Marcus Thrane

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Marcus Thrane
Portrett av Marcus Thrane 3.jpg
Born (1817-10-14)October 14, 1817
Christiania, Norway
Died April 30, 1890(1890-04-30) (aged 72)
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, U.S.A.

Marcus Møller Thrane (14 October 1817 – 30 April 1890) was a Norwegian author, journalist, and the leader of the first Norwegian labor movement, later known as the Thrane movement (Norwegian: Thranebevegelsen).[1]

Early life[edit]

Thrane was born in Christiania in 1817. Shortly after his birth, his father, a merchant and managing director in Norges Rigsbank, was arrested for involvement in corruption, a case that devastated the family's reputation. Later, only fifteen years old, Thrane was orphaned and had to move in with friends of the family.

In 1837, Thrane left Norway and traveled to France through Germany and Switzerland. Thrane stayed in Paris for several months before returning to Norway in December 1837. After finishing artium in 1840 and a brief period as a student of theology, Thrane and his newly wed wife, Maria Josephine Buch, moved to Lillehammer in 1841 where they ran a private school. In 1846, Thrane moved his teaching to Åsgårdstrand, but moved again the year after.

In March 1847, Thrane came to Åmot in Modum where he began work as a teacher for the workers' children at the large industrial company, Blaafarveværket. It was here he experienced his first political awakening. In April, the year after the company was experiencing difficulties, Thrane together with 250 workers were sacked.

The family then moved to Drammen, the hometown of his wife, where Thrane became the editor of the local newspaper Drammens Adresse, but because of his radical opinions, he was fired after only five months. At this time, Thrane had already begun his political activities.[2]

The Labor Movement[edit]

On December 27, 1848 Thrane founded Drammens arbeiderforening (Drammen labor union) with 160 members. The following year several other local labor unions were initiated under a national organization and Thrane printed the first edition of the union's paper Arbeiderforeningernes Blad. In May 1850, the union delivered a petition to King Oscar II of Sweden and the Norwegian Storting (parliament) signed by 13,000 members. The union asked for universal voting; universal mandatory military service (not just for those without property); equality before the law; better schools; low or no border taxes on necessary goods such as grains; and a special support for poor farmers in the form of arable land on reasonable terms.

The labour union led by Marcus Thrane was primarily a union for agricultural workers and crofters and can therefore not be seen as a direct precedent for Norway's later labour movements.

In November, the government dismissed the petition. The labor union's national conference in February the following year sought a revolution. Although Thrane managed to stop these plans, the authorities seized the opportunity to have him arrested. Thrane and 132 other members were sentenced on June 25, 1855. Marcus Thrane was sentenced to four years in prison in addition to the four years that had passed before the sentence was final. The imprisonments and internal tension resulted in the end of the movement and Thrane's attempts of revitalizing it after his release from prison were unsuccessful.[3]

Post-political life[edit]

After the collapse of the Thrane movement, Thrane became a photographer and when his wife died in 1862, he emigrated to the United States. He restarted his political activities among Scandinavian immigrants and he continued his career as a journalist. In 1865, Thrane started the Chicago-based newspaper, Norske-Amerikanerne . On May 2, 1866, John Anderson purchased the subscription lists of the foundering Norske-Amerikanerne, to start the Norwegian language newspaper, Skandinaven. In 1866, Thrane started a second Chicago newspaper, the Dagslyset which he published until 1878.[4]

In 1866 the Norwegian Synod had felt sufficiently threatened to issue "A Warning to all Christians," which condemned his socialistic ideas, but the writings he put out in Chicago actually reached only a small number of fellow socialists. He published a satirical depiction of the visit of the Norwegian author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson which he called The Old Wisconsin Bible (Norwegian: Den gamle Wisconsin-bibelen). It was mainly directed against the church leaders in the Synod.[5]

Among a number of more or less successful ventures in the United States, Thrane wrote and produced a number of plays for Norwegian-speaking audiences. The Norwegian Theater (Norwegian:Norske Teater) was established by Thrane in Chicago in September 1866. Many of the plays presented by the theater were written by Thrane.[6]

In 1883, he returned to Norway for a brief visit and held a number of lectures but, disappointed by the moderate interest, he returned to the United States where he died on April 30, 1890, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.[7]


Although his movement only existed for a few years, Thrane's work was an important contribution in the politicization of the Norwegian worker. The Norwegian Labor Party (founded in 1887) refers to him as one of its founding fathers. Indeed, the Thrane movement brought the rural and urban lower classes together in common cause for the first time in Norway.


Other sources[edit]

  • Karen Larsen, A History of Norway (Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 1949)
  • Leiren, Terje I. Marcus Thrane: A Norwegian Radical in America (Norwegian-American Historical Association. 1987)
  • Leiren, Terje I. Selected Plays of Marcus Thrane (New Directions in Scandinavian Studies. University of Washington Press. 2008)
  • Oddvar, Bjørklund Marcus Thrane, Socialist leder i et Utland. (Oslo, Norway. 1970) Norwegian
  • Koht, Halvdan Arbeider-rørsla av 1848 i Noreg (Norske Folkeskrifter Nr. 60. Norigs Ungdomslag og Studentmaallaget. Oslo [sic.] 1914)Norwegian

External links[edit]