Swedish Emmigration



Figure 1.-- I am not sure about the last name. The children are Allen and Dora. The photograph here was taken in 1883. I believe this was just before they emigrated to America.

Sweden was one of the many European countries that played an important part in the population of America through immigration. A far as we know, America and to a lesser exrent Canada are the only countries to which significant numbers of Swedish emigrants went. Sweden estblished a colony in the North america (Deleware) during the 17th century, but the great bulk of swedish immigrants came in the late 19th and early 20th century. Most Swedish immigrants camr to the United States and settled in the Midwest where they left and indelible imprint. Small numbers ofindividuals came to America in the late 18th and early 19th century. It was note until the 1840s, however that signoficant numbers of Swedish immigrants began arriving in America. The first organized group of Swedes arrived in New York and settled in Iowa and Illinois. By the 1930s nealy 1.3 million Swedes had reached America, making Sweden the seventh most important country in terms of American immigration.

New Sweden

The motivation behind Swedish emmigration to America was different than that of many of the early English colonists there was no element of religious discent. The Swedish Crown organized the establishment of a royal colony of New Sweden in what is now Deleware. It was a short-lived enterprise. The colony was seized by the Dutch (1655) abd subsequently by the English. The settlers, however, remained in America. There was no forced cultural assimilation and in the era before public education, the Swedes were able to retain their cultural identiy for several generations. Some Swedes in Deleware were prominent in the American Revolution. John Morton cast the decisive vote for independence at the Continental Congress. Count Axel von Fersen fought with the Continental Army. Sweden was one of the first European countries to recognize the independent Unites States and sign a trade treaty (1783).

United States

Most Swedish immigrants camr to the United States and settled in the Midwest where they left and indelible imprint. Small numbers ofindividuals came to America in the late 18th and early 19th century. It was note until the 1840s, however that signoficant numbers of Swedish immigrants began arriving in America. The first organized group of Swedes arrived in New York and settled in Iowa and Illinois. By the 1930s nealy 1.3 million Swedes had reached America, making Sweden the seventh most important country in terms of American immigration.

Swedish poverty

Sweden in the early 19th century was still largely an agricultural country, untouched by the Industrial Revolution. Sweden had no tradition of primogenature. Over generations family farms were divided into smaller and smaller parcels. This put increasing pressure on the land and marginal land was tilled. Despite the agricultural situation, the population continued to grow. Swedish bishop and poet Esaias Tegne'r explained why the population expanded so significanly, "peace, vaccination and potatos." Some parishes reported the population tripling. As a result, the population of tenant farmers and landless laborers increased enabling large landowners to obtain labor at low cost and reducing many Swedes to abject poverty. Unlike other countries such as England and France, there was no growth significant of industy in the early 19th century to supply jobs to the expanding rural population. There were liberal efforts to reform Swedish agriculture which included the enclosure movement, farm schools, technological innovation. Swedish agriculture proved to resist to change. These programd had very little impact. Some of the reformers, gave up in frustration such as Gustav Unonius who is now known as the "the father of Swedish emigration". Sweden did begin to industrialize after the mid-19th century. The same kind of Dickensian conditions began to develop in Sweden as often reported in England. Even so the great bulk of Swedish emmigration came from rural areas.

Attraction

As emmigration began in the 1840s, letters home from successful immigrants attracted the interest of new emmigrants. The accounts of those able to auire high-quality agricultural land at low cost was a major attrtion to landless farm workers and tennant farmers who hungered for their own land. Not only were there lettrs homes, but account aout America appeared in magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets. While many Swedes were poor, most were literate. The Lutheran Church as other Protestant churches attached great importance to literacy so that individuals could read the Bible. The Elementary School Act of 1842 virtually ended illiteracy in Sweden, especially mong young people. Eventually steamship and railroad companie began to promote emmigrtion, helping to create the growing popular conception of America as a bountiful land of virtually endless opportunity.

