Nordic and Scandinavian Americans

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Nordic Americans
Scandinavian Americans
Total population
9,365,489 (2.8%) alone or in combination

3,419,197 (1.0%) Nordic or Scandinavian alone

2021 estimates, self-reported[1]
Regions with significant populations
61% Protestant,
22% Catholic, 14% other (no religion, Mormonism, etc.)[2]
Related ethnic groups
Other North Germanic peoples • other Finns • Estonian Americans • Inuit • Sámi Americans

Nordic and Scandinavian Americans are Americans of Scandinavian and/or Nordic ancestry, including Danish Americans (estimate: 1,453,897), Faroese Americans, Finnish Americans (estimate: 653,222[3]), Greenlandic Americans, Icelandic Americans (estimate: 49,442[4]), Norwegian Americans (estimate: 4,602,337), and Swedish Americans (estimate: 4,293,208).[5] Also included are persons who reported 'Scandinavian' ancestry (estimate: 582,549) on their census. According to 2021 census estimates, there are approximately 9,365,489 people of Scandinavian ancestry in the United States.[1][full citation needed]

Norsemen had explored the eastern coast of North America as early as the 11th century, though they created no lasting settlements. Later, a Swedish colony briefly existed on the Delaware River during the 17th century. The vast majority of Americans of Nordic or Scandinavian ancestry, however, are descended from immigrants of the 19th century. This era saw mass emigration from Scandinavia following a population increase that the region's existing infrastructure could not support. Many prevailing traditions observed by Nordic and Scandinavian Americans are from this era, and are reflective of the lifestyle of rural immigrant communities during the late 19th century.


Map highlighting the Nordic Region (excluding Greenland), with the three Scandinavian countries highlighted in red.

The terms Scandinavian and Nordic are closely related and often erroneously used interchangeably. The Nordic countries are a geographic region which consists of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Greenland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Finland, and Åland. Though these regions have a shared cultural history, they contain culturally distinct historical populations, including the Sámi people and the Norse people.

By contrast, the term Scandinavia more selectively refers to just Denmark, Norway and Sweden, although other Nordic countries are sometimes included within this definition. The joint ruling of Denmark and Norway from the mid-14th century until 1814, and then the joint rule of Sweden and Norway until 1905, have contributed towards a closely allied culture. These three countries also share mutually intelligible languages, as they are all descended from Old Norse. Faroese and Icelandic are also descendent of Old Norse, though they have kept more of the old Norse grammar and spelling, while the North Germanic languages have undergone more or less the same simplifications and are mutually intelligible and readable. The degree of ease with which people understand each other, however, varies depending on country and region of origin.


Early settlements[edit]

By the 11th century, Norsemen had established a presence in Iceland and Greenland, in close proximity to continental North America. Several expeditions were made to what they called Vinland, near Newfoundland and Labrador. Although this was the most significant pre-Columbian contact with North America by Europeans, no lasting settlements were made.[6]

During the mid 17th century, Sweden established a short-lived colony along the Delaware River called New Sweden. Despite its short history, the Nordic settlers are credited with having a lasting impact on colonial practice in the region. Swedish colonists likely introduced the construction of log cabins to North America, although some historians argue they were of later German or Swiss origin.[7][8] Additionally, it has been proposed that Finnish colonists had a lasting impact on the region's use of forested areas.[9] The colony was conquered by the Dutch in 1655 and subsequently dismantled. Despite its dissolution, Swedish and Finnish colonists remained the majority European population in the area. Swedish authorities retained some autonomy under the Dutch administration. By the mid-1660s however, the English outnumbered both the Dutch and Swedish, eventually becoming the dominant force in the area. The fate of the original Swedish and Finnish colonists is largely lost to history. It is believed that some moved west and settled among native populations, while others assimilated within the English regime.[10]

Nordic immigration[edit]

