People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Swedish Americans Part 1

About the Swedish Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Swedish-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: The vast majority of Swedish Americans emigrated between 1840 and 1920, from the traditional regions of Smaland, Halland, Vastergotland, and Skane. These regions, located in southern and western Sweden, were poor, agricultural districts.

Why They Left: The large-scale immigration from 1840 to 1920 was caused primarily by economic factors. In Sweden, population growth made farmland ever more scarce in a country already overpopulated with peasant farmers. Farmers were forced to become sharecroppers for wealthy landlords, while the large class composed of landless hired hands constantly expanded. Crop failures and the agricultural depression from 1860 to 1880 further deteriorated the Swedish farmer's living conditions.

As things went from bad to worse on the Swedish farms, the peasants were bombarded with propaganda about America. Underpopulated states such as Minnesota, U.S. railroad companies seeking laborers, steamship companies wanting to bolster business--all sent lecturers and recruiters to Sweden to convince Swedes to immigrate to the Land of Plenty. A deluge of pamphlets and books, such as Fredrika Bremer's Homes in the New World, combined with letters from relatives already living in the U.S., persuaded thousands of Swedes to emigrate yearly. One of the greatest incentives was Lincoln's Homestead Act of 1862, which--for a small fee--awarded 160 acres of land to any settler who occupied and farmed them for five years. The thought of owning 160 acres sent Swedish sharecroppers and hired hands rushing to the ports of Malmo and Goteborg to board the next steamer bound for America.

Other factors besides economics contributed to Swedish immigration to the U.S. In Sweden, social stratification was strict, and in the last half of the 1800s, Sweden introduced universal military conscription. Many Swedes chose exile in America to avoid the draft.

Where They Settled: The first waves of 19th-century Swedish immigrants headed for the Midwest, where they settled in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Chicago, not New York City, became the focal point of Swedish immigration; by the late 1900s, the city had a large and prosperous "Swede Town." As more land-seeking Swedes arrived, they pushed west into Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas. Minnesota became the most "Swedish" of all the states, with Swedish Americans comprising around 12% of the total population from 1885 to 1920.

When land became scarce in the Midwest after 1890, immigrants moved to the Pacific Northwest, where they settled in large numbers in the Puget Sound area of Washington State. After 1900, Swedes began settling in the eastern urban areas of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut.

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