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The Norwegian-Americans are an ethnic group in the United States. They are the descendents of Norwegian immigrants who came to America primarily in the latter half of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th century.
There are more than 4.5 million Norwegian-Americans according to the most recent U.S. census, and most live in the Upper Midwest.
Norwegians in America
Norwegians are credited with being the first Europeans to discover North America. The Norwegian Leifr Eiríksson reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland circa 1000 A.D., nearly five centuries before Columbus. It is generally agreed that the Norwegian settlers in Greenland founded the capital settlement of Vinland at L'Anse aux Meadows, and that their territory encompassed the whole of the isle of Newfoundland. Just how much they explored further past the Canadian Maritime Provinces(known as Skrælingeland in Old Norse; later Acadia and then Nova Scotia) in North America has been a matter of debate for the past hundred years amongst romantic and ethnic nationalists as well as some lay historians. Some widely disputed evidence suggests that Norwegians having made many settlements much further into the North American mainland than was believed before. See Kensington Runestone.
Norwegian immigration to America in the post-Columbian era began in 1825, when several dozen Norwegians left Stavanger bound for America on the sloop Restauration (often called the "Norwegian Mayflower") under the leadership of Cleng Peerson. The emigrants were primarily Quakers, though personal and economic motivations may have played a role. The ship landed in New York City, where it was at first impounded for exceeding its passenger limit. After intervention from president John Quincy Adams, the passengers moved on to settle in Kendall, New York, after having witnessed the opening of the Erie Canal enroute. Most of these immigrants moved on from Kendall, settling in Illinois and Wisconsin. Cleng Peerson became a traveling emissary for Norwegian immigrants and died in Norse Settlement near Cranfills Gap, Texas in 1865.
While there were about 65 Norwegian individuals that emigrated via ports in Sweden and elsewhere in the intervening year, the next emigrant ship did not leave Norway for the New World until 1836, when the ships Den Norske Klippe and Norden departed. In 1837, a group of immigrants from Tinn emigrated via Gothenburg to the Fox River Settlement, near today's Sheridan, Illinois. But it was the writings of Ole Rynning, who travelled to the US on the Ægir in 1837 that energized Norwegian immigration.
Norwegian immigration through the years was predominantly motivated by economic concerns. Compounded by crop failures, Norwegian agricultural resources were unable to keep up with population growth, and the Homestead Act promised fertile, flat land. As a result, settlement trended westward with each passing year. Early Norwegian settlements were in Pennsylvania and Illinois, but moved westward into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.
Additionally, craftsmen also emigrated to a larger, more diverse market. Until recently, there was a Norwegian area of Brooklyn, New York originally populated by Norwegian craftsmen.
Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to America; about one-third of Norway's population. With the exception of Ireland, no single country contributed a larger percentage of its population to America than Norway did.
- There are more than 4.5 million people of Norwegian ancestry in the U.S. today. Of these, approximately 3 million claim 'Norwegian' as their sole or primary ancestry.
- A little more than than 2 out of every 100 whites in America are of Norwegian descent. In the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota, eastern Wisconsin, northern Iowa, and the Dakotas, more than 15 out of every 100 whites are of Norwegian descent.
- 55% of Norwegian-Americans live in the Midwest, although a large number (21%) live in the Pacific states of Washington, Oregon, and California.
- Norwegian-Americans actively celebrate and maintain their heritage in many ways. Much of it centers around the Lutheran-Evangelical churches they were born into, but also culinary customs (e.g., lutefisk and lefse), costumes (bunad), and Norwegian holidays (syttende mai) are popular. Certain towns in the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest, have very strong Norwegian influences.
- Although the Norwegians were the most numerous of all the Scandinavian immigrant groups, other Scandinavians also immigrated to America during the same time period. Today, there are 11-12 million Americans of Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavians represent about 6% of the white population in the USA as a whole, and more than 25% of the white population of the Upper Midwest.
Norwegian-Americans by state
The 10 states with the most Norwegians:
- Minnesota – 851,000
- Wisconsin – 456,000
- California – 436,000
- Washington – 368,000
- North Dakota – 193,000
- Illinois – 179,000
- Iowa – 167,000
- Oregon – 147,000
- Texas – 119,000
- South Dakota – 115,000
The 10 states with the top percentages of Norwegians:
- North Dakota – 33% of the state's white population is of Norwegian ancestry
- Minnesota – 20%
- South Dakota – 17%
- Montana – 12%
- Wisconsin – 10%
- Washington – 8%
- Iowa – 6%
- Alaska – 6%
- Oregon – 5%
- Wyoming – 5%
Notable and famous Norwegian-Americans
See the complete List of Norwegian-Americans.
- Hubert Humphrey – served as Vice President under Lyndon Johnson, and was the 1968 Democratic candidate for president
- Walter Mondale – served as Vice President, ran for president in 1984
- Earl Warren – Governor of California, Chief Justice of the United States from 1953-1969
- Marilyn Monroe – famous actress (born Norma Jeane Mortensen)
- Conrad Hilton – developer of the Hilton Hotel chain
- Eliot Ness – Prohibition-era American icon
- Karl Rove - political advisor to president George W. Bush
- Knut Rockne - famous football coach at University of Notre Dame
- Garrison Keillor - media personality
Use of Norwegian language in America
Use of the Norwegian language in America was at its peak between 1900 and World War I, during which time over one million Americans spoke Norwegian as their primary language, dozens of Norwegian-language newspapers were in operation across the Upper Midwest (In the year 1910, over 600,000 homes received at least one Norwegian newspaper), and more than 3,000 Lutheran churches across the Upper Midwest used Norwegian as their sole language of worship.
Use of the Norwegian language declined in the 1920s and 1930s due in large part to the rise of nativism among the native American population during and after World War I. During this period, readership of Norwegian-language publications fell, Norwegian Lutheran churches began to hold their services in English, and the younger generation of Norwegian-Americans was encouraged to speak English rather than Norwegian. When Norway itself was liberated from the Nazis in 1945, relatively few Norwegian-Americans under the age of 40 still spoke Norwegian as their primary language (although many still understood the language), and as such they were not passing the language on to their children, the next generation of Norwegian-Americans.
Today there are only 81,000 Americans who speak Norwegian at home.
- Norwegian American Historical Association
- Norwegian population data from the U.S. Census Bureau
- Norwegian population by state
- U.S. Census data on number of language speakers, including Norwegian
- Friends of Norway Caucus – A Congressional Caucus promoting Norwegian-American relations, founded by Norwegian-American congressmen
- Norwegian-American homepage
- Sons of Norway – An organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Norwegian heritage and culture, especially in America
- Norwegian-American Foundation
- Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum
- Norwegians in the Civil War
- Nordmanns Forbundet (The Norse Federation) – A non-profit organization founded in 1907 that seeks to strengthen cultural and personal ties between Norway and Norwegians abroad
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