Early groups of Scandinavian immigrants to the United States had been motivated by religious factors, namely small communities of religious minorities who left to break from Lutheran state churches. Although small numbers of Scandinavian immigrants had already established themselves in the United States, the largest number immigrated during the 19th century in response to population increases across Scandinavia. During the 19th century, the population of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden collectively tripled. This increase was likely caused by improved medical and agricultural practices, and the unusually peaceful era in the region which followed the Napoleonic Wars. As a result, mortality rates dropped, while the birth rate continued to be high. The region's existing infrastructure could not support such extreme growth. In particular, population growth strained the resources of rural populations, where usable land was already limited. With more children to support, farms were successively split into smaller plots to be divided among descendants, and families were increasingly unable to sustain themselves from their own land. This forced many people in rural communities into poverty. Some chose to migrate to urban areas, in turn increasing unemployment. A later recession during the 1860s and famine further drove Scandinavians to emigrate. Although immigration to the United States decreased during the American Civil War, a significant wave again left during the 1880s. By the 1920s, the number of Scandinavian immigrants had decreased greatly, stopping almost entirely during the Great Depression.[11]

Between 1825 and 1930, approximately three million Scandinavians emigrated, over 95 percent of which moved to the United States. It is estimated that this group comprised 1.2 million Swedes, 850,000 Norwegians, and 300,000 Danes.[12] Initially, it was common for families to relocate as a whole unit and settle in the rural areas, most often in the Midwest. This shifted by the late 1800s, which saw more unmarried individuals immigrate to urban areas. They were often followed by other members of their family once they had financially established themselves. Similarly through chain migration, immigrants often settled near those they already knew from their country of origin. This led to distinct communities of Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians that expressed regional differences.[11]

While some immigrants quickly assimilated, many of the resulting insular rural communities remained culturally distinct. They established their own churches, newspapers, and schools in their native language and in accordance to their traditions. Institutions like these helped preserve their cultural identity, though over time these communities began to assimilate. Their identity came to be more homogeneously Scandinavian, rather than defined exclusively by their ancestral country. This paralleled global conceptions of Scandinavism, as different nationalities were led to work together by proximity.[13][11]

Following World War II, there was an increase in interest in ethnic origins in the United States, which saw more Scandinavian Americans refer to themselves as Norwegian-American, Danish-American, etc. Remaining communities became concerned with cultural activism and preservationism. These efforts often centered around church congregations and societies, such as the Sons of Norway and the Swedish–American Historical Society. Although use of North Germanic languages has largely died out among descendants of the 19th century, Scandinavian identity has been maintained, especially in rural communities.[14][15]

Finnish immigration[edit]

The majority of immigrants from Finland came to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century.[16] Today the Finnish-American population numbers about 650,000.[17] Many immigrated to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the Iron Range of northern Minnesota to work in the mining industry; much of the population in these regions remains of Finnish descent.[18]

Icelandic immigration[edit]

Icelandic immigrants came to the United States primarily in the period 1873–1905[19] and after World War II. According to 2019 estimates, there are approximately 49,400 Icelandic Americans in the U.S.[4] Most live in the Upper Midwest. The United States is home to the second largest Icelandic diaspora community in the world after Canada.[20]

Sámi immigration[edit]

Group of Sámi reindeer herders, 1898, Seattle.

Following the dramatic increase of immigrants to Alaska during the 1890s gold rush, the Alaska government was tasked with finding ways to sustain a population which was unprepared for the harshness of the climate. In the 1890s, it recruited approximately a hundred Sámi to introduce reindeer herding.[21] However, the Reindeer Act of 1937 made ownership of Reindeer by non-Alaskan Natives illegal and most Sámi left Alaska.[22]

An estimated 30,000 people of Sami ancestry live in North America.[19][23] A small Sámi community on the Kitsap Peninsula near Seattle continues to preserve Sámi-American culture.[22]



Leif Erikson Day, Leif Erikson is celebrated as the first European to land a voyage in North America.[24]


"Oleanna" is an Scandinavian-American folk song.[25][26]


Scandinavian Americans by state[edit]