Mass emmigration begins

Swedish emmigration to the United States increased significantly after the American Civil War (1861-65). Here there were several reasons. First, the danger of being drafted discouraged many potential emmigrants. Second, technolgical advances, some fueled by the War, made emmigration easier and less costly. One of the most important was the development of the modern high-capacity Atlantic liner. Third, Sweden in thelate 1860s experienced a series of agricultural disasters. There were disastrous crop failures. 1867 was a "the wet year" in which grain rotted. 1868 was a "dry year" of parched fields. 1869 became known as "the severe year" with epidemics and starving hildren reduced to begging. Fourth, the Homestead Act passed durinf the Civil War made it possible for even the poorest immigrat to obtain land in the West (1862). Fifth, the Civil Warhad created an industial boom and a burst of railroad construction that greatly eased the ability of homesteaders to reach land. As the railroads were susidized by land grants, emmigrnts were needed to buy land and become customers. As a result of these and other factors Swedish authorities estimate that 60,000 Swedes left emmigrated during 1867-69 alone. The mass emmigrtion began during these years and with the exception of a few short periods ontinued until World War I.

The Homestead Act (1862)

The Republican Congress passed the Homestead Act of 1862. The Act and the end of the War initiated an era of mass immigration on Swedes and other Europeans. The Homestead Act mean land for penniless immigrants. The Swedes in particular were especially drawn to the Homestead Triangle of the northern Midwest. Here no state was more important than Minnesota--sometimes referred to as the Swede State of America. Minnesota established a state immigration office to attract immigrants (1867) just as agricultural crisis were devestating Sweden. Hans Mattson, a Civil War colonel of Swedish origins, was appointed as the first director Minnesota immigration office. The result was the population of Minesota and other Mid-Western states with Swedish farmers. (One estimate suggests that Swedih iwned farms in America equaled two-thirds the area under cultivation in Sweden.) Not only did Swedish farms appear throughout Minnesota, but Swedish settlements which were the basis of tgiuture towns grew up along the railroad lines. Swedish labor played a major role on both the railroads and lumber industry. Railroad magnate James Hill exlaimed, "Give me snuff, whiskey and Swedes, and I will build a railroad to hell."

Emmigration ends

Mass emmigration to america ended with World War I. Shipping ws no longer available as it had been before. News accounts of U-boats did not encourage mmigration. After World war I the United states began restricting immigration and further tightened restrictions as a result of the Great Depression. At the same time economic conditions in Sweden were improving reducing the desire to emmigrate.

Impact on Sweden

Studies of European emmigration often focus on their impact on the country to which they emmigrated. That impact was significant. Less well studied is the impact on the country they left. The impact must be assessed with the basic fact that about 1.3 million Swedes emmigrated to America. This was important in building america, but even so much larger numbers came from oyther countries. What is significant about swedish emmigration is the proportion of the population that left their country. By 1910 America had about 1.4 million Swedes (first and second generation). The entire Swedish population at the time was about 5.5 million people. Only the British Isles and Norway contributed a larger share of their population to America. This level of emmigration must have had profound consequences on Sweden. Surely the eodus of landless farm workers and urban workers must have had the impact of helping to raise wage rates. Sweden today is one of the wealthiest countries in the world with high living standards. Swedes today debate as to who made out better, those who stayed or those who emmigratd. One question whichis often not asked here is if the exodus of such a large number of Swedes was not a factor in grdully improving nationl living stndards. We presume that Swedish historians have addressed this issue, but we are not yet familar with their work and assessments.

Emigrant Families

We have begun to collect some in formation on Swedish families, but our information is still very limited.

Charles and Sophia

This photograph shows Charles and Sophia. I am not sure about the last name. The children are Allen and Dora. The photograph here was taken in 1883 (figure 1). A second photograph was taken in 1887. The family moved to America a few years before and then lived in Illinois. In the second one the father is 38, the mother is 29, then the baby on her lap, the boy on th left is 5, the boy on the right is 3, and the little girl is 4. We are not sure if the clothing they are wearing reflect Swedish or American clothing. Nordo we have a good idea at this time as to how emmigration affect how the family dressed. We suspect this varoed from familt to family, where they lived and their social status as well as other factors.







HBC





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Created: January 4, 2004
Last updated: 5:29 PM 11/1/2009