Nordic Immigrants: Why the Swedes Left

Swedish emigrants leaving Gothenberg, 1905. Library of Congress.

Swedish emigrants leaving Gothenberg, 1905. Library of Congress.

The Swedes historically are responsible for constituting the majority of the Nordic immigration to the United States in the nineteenth century followed by Norwegians. Between 1861 and 1881, Sweden faced a severe population crisis.[1] The population of Sweden had doubled in the nineteenth century, and it was still growing at an alarming rate. Farm land was scarce, and as a result of the population boom, a famine swept the nation, which killed 22 out of every 1,000 Swedes.[2] The Swedish government eased regulations on emigration, and as a result 150,000 Swedes came to the United States between 1861 and 1881. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Swedish immigrants numbered around 1.25 million.[3]

Another reason for Swedish immigration to the United States lies in the First World War. In the looming war years between 1900 and 1914, the total number of Swedish immigrants numbered around 44,000.[4] Before the outbreak of the war, prices for many different Swedish products (not dissimilar to the Danish and Norwegian markets) crashed and then fluctuated wildly. The United States, by contrast, was experiencing a time of economic stability and prosperity. This economic prosperity was recorded by Swedish immigrants in letters back to Sweden, which created a “America fever.” [5]

The third important factor in Swedish immigration was that of American companies that sent recruiters to Sweden to encourage immigration.[6] The Swedish economy was facing severe challenges in the late nineteenth century, and this became worse during the First World War. It was not until after 1918 when the war ended that the Swedish economy would improve. By that time, advances in agricultural technology and new industrial models provided a new foundation for the Swedish economy, and immigration slowed from a torrent to a trickle.[7]

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


[1] Library of Congress, “Immigration: The Swedes,”            tations/immigration/scandinavian2.html (accessed October 24, 2014).

[2] Ibid.

[3]Lars Ljungmark, Swedish Exodus (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1979), 11.

[4] Ljungmark 13.

[5]  Jason E. Florence, The Background of Swedish Immigration (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931), 56.

[6]  Library of Congress, Immigration: The Swedes,            tations/immigration/scandinavian2.html (accessed October 24, 2014).

[7] Ljungmark 13.

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