%), Nebraska (4.9 percent), Utah (4.3%), and South Dakota (3.9 percent).
Coming from a Protestant, northern European country, Swedish immigrants have generally been well accepted by mainstream America and have tended to blend in easily with their neighbors, especially in the Midwest. Overall, they are a literate, skilled, and hardworking group and have assimilated into mainstream American culture seamlessly.
Swedish is a North Germanic language, related to Norwegian, Danish, and German. Although most Swedes speak Swedish, which is the national language, there are also a number of official minority languages in Sweden: Finnish, Sami, Romani, Yiddish, and Meänkieli, a Finnish dialect. Into the modern period there were some Swedish dialects present in various regions of the country, but by the twentieth century these variations had largely disappeared. Swedish uses the standard Roman alphabet, along with the additional vowels “ä,” “ö”, and “å.” The language is pronounced with a particular “sing-song” lilt, and in areas of heavy Scandinavian settlement in the United States (especially the upper Midwest) this lilt is apparent among English-speaking descendants of the Scandinavian immigrants.
For the immigrants in the United States, Swedish remained the standard language, especially at home and at church, but the settlers soon learned enough English to manage their affairs. Some picked up a fractured combination of English and Swedish, which was derisively called “Swinglish.” As the cultural world of Swedish America developed, English words and expressions crept into the community, and a distinctive form of American Swedish developed that maintained older linguistic traditions of the Sweden of the 1860s and 1870s. The immigrant community was divided over the question of language, with some urging the retention of Swedish, and others seeking a rapid transition to English. For many older immigrants, especially of the first generation, English remained a very foreign language with which they were not comfortable. Swedish remained the language of the churches and social organizations, but the transition to English was rapid, especially among the children of the immigrants. By 1920 English was beginning to replace Swedish in the immigrant community. Bilingual approaches were a temporary measure in many immigrant organizations, a measure intended to meet the needs of both younger and older members of the immigrant community. As of 2010, however, the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey estimated that only 96.6 percent of Swedish Americans reported speaking only English at home, and 99.5 percent reported being proficient in English.
Greetings and Popular Expressions
God morgon (“goo mor-on”)
God dag (“goo dahg”)
Good day, or good afternoon
God afton (“goo ahf-ton”)
God natt (“goo naht”)
Pååterseende (“paw aw-ter-seh-en-deh”)
I'll be seeing you
Hur står det till? (“hewr stohr deh teel”)
How are you?
Var så god (“vahr soh goo”)
Lycka till! (“leuk-kah teel”)
Vi ses i morgon (“vee sehs ee mor-on”)
See you tomorrow
The Church of Sweden, the official state church of the country, is a part of the Lutheran family of Protestant Christianity and is by far the largest religious institution in Sweden. Having converted to Christianity rather late in the medieval period, Sweden early on joined the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. Under the direction of King Gustav Vasa the Catholic Church organization in Sweden was transformed to Lutheranism, which became the official religion of the state. In fact, until the mid-nineteenth century it was illegal for Swedes to be anything but Lutheran or to engage in private religious devotions or study outside of church sponsorship. The priests of the Church of Sweden were civil servants. Besides their religious duties these priests kept the citizenship and tax records and functioned as the local representatives of governmental power. This state church system was prone to abuse and stagnation, and many Swedes, both clergy and laity, sought to reform and renew it over the years.
In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries a movement called Pietism made its way from Germany into Scandinavia, seeking to reform the church and the lives of individual believers. Stressing personal conversion and morality, the Pietists were critical of the state church and pressed for reform of both the church and the government. They also sought a change in governmental policy to allow for more freedom of religious expression in Sweden, including religious practices outside the Church of Sweden. Over the course of the century many of the changes proposed by the Pietists were enacted by the church and the government.
It is this religious background that Swedish immigrants brought to the United States. They were officially Lutheran, but many were unhappy with state church Christianity in Sweden and sought different forms of religious expression. A few early immigrants came to the United States to escape religious persecution. For the vast majority, however, the motivation was economic, although they welcomed the chance to worship in their own way. Some found other forms of Protestantism more to their liking, and they formed Swedish Baptist and Swedish Methodist groups, which in turn exported these movements to Sweden.
In the 1840s and 1850s various Swedish Americans began religious activities among their fellow immigrants. Notable names include: Gustav Unonius (Episcopalian); Olof and Jonas Hedstrom (Methodist); Gustaf Palmquist and F. O. Nilsson (Baptist); and L. P. Esbjörn, T. N. Hasselquist, Erland Carlsson, and Eric Norelius (Lutherans). In 1851 the Swedish American Lutherans organized as part of an American Lutheran denomination, but they later broke away to form the independent Augustana Synod, the largest religious group in Swedish America. The Baptists and Methodists also formed their own denominational groups related to their American counterparts. The growth of these groups was fueled by the waves of immigrants after 1865, and the denominations struggled to keep up with the demand for pastors and congregations.
