Nordic Immigrants: Why the Danes Left

Danish Harvest, 1885. Courtesy of the Museum of Danish America.

Danish Harvest, 1885. Courtesy of the Museum of Danish America.

The reasons for Danish immigration to the United States are numerous. Like many European nations, Danes experienced the Industrial Revolution during the late 1800’s. The Industrial Revolution resulted in the mechanizing of much of Denmark’s domestic industries and an increased economic output.[1] Prior to the fire wave of Danish immigration in the 1880s, Danes were experiencing a tremendous population boom. From 1801 to 1901, the Danish population grew 169%, an increase from 925,680 to 2, 449, 540 people over the course of that century.[2] The factors causing this population boom were numerous, but one of the forefront catalysts was that of the agricultural success of the nation. Consequently, when the Depression of 1860 struck the European grain markets, the falling prices for Danish grain products forced many farmers to find other forms of employment to survive. The answer to this problem was found in producing dairy products. Dairying, however, only staved off the inevitable as only the large-scale Danish farmers could afford the costs of dairy production.[3] The crisis became acute in 1880, and farms were combined into “cooperatives” so that farmers could afford new production methods. The cream separator significantly improved Danish dairy production; however, it was also cost prohibitive for many small-scale farmers.[4]  As a result, the seeds of immigration were planted in the Danish people. They would blossom in the next twenty years into large-scale migration to the U.S.

Bethany Home in Waupaca, Wisconsin., circ 1900. Photo courtesy of the Danish-American Archive and Library, Blair Nebraska. Found on the Museum of Danish America.

Bethany Home in Waupaca, Wisconsin., circ 1900. Photo courtesy of the Danish-American Archive and Library, Blair Nebraska. Found on the Museum of Danish America.

Another reason for Danish immigration was because of war. Prussia and Austria defeated the Danes in the Danish War of 1864, which resulted in the annexation of the Danish duchies of Slesvig and Holstein by the winners.[5] These two provinces were among Denmark’s richest and most prosperous. Holstein was seen as less of a loss as it was mostly German in culture and population. Slesvig, however, was quite wealthy, and contained a very large Danish population. When Slesvig was ceded to Prussia, the Danish population there migrated to the other Danish provinces. As a consequence, Prussians quickly moved into Slesvig to replace them. This migration resulted in a population boom throughout Denmark, forcing residents to consider immigration to the U.S.[6]

The final influence on Danish immigration, to a lesser degree, was Christian revivals and missions. Danish churches were historically Protestant, and during the revivals of the nineteenth century Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormonism came to Denmark from the United States. A small group of Mormon missionaries first came to Copenhagen in 1850. Roughly 20,000 Danes are estimated to have converted to Mormonism by 1900 then left for the United States.[7]

1. Introduction 2. Why the Swedes Left Sweden 3. Why the Danes Left Denmark 4. Why the Finns Left Finland 5. Why the . Norwegians Left Norway 6. The Virginia Shipbuilding Corporation 7. Work in Alexandria 8. Living in Alexandria 9. Conclusion 10. Bibliography


 

[1] Christian Ditlev Nokkentved, Danes, Denmark and Racine, 1837-1924: A Study of Danish Overseas Migration (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 56.

[2] Nokkentved 59.

[3] Nokkentved 55.

[4] Nokkentved 56

[5] Nokkentved 52.

[6] Ibid.

[7]  Library of Congress, “Immigration: The Danes”, http://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/scandinavian4.html (accessed November 25, 2014).

 

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