State Scandinavian Americans[27] Percent Scandinavian Americans Scandinavian language speakers Percent speakers
 United States 11,269,320 3.8% 200,630 0.0%
 Minnesota 1,580,776 32.1% 17,998 0.3%
 California 1,510,541 3.6% 32,745 0.1%
 Washington 739,043 12.5% 12,524 0.2%
 Wisconsin 728,248 13.5% 6,929 0.2%
 Illinois 575,991 4.6% 7,528 0.0%
 Michigan 403,888 4.0% 8,825 0.0%
 Texas 359,360 1.4% 7,849 0.0%
 Florida 355,458 2.1% 14,628 0.0%
 Oregon 339,031 9.9% 4,510 0.1%
 Iowa 338,161 11.5% 2,407 0.0%
 Utah 333,405 14.9% 3,838 0.1%
 Colorado 291,488 5.9% - -
 Arizona 281,388 4.3% - -
 New York 254,474 1.3% 13,543 0.0%
 North Dakota 231,875 36.1% 3,364 0.5%
 Massachusetts 182,339 2.8% 6,599 0.1%
 Nebraska 177,522 9.9% - -
 South Dakota 172,941 21.5% - -
 Pennsylvania 169,294 1.3% - -
 Ohio 164,005 1.4% - -
 Montana 136,688 14.1% - -
 Idaho 136,620 8.9% - -
 Missouri 135,340 2.2% - -
 Virginia 130,099 1.6% - -
 Kansas 124,017 4.4% - -
 New Jersey 119,267 1.3% 5,518 0.0%
 Indiana 118,989 1.8% - -
 North Carolina 110,362 1.1% - -
 Nevada 102,638 3.9% - -
 Connecticut 100,530 2.8% - -
 Georgia 97,209 1.0% - -
 Maryland 79,656 1.4% - -
 Tennessee 75,615 1.2% - -
 Oklahoma 62,145 1.7% - -
 Alaska 61,259 8.9% - -
 Wyoming 51,755 9.7% - -
 New Hampshire 47,955 3.6% - -
 Maine 44,955 3.4% - -
 Alabama 43,899 0.9% - -
 South Carolina 43,306 0.9% - -
 New Mexico 41,073 2.0% - -
 Arkansas 38,308 1.3% - -
 Kentucky 34,592 0.8% - -
 Hawaii 30,976 2.4% - -
 Louisiana 29,175 0.6% - -
 Rhode Island 26,476 2.5% - -
 Mississippi 19,501 0.6% - -
 Vermont 18,378 2.9% - -
 West Virginia 14,519 0.8% - -
 Delaware 11,232 1.2% - -
 District of Columbia 7,523 1.3% - -
 Puerto Rico 641 0.0% - -