The Augustana Synod practiced a Lutheranism influenced by Pietism. Other immigrants thought that Augustana was still too Lutheran and sought a freer type of Christian organization that relied more heavily on Pietist traditions. Both within and outside Augustana congregations these immigrants formed mission societies that were the core of future congregations. During the 1870s and 1880s, despite the wishes of Augustana leaders, this movement broke away from Augustana and Lutheranism, forming independent congregations. The movement eventually yielded two other Swedish American denominations, the Swedish Mission Covenant Church (1885) and the Swedish Evangelical Free Church (1884). These two groups, along with the Lutherans, Methodists, and Baptists were the largest religious groups in the Swedish American community.
The immigrant religious denominations were easily the largest and most influential organizations within Swedish America. These groups soon began to form congregations, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, orphanages, and seminaries to serve the needs of their
community. Much of the cultural and social life of the immigrant communities was channeled through the churches. Still, these religious groups only formally enrolled about 20 percent of all immigrants with 70 percent in Augustana and the remaining 30 percent in the other denominations. The churches reached out beyond their membership to serve many others in the immigrant community, but some Swedes chose to join American churches or no church at all. It was a tremendous change for these immigrants to leave a mandatory state church system for one they had to intentionally join and in which they had to financially support a specific congregation.
These immigrant churches weathered acculturation and assimilation better than other immigrant institutions. Most churches made the transition to English during the 1920s and 1930s and continued to grow in the twentieth century. Augustana joined with other American Lutherans in 1962; the Methodists merged with American Methodism in 1942, and the Evangelical Free Church began to encompass other Scandinavian free church movements in 1950. The Baptist General Conference and the Evangelical Covenant Church remain independent organizations. Many of the congregations and colleges of these immigrant religious groups retain a strong interest in their ethnic heritage, with Augustana leading the most significant efforts toward Swedish American cultural preservation well into the twenty-first century.
CULTURE AND ASSIMILATION
In general, Swedish immigrants made a fairly quick and smooth transition to life in their new country, and most became quickly Americanized. As a northern European people, the Swedes shared a common religious and social heritage with Americans, as well as a common linguistic base (English being a Germanic language). Swedish immigrants settled over a wide range of areas. Because they were drawn mostly to cities rather than to tight-knit rural settlements, they were immersed immediately in American culture. In addition, there was a growing interest in, and influence from, America in nineteenth-century Sweden. During the first decade of the twentieth century, the Swedish American community was continually replenished by newcomers; however, World War I brought with it xenophobic attitudes, which resulted in a drastic drop in immigration after 1914 and forced the Swedish American community to assimilate rapidly.
The concept of Swedish America furthered the acculturation process. In an essay in The Immigration of Ideas (1968), Conrad Bergendoff described the community as “a state of thinking and feeling that bridged the Atlantic.” In this enclave, which existed from the Civil War until the Great Depression, first-and second-generation immigrants created their own society, helping one another make the transition to a new culture. After World War I this community was rapidly integrated into the larger American society. The most telling indicator of this was the transition from the use of Swedish to English. By 1935 the majority of Swedish Americans primarily spoke the language of their new home.
With assimilation and acculturation, though, came a renewed interest in Swedish history and culture as children and grandchildren of immigrants sought to preserve some of the traditions of their Page 311 | Top of Articlehomeland. Many institutions dedicated to this preservation were established: historical and fraternal societies, museums, and foundations. It was this dynamic that historian Marcus Hansen observed in his own generation, prompting his famous axiom, “What the son wishes to forget, the grandson wishes to remember.”
Relations with Other Americans Swedish immigrants have typically interacted most readily with other Nordic American groups, namely Danes, Norwegians, and Finns. American Swedes have long held a particularly close affinity with the Finns, many of whom were Swedish-speaking settlers from western Finland (Sweden had ruled Finland from the Middle Ages until 1809). There was a special, good-natured rivalry between the Swedes and the Norwegians in the United States, which still results in quite a few “Swede” and “Norwegian” jokes. Swedes have also mixed easily with the German Americans, especially those who are Lutheran.
Cuisine Traditional Swedish dishes represent the cooking of the Swedish countryside, which is heavily weighted toward meat, fish, potatoes, and other starches. Pickled herring, a fish commonly found in the Baltic and North Seas, is a traditional Swedish staple. Gravlax is raw, cured salmon served on crisp bread, which are flat wafers made of rye. Pea soup and pancakes are traditionally served together, and crawfish are popular in the summertime. One of the most ubiquitous elements of Swedish cuisine is lingonberry jam, which is made from the tart red lingonberry (similar to the cranberry) and is used to flavor everything from meatballs to pancakes. In the area of baked goods, Swedish American cooks produce delicious breads, cookies, and other delights, including kringla, a pretzel-like pastry, and prinsesstårta, a sponge cake made with cream.
The holiday seasons, especially Christmas, are times for special ethnic dishes such as lutefisk (whitefish that has been air-dried and either heavily salted or soaked in lye), baked goods, meatballs, and ham, which are arranged on a buffet-style smorgasbord and washed down with gallons of strong, thick Swedish coffee or glögg, a Swedish mulled wine.
Traditional Dress The immigrants did not have a particularly distinctive way of dressing and generally adopted the clothing styles of their new homeland. Some brought with them the colorful, festive clothing representative of their region of Sweden, but such ethnic costumes were not worn often. The distinctive regional festive dress of nineteenth-century Sweden has, however, been revived by some Americans of Swedish descent seeking to get in touch with their roots. This traditional dress, which for women and girls consists of a woolen skirt, cotton bodice, apron, linen blouse, and headdress, is sometimes worn for ethnic celebrations or dance competitions.
Holidays Along with the traditional holidays celebrated by Americans, many Swedish Americans celebrate two additional holidays. Along with other Scandinavians, Swedes celebrate the summer solstice, or Midsummer's Day, June 21. This is a time for feasting and outdoor activities. In many areas of Swedish America this day is celebrated as Svenskarnas dag (Swedes' Day), a special festival of Swedish American culture and solidarity, with picnics, parades, and ethnic activities such as dancing around a maypole. December 13 is Saint Lucia Day. Remembering an early Christian saint who brought light in the darkness of the world, a young woman is selected to be the “Lucia bride.” Dressed in a white gown with a wreath of candles on her head, she leads a procession through town and serves special breads and sweet rolls. The Luciafest is an important holiday leading into the celebration of Christmas.
Health Care Issues and Practices The United States in the nineteenth century was often a dangerous place for immigrants; many worked hazardous jobs, and health care was frequently lacking. As the Swedish American community began to form, various immigrant groups, especially the churches, established medical and other types of organizations to care for the arriving Swedes. Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, sanitariums, and orphanages were all a part of the network of care for the immigrants. Swedish American medical institutions remain in operation to this day, especially in the urban centers of the Midwest.
Some Swedish immigrants and their Swedish American descendants sought medical careers, receiving their training mainly in the United States. After completing their education, some returned to Sweden to practice there. The only significant Swedish influence on American medicine was in the field of physical therapy, where techniques from Sweden were introduced into American medical centers.
There are few diseases or conditions that seem to be specific to the Swedish American community. Problems that are prominent in Sweden—such as heart disease, depression, and alcoholism—are also seen within the Swedish American community, as well as in the rest of the United States.
FAMILY AND COMMUNITY LIFE
When the first major wave of Swedish immigrants came to the United States in the 1840s and 1850s, the settlers traveled in large groups comprised of entire families, often led by a pastor or other community leader. These groups established the beginnings of the ethnic communities that are still today identifiably Swedish American. Family and social structures became the bedrock of the larger community, and often these communal settlements maintained the characteristics and customs of the areas in Sweden from which the immigrants had come.
Swedish America was thus founded on a tight communal and familial structure, and these characteristics were present both in rural and urban settlements. But this pattern was soon altered by a number of factors, including the increased immigration of single young people, the geographical dispersion of the Swedish immigrants, and secondary migrations within the United States. Although Swedish Americans rarely intermarried (and if they did, it was usually with other Scandinavian Americans), Swedes assimilated rapidly into American society, and by the second or third generation were indistinguishable from the general Anglo-American population. Their family patterns and social organization also became indistinct from that of the wider population.
Gender Roles Gender dynamics within the Swedish American community are largely indistinguishable from those of the larger American community. Early settlement saw patriarchal family and community structures, with men holding almost all positions of prominence and being responsible for business matters, and women staying at home to raise the children and maintain the household. Boys were afforded more opportunities for education and professional advancement, and girls were prepared for a family life of their own.
Much like the rest of mainstream America, however, these dynamics have shifted with each new wave of social progress. Today, all areas of education and employment are open to and acceptable for pursuit by all members of a family or community, and marriages are generally treated as partnerships, with each partner contributing more equally than before to all aspects of family and community life.