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "IPUMS USA". University of Minnesota. Archived from the original on October 13, 2022. Retrieved October 12, 2022.
  2. ^ One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, p. 120.
  3. ^ "Table B04006 – People Reporting Ancestry – 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on October 24, 2022. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  4. ^ a b "ACS 2019 1-Year Estimates. Table B04006". Archived from the original on October 24, 2022. Retrieved March 2, 2021.
  5. ^ Estrem, Andrew; Nelson, O. N. (1904). "History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in the United States". The American Historical Review. 3 (1): 161. doi:10.2307/1832827. hdl:2027/coo1.ark:/13960/t3rv14q4f. ISSN 0002-8762. JSTOR 1832827.
  6. ^ Linden, Eugene (December 2004). "The Vikings: A Memorable Visit to America". Smithsonian Magazine. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015.
  7. ^ Jordan, Terry G. (January 1983). "A Reappraisal of Fenno-Scandian Antecedents for Midland American Log Construction". Geographical Review. 73 (1): 58–94. doi:10.2307/214395. JSTOR 214395. Archived from the original on March 31, 2022. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  8. ^ Weslager, C. A. (July 1955). "Log Houses in Pennsylvania During the Seventeenth Century". Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies. 22 (3): 256–266. JSTOR 27769605. Archived from the original on August 30, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  9. ^ Jordan, Terry G. (1989). "New Sweden's Role on the American Frontier: A Study in Cultural Preadaptation". Geografiska Annaler. 71 (2): 71–83. doi:10.1080/04353684.1989.11879587. JSTOR 490516. Archived from the original on August 27, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Fur, Gunlög (2005). Colonialism in the Margins: Cultural Encounters in New Sweden and Lapland. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 9789004153165.
  11. ^ a b c Kuldkepp, Mart (2020). "Emigration and Scandinavian Identity". In Lindskog, Annika; Stougaard-Nielsen, jakob (eds.). Introduction to Nordic Cultures. London: UCL Press. pp. 181–194. doi:10.2307/j.ctv13xprms.18. ISBN 9781787354005. JSTOR j.ctv13xprms.18. S2CID 226078145. Archived from the original on August 27, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  12. ^ Gjerde, Jon (1995). "The Scandinavian Migrants". In Cohen, Robin (ed.). The Cambridge Survey of World Migration. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 85.
  13. ^ Tysdal, Olav (2007). "The Dissolution of the Union Between Norway and Sweden and the Scandinavian Americans". Scandinavian Studies. 79 (2): 171–175. JSTOR 40920743. Archived from the original on March 6, 2022. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  14. ^ Thaler, Peter (1997). "Concepts of Ethnicity in Early Twentieth-Century Norwegian America". Scandinavian Studies. 69 (1): 85–103. JSTOR 40919924. Archived from the original on August 28, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  15. ^ Barton, H. Arnold (1995). "Where Have the Scandinavian-Americanists Been?". Journal of American Ethnic History. 15 (1): 46–55. JSTOR 27502013. Archived from the original on February 28, 2017. Retrieved September 11, 2017 – via JSTOR.
  16. ^ A. William Hoglund (1960). Finnish Immigrants in America, 1880–1920. Madisonlccn=60005662: University of Wisconsin Press – via Internet Archive.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  17. ^ "Table B04006 – People Reporting Ancestry – 2019 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on October 24, 2022. Retrieved September 26, 2020.
  18. ^ Holli, Melvin (1990). Kostiainen, Auvo (ed.). Finnish Identity in America. University of Turku. ISBN 9789518804645.
  19. ^ a b Kjartansson, Helgi Skúli (January 1, 1977). "The Onset of Emigration from Iceland". American Studies in Scandinavia. 10 (2): 87–93. doi:10.22439/asca.v9i1.1596. Archived from the original on December 19, 2022. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  20. ^ Ockerstrom, Lolly (2014). "Icelandic Americans". In Riggs, Thomas (ed.). Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America. Vol. 2 (3rd ed.). Detroit: Gale. pp. 387–399. ISBN 978-1-4144-3806-1. Archived from the original on January 15, 2023. Retrieved May 8, 2023.
  21. ^ Faith, Fjeld (Spring 1992). "The Sami in America" (PDF). Báiki: an American Journal of Sami Living. 3: 3–4. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 28, 2022. Retrieved December 19, 2022.
  22. ^ a b "Sami in North America". Milwaukee Public Museum. Archived from the original on January 13, 2014. Retrieved June 19, 2013.
  23. ^ Pesklo, Chris (2018). "Cultural Revitalisation: 'Feeding on the Tools of the Conquerors'—A Sami-American Perspective". In Roche, Gerald; Maruyama, Hiroshi; Kroik, Åsa Virdi (eds.). Indigenous Efflorescence: Beyond Revitalisation in Sapmi and Ainu Mosir. ANU Press. pp. 209–218. ISBN 9781760462635. JSTOR j.ctv9hj9pb.33. Archived from the original on August 27, 2021. Retrieved April 5, 2021 – via JSTOR.
  24. ^ "Leif Eriksson". History. April 22, 2010. Archived from the original on June 22, 2021. Retrieved June 29, 2021.
  25. ^ Folk Songs of Four Continents (New York City, NY: Folkways Records, 1955).
  26. ^ "Oleanna" – Norwegian-American Folk Song, archived from the original on December 19, 2021, retrieved June 30, 2021
  27. ^ "Number of Scandinavian People in the United States". Name Census. Archived from the original on December 20, 2022. Retrieved January 1, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bergman, Klas. Scandinavians in the State House: How Nordic Immigrants Shaped Minnesota Politics (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2017) online review.
  • Blanck, Dag. "The Transnational