Education Because of widespread literacy in nineteenth-century Sweden, Swedish immigrants were almost universally literate (at least in Swedish), and education was of primary importance to them. They eagerly embraced the American public school system, enrolling their children and organizing their own public schools wherever these might be lacking. Swedish immigrants saw education as the primary means for their children to advance in the United States and are known for their high level of educational attainment. Besides participating in the formation of public institutions of higher education (the University of Minnesota is one good example), Swedish Americans also formed their own private colleges; many remain today, including Augustana College (Rock Island, Illinois), Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, Minnesota), Bethany College (Lindsborg, Kansas), Uppsala College (East Orange, New Jersey), North Park College (Chicago, Illinois), and Bethel College (St. Paul, Minnesota). Other colleges and secondary schools operated for a time in the immigrant community, but many of these have not survived. Swedish American churches founded most of these schools, along with theological seminaries to train their own pastors. According to the 2010 American Community Survey, 95.3 percent had attained a high school degree or higher and 38.5 percent had achieved a bachelor's degree or higher. Literary and publishing activities were strong in the immigrant communities; presses brought forth streams of newspapers, journals, and books representing a broad spectrum of Swedish American opinions.
EMPLOYMENT AND ECONOMIC CONDITIONS
A common stereotype of nineteenth-century Swedish immigrants was that they were either farmers and agricultural laborers in the rural areas, or domestic servants in urban areas. There was a grain of truth in this stereotype, as such occupations were often filled by newly arrived immigrants. For the most part, Swedish immigrants were literate, skilled, and ambitious, quickly moving up the employment ladder into skilled positions or even white-collar jobs. Many Swedes exhibit a streak of stubborn independence and, accordingly, most sought economic activities that would allow them to work with their own talents and skills. For some this meant work within the Swedish American community, serving the needs of the immigrants. For others it meant independent work in the larger American community as skilled trade workers or independent businesspeople in low-capital, high-labor fields such as woodworking and metalworking, printing, and building contracting.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Swedish American men were employed in agriculture (33 percent), industry (35 percent), business and communication (14 percent), and as servants and laborers (16 percent). Among women, common occupations included servants and waitresses (56 percent), and seamstresses or laundresses (13 percent), with smaller groups of laborers and factory workers. As the Swedes adapted to American society, their employment patterns began to emulate that of the society as a whole, Page 313 | Top of Articleand they moved into educated positions in teaching, business, and industry.
Coming from a country that in the nineteenth century was largely rural, many Swedish immigrants were attracted to the United States by the prospect of free or cheap agricultural land, mainly in the upper Midwest or Great Plains states. By 1920 there were over sixty thousand Swedish American farmers in the United State on more than 11 million cultivated acres (4,451,000 hectares), and five out of six of these farmers owned their land. Swedish American farmers were industrious and intelligent and soon picked up American agricultural methods for use on their farms. For the most part, the older agricultural techniques from Sweden were not applicable to American farms, and Swedish Americans made few unique contributions to American agriculture. Later immigrants often headed to the forests and mines of the upper Midwest and increasingly to the Pacific northwest. Here they worked as lumberjacks and miners, two professions that were common in Sweden.
In the urban areas, Swedish Americans were best known for their skilled work in construction trades, and in the woodworking and metalworking industries. Swedish contractors dominated the construction business in the Midwest; at one point it was estimated that 80 percent of the construction in Minneapolis and 35 percent in Chicago was carried out by Swedes. The Swedish contractors also employed many of their fellow immigrants as carpenters, plumbers, masons, and painters, providing vital employment for new arrivals. Over half the Swedish American industrial workers in 1900 were occupied in woodworking and metalworking. In addition, Swedes were represented in the printing and graphics, as well as the design industries.
Swedes were also employed in the engineering and architecture fields, with many designing industrial and military machinery. Two Swedish Americans, Captain John Ericsson and Admiral John Dahlgren, revolutionized American naval power during the Civil War with their invention of the ironclad warship and the modern naval cannon, respectively. Other technical achievements and inventions of Swedish Americans include an improved zipper (Peter Aronsson and Gideon Sundback), the Bendix drive (Vincent Bendix), an improved disc clutch (George William Borg), and xerographic copying (Chester Carlson).
Contemporary Swedish American employment patterns are nearly indistinguishable from those of mainstream America. The U.S. Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey report that approximately 25 percent of Swedish Americans are employed in education, health care, and social assistance; 11 percent in science and professional management and administration; 11 percent in retail; and just under 10 percent in manufacturing. All other fields of occupation combine to account for less than 45 percent of Swedish American employment.
POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Sweden has a long history of representative government, with the nobles, the clergy, and the peasants all represented in the Swedish Parliament. This tradition was never overcome, even by the most autocratic of Swedish kings. At the beginning of the nineteenth century the voting franchise in Sweden was rather limited, although this changed drastically toward the end of the century.
One of the reasons Swedes came to the United States was to experience greater political freedom and to help shape their local communities. Swedish Americans from the old Delaware colony were active in the politics of colonial America and were elected to the legislatures of Delaware and Pennsylvania. The Swedes were also generally on the American side of the Revolutionary War and remained politically active when it ended. John Morton (1724–1777) of Pennsylvania was a delegate to the Continental Congress and voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. John Hanson (1715–1783) of Maryland was one the leading political figures of that state and was elected to the Continental Congress three times. In 1781 Hanson was elected by Congress as the first president of the United States in Congress Assembled, or the chief executive of Congress, before the office of the presidency was established.
Through the early national period Swedish Americans usually favored the Democrats over the Whigs, but later they broke with the Democrats over the issue of slavery. Swedish Americans became enthusiastic supporters of the newly rising Republican Party and of Abraham Lincoln. The Swedes' relationship with the Republican Party became so firm and widespread as to be axiomatic; it was said that the average Swedish American believed in three things: Swedish culture, the Lutheran Church, and the Republican Party. In the late nineteenth century Swedes became a powerful force in local Republican politics in the upper Midwest, especially in Minnesota and Illinois. In 1886 John Lind (1854–1930) of Minnesota became the first Swedish American elected to Congress. Lind uncharacteristically switched to the Democratic Party and was then elected the first Swedish American governor of Minnesota in 1898.
Not all Swedish Americans subscribed to the Republican philosophy, of course. Many immigrants, especially those who arrived in the later waves, were strongly influenced by socialism in Sweden and brought this philosophy with them to the United States. Swedish American socialists founded their own organizations and newspapers and became active within the American socialist community. Most of this socialistic activity was local in nature, but some Swedes became involved on a national level. Joe Hill (born Joel Hägglund) was a celebrated leader in the Industrial Workers of the World but was accused of murder and executed in Utah in 1915.
Although socialism was a minority movement among the Swedish Americans, it did reflect many of their concerns. Swedes tended to be progressives within their parties. They believed strongly in the rights of the individual, were deeply suspicious of big business and foreign entanglements, and pushed progressive social legislation and reforms. One of the early leaders in this movement was Charles Lindbergh Sr. (1859–1924), father of the famed aviator, who was elected as a Republican to Congress from Minnesota in 1906. In Congress he espoused midwestern populist ideals, opposed big business interests, and spoke forcefully against American involvement in World War I. After the war, many Scandinavians in Minnesota left the Republican Party for the new Farmer Labor Party, which adopted many of the populist ideals common among the Swedes. Magnus Johnson was elected as a Farmer Labor senator from Minnesota in 1923, and Floyd Olson served that party as governor of Minnesota from 1931 to 1936. Many Swedes left the Republican Party in 1932 to vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt in the presidential election, and some remained in the Democratic Party. A split occurred within the Swedish American community after Roosevelt's presidency, and that division exists to this day. Urban Swedish Americans are evenly divided between the Democratic and Republican Parties, while rural Swedish Americans remain overwhelmingly Republican.
As with many ethnic immigrant groups, Swedish Americans have been underrepresented in national politics, with about thirteen senators and fifty representatives, mainly from the Midwest. On the state level there have been at least twenty-eight governors (ten in Minnesota) and many state and local officials. Modern Swedish American politicians have included governors Orville Freeman (Minnesota), James Thompson (Illinois), and Kay Orr (Nebraska), Senator Warren Magnusson (Washington), and Representative John B. Anderson (Illinois). Swedish Americans have achieved notable success on the Supreme Court, including the appointment of two chief justices, Earl Warren and William Rehnquist.
As small independent farmers and business owners, Swedish Americans have not been overwhelmingly involved in American labor union activities. Many in skilled professions in the wood and metal industries were involved in the formation of craft unions. In addition, given the Swedish domination of the building trades in the Midwest, there were many who became involved with the construction trade unions, most notably Lawrence Lindelof, president of the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades from 1929 to 1952. Some Swedish American women were involved in the garment and textile unions; Mary Anderson joined a trade union as a shoe stitcher in Chicago, was hired by the International Boot and Shoe Workers Union, and eventually was appointed director of the U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.
Swedish Americans have fought for America in all of its wars, from the Revolution to the present day. During the Revolutionary War, Swedes from Maryland and Delaware fought, for the most part, on the colonists' side, some in the army, but many more in the newly formed American navy. About ninety army and navy officers from Sweden came over temporarily to fight on the American side, either directly with American troops or, more typically, with French forces (Sweden was allied with France at the time). One of these officers, Baron von Stedingk, who would later become a field marshal in the Swedish army and Swedish ambassador to Russia.
At the start of the Civil War the Swedish American population numbered about twenty thousand, and their enthusiasm for Lincoln and the northern cause is seen in the fact that at least three thousand Swedes served in the Union army, mainly in the Illinois and Minnesota regiments. A number of others served in the Union navy, and it was here that Swedish Americans were best known. Admiral John Dahlgren was in command of a fleet blockading southern ports and introduced a number of modern advances in the area of naval weaponry. Captain John Ericsson, a naval engineer, developed the North's first practical ironclad ships, which fought with great effectiveness and revolutionized naval warfare. Swedish Americans in the South at the time were concentrated mainly in Texas, although their numbers were small, and some did enlist to fight for the Confederacy.
Leading up to World War I, Swedish American sympathies were typically with Germany, although the strongest sentiments were toward neutrality and isolationism, as espoused by Charles Lindbergh Sr. When the United States did enter the war on the Allied side in 1917, however, many Swedish Americans rushed to show their patriotism by enlisting in the army and by buying war bonds. In the 1920s and 1930s, Swedes generally returned to their isolationist and neutralist ways, and Charles Lindberg Jr. took up the cause where his father had left off. However, another famous Swedish American, author Carl Sandburg, forcefully urged American intervention in Europe against the Nazis, writing many articles and works opposing the German regime. In both world wars many Swedish Americans served with great distinction, including Major Richard Bong, who received the Medal of Honor in 1944 for destroying thirty-six Japanese planes in combat. Given their general engineering and technical expertise, many Swedish Americans rose to positions of importance in command, such as John Dahlquist, deputy chief of staff to General Dwight Eisenhower, and Arleigh Burke and Theodore Lonnquest, who eventually rose to the rank of admiral in the navy. Many other Swedish Americans rose to prominence in the defense industry, especially Philip Johnson, who headed Boeing Aircraft Company during World War II.
Swedish Americans have historically been very interested in the development of Sweden, and a lively Page 315 | Top of Articlecorrespondence is still maintained between Swedes on both sides of the Atlantic. Modern Sweden is a dramatically different country than the one the immigrants left; while Swedish Americans often have a hazy impression of a backward, rural country, the reality is quite different. The Sweden of the twentieth century has often been characterized as taking the “middle way,” positioning itself as a neutral, socialist country between the capitalist West and the Communist East, ruled for most of fifty years by the Social Democratic Party. Some Swedish Americans have applauded the changes that have occurred in modern Sweden, while others have deplored them. During the Vietnam War era of the 1960s and 1970s, relations between Sweden and the United States were somewhat strained, but the rapport between the two nations has improved significantly since then, particularly following Sweden's decision to lend military and logistical support to American and international military operations in Kosovo (1998–1999), Iraq (2003–2011), and Afghanistan (2001–).
Art The most widely known Swedish American painter is probably Birger Sandzén (1871–1945), who lived and worked in the rolling prairies of central Kansas around Lindsborg; his works are found in many museums in Europe and the United States. A more recent artist, known for his pop art sculptures, is Claes Oldenburg (1929–). Other notable artists have included Henry Mattson (1887–1971), John F. Carlson (1875–1947), and Bror Julius Nordfeldt (1878–1955). Swedish American sculptor Carl Milles (1875–1955) achieved international fame for his work, especially for his outdoor sculpture; Milles studied with August Rodin in Paris, and went on to be artist-in-residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan.
Business Many Swedish Americans have made names for themselves in American business. Eric Wickman (1887–1954) founded Greyhound Corporation and built it into a national enterprise. Charles R. Walgreen (1873–1939) started the national chain of drugstores, and Curtis Carlson (1914–1999) parlayed business and service sectors into the Carlson Companies, which operates hotels (Marriot), restaurants, and travel agencies. John W. Nordstrom (1871–1963) of Seattle founded the department store chain that bears his name. Some Swedish Americans rose through the ranks to become leaders in American industry, including Eric Mattson of Midland National Bank; Robert O. Anderson (1917–2007) of Atlantic Richfield; Rudolph Peterson (1904–2003) of Bank of America; Philip G. Johnson (1894–1944) of Boeing; and Rand V. Araskog (1931–) of ITT.
Exploration One of the best known of all Swedish Americans is the aviator Charles Lindbergh Jr. (1902–1974); his father and namesake was a congressman and politician, but the younger Lindbergh
is known for making the first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927; a national hero, Lindberg served as a civilian employee of the U.S. War Department. Another famous explorer of sorts was Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin (1930–), the Apollo 11 astronaut who in 1969 was the second person to step onto the moon.
Stage and Screen The most famous Swedish immigrants in this field were Greta Garbo (1905–1990), who was born in Sweden and came to the United States in 1925, and Ingrid Bergman (1915–1982), who was born in Stockholm and came to the United States in 1939. Both studied at the Royal Academy Theatre School in Stockholm before earning roles and stardom in Hollywood. Other Swedish American actresses of note include Viveca Lindfors (1920–1995), Ann-Margret (Olson) (1941–), Gloria Swanson (1899–1983), and Candice Bergen (1946–)—the daughter of popular ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (1903–1978), well known for his television appearances. Other Swedish American actors have included Werner Oland (1879–1938) and Richard Widmark (1914–2008), and contemporary actors with documented Swedish ancestry include Val Kilmer (1959–), James Franco (1978–), Jake Gyllenhaal (1980–) and his sister Maggie Gyllenhaal (1977–), and Uma Thurman (1970–).
Literature Although Swedish Americans produced a vast quantity of written literature, some of it was written in Swedish and is unknown outside the immigrant community. Second- and third-generation
Swedish Americans, however, have included a number of writers in English who have earned national reputations. The most famous of these authors were Carl Sandburg (1878–1967), who produced nationally known poetry and novels but whose most famous work is his four-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln, a work that won Sandburg a Pulitzer Prize; Ray Bradbury (1920–2012), a science fiction, fantasy, and horror writer best remembered for his dystopian classic Fahrenheit 451; and Nelson Algren (1909–1981), who has written extensively about the hard realities of urban and working class life but best known for the novels The Man with the Golden Arm and A Walk on the Wild Side.
Music The most famous Swedish American composer is Howard Hanson (1896–1981) who grew up in the immigrant community of Wahoo, Nebraska. For many years Hanson was director of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, and he is one of the best-known twentieth-century American composers of classical music. A number of immigrants from Sweden have become important singers of classical music and opera. Jenny Lind (1820–1887), referred to as the “Swedish Nightingale,” was already famous in Europe when P. T. Barnum brought her to the United States in 1850 for the first of more than ninety concerts in three years. Lind took America by storm, eventually returning to Europe but not before giving generous support to charities within the Swedish American community. Following Lind to the United States were such singers as Christiana Nilsson (1843–1921), lyric tenor Jussi Björling (1911–1960), and soprano Birgit Nilsson (1918–2005). Still, the most popular Swedish American musicians have been second- and third-generation artists, including Kris Kristofferson (1936–), a legendary country singer and songwriter (and, later, movie actor) perhaps best known for writing Janis Joplin's classic “Me and Bobby McGee,” and singer and teen heartthrob Rick Nelson (1940–1985), whose twin sons Gunnar (1967–) and Matthew (1967–) had success in the early nineties as the band Nelson.
Politics Several second- and third-generation Swedish Americans have risen to prominent positions in U.S. politics. Most notable among contemporary officials are Earl Warren (1891–1974), whose mother was a Swedish immigrant, served three terms as governor of California before being appointed chief justice of the United States in 1953. His rulings helped end lawful segregation, and he headed the commission that investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. William Rehnquist (1924–2005), whose paternal grandparents immigrated from Sweden, served as the U.S. assistant attorney general under President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1971 before being appointed as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972. He held that post until 1986, when he was named the chief justice of the United States. He served as chief justice until his death on September 3, 2005. Jennifer M. Granholm (1959–), whose paternal grandfather immigrated from Sweden to Canada in the 1930s, has served both as the fifty-first attorney general of the state of Michigan, from 1999 to 2003, and as the forty-seventh governor of Michigan, from 2003 to 2011.
Science Many Swedish Americans have become distinguished in the field of science, especially in chemistry and physics. Carl David Anderson (1905–1991) won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of positrons. Another Swedish American Nobel laureate is Glenn T. Seaborg (1912–1999), who won the 1951 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work with transuranium elements.
Nordstjernan (Nordic Reach)
Established in 1872, this weekly is one of the few remaining Swedish American newspapers printed in English and Swedish. It is published in four editions: a U.S. national edition and city-specific editions for New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. It also publishes select special-interest books and the magazine Nordic Reach.
Ulf Mårtensson, Editor and Publisher
P.O. Box 1710
New Canaan, Connecticut 06840
Phone: (203) 299-0381
Fax: (203) 299-0380
Swedish American Genealogist
This quarterly is published by the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College and contains articles on genealogical research, as well as local and family history.
Elisabeth Thorsell, Editor
se-177 39, Järfälla
Swedish American Historical Quarterly
Published by the Swedish American Historical Society, this periodical contains articles on the history and culture of Swedish Americans.
Byron J. Nordstrom, Quarterly Editor
Gustav Adolphus College
Department of History
St. Peter, Minnesota 56082
Phone: (507) 933-7435
Fax: (507) 933-7041
ORGANIZATIONS AND ASSOCIATIONS
American Swedish Institute
Founded in 1929, the American Swedish Institute seeks to preserve the Swedish cultural heritage in the United States. The institute, housed in the mansion of a former Swedish American journalist, offers classes, activities, exhibits, concerts and workshops, along with a library and archives.
Peggy Korsmo-Kennon, Chief Operating Officer
2600 Park Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55407
Phone: (612) 871-4907
Fax: (612) 871-8682
Swedish American Historical Society
Founded in 1950, the society is dedicated to the preservation and documentation of the heritage of Swedish Americans. It publishes a quarterly journal, Swedish American Historical Quarterly, and Pioneer Newsletter, as well as books in this area.
Timothy J. Johnson
3225 West Foster Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60625
Phone: (773) 583-5722
Swedish Council of America
Formed in 1973, the Swedish Council of America is a cooperative agency that coordinates the efforts of over a hundred different Swedish American historical, cultural, and fraternal organizations. The Swedish Council publishes a monthly magazine called Sweden and America, which is a useful forum for current Swedish American activities.
Gregg White, Executive Director
2600 Park Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55407
Phone: (612) 871-0593
The Swedish American Chambers of Commerce USA
SACC-USA is the parent organization for more than twenty regional Swedish American chambers of commerce across the United States, all of which promote both Swedish American economic access and fair, productive trade policy between Sweden and the United States.
Therese Linde, President
House of Sweden
2900 K Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20007
Phone: (202) 536-1520
Vasa Order of America
Founded in 1896, it is the largest Swedish American fraternal organization in the United States, with more than 31,000 members in 326 lodges nationwide.
William Lundquist, Grand Master
1456 Kennebec Road
Grand Blanc, Michigan 48439
Phone: (810) 695-3248
MUSEUMS AND RESEARCH CENTERS
American Swedish Historical Museum
Collects and displays artifacts and documents of Swedish Americans to preserve the Swedish American culture. The building is modeled after a seventeenth-century Swedish manor house.
Tracey Beck, Executive Director
1900 Pattison Avenue
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19145-5901
Phone: (215) 389-1776
Fax: (215) 389-7701
American Swedish Institute Museum
Provides exhibits and activities for and about Swedish Americans, including displays of the institute's collections, as well as traveling exhibits.
Curt Pederson, Curator
2600 Park Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55407
Phone: (612) 871-4907
Fax: (612) 871-8682
Located in northwestern Illinois, this is a folk museum dedicated to preserving the life of the pioneer Swedish immigrants in the United States. Founded in 1846, Bishop Hill was the home of a religious communal settlement organized by Erik Jansson. Although the communal settlement collapsed after Jansson's death, a Swedish American community remained. In the twentieth century the Bishop Hill Heritage Association began restoring the settlement to its original condition.
Todd DeDecker, Administrator
103 North Bishop Hill Street
P.O. Box 92
Bishop Hill, Illinois 61419
Phone: (309) 927-3899
Swedish American Museum Center (of Chicago)
Located in the Andersonville neighborhood of Chicago, an area of historical immigrant settlement, this museum collects and displays artifacts and documents of Swedish immigration, maintains an archives, and sponsors special exhibits and activities.
Karin Moen Abercrombie, Executive Director
5211 North Clark Street
Chicago, Illinois 60640
Phone: (773) 728-8111
Fax: (773) 728-8870
Swenson Immigrant Research Center
Situated on the campus of Augustana College, this center has a large collection of historical documents, records, and artifacts on Swedish Americans. The Swenson center is an especially good resource for genealogical and historical study.
Dag Blanck, Director
Augustana College Box 175639
Rock Island, Illinois 61201-2296
Phone: (309) 794-7204
Fax: (309) 794-7443
SOURCES FOR ADDITIONAL STUDY
Barton, H. Arnold. A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840–1940. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.
Blanck, Dag, and Harald Rundblom, eds. Swedish Life in American Cities. Uppsala, Sweden: Centre for Multiethnic Research, 1991.
Carlsson, Sten. Swedes in North America, 1638–1988: Technical, Cultural, and Political Achievements. Stockholm: Streiffert, 1988.
Erling, Maria. “What America Wanted and Swedish American Youth.” Currents in Theology and Mission 39, no. 3 (2012): 229–38.
Hasselmo, Nils. Swedish America: An Introduction. Minneapolis: Brings Press, 1976.
Ljungmark, Lars. Swedish Exodus. Translated by Kermit Westerberg. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1979.
Lundström, Catrin. “Women with Class: Swedish Migrant Women's Class Positions in the USA.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 31, no. 1 (2010): 49–63.
Olsson, Christopher, and Ruth McLaughlin, eds. AmericanSwedish Handbook, 11th ed. Minneapolis: Swedish Council of America, 1992.
Rundblom, Harald, and Hans Norman, eds. From Sweden to America: A History of the Migration. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976.
Schnell, Steven M. “Creating Narratives of Place and Identity in ‘Little Sweden, U.S.A.’” Geographical Review 93, no. 1 (2003): 1–29.
Scott, Larry E. The Swedish Texans. San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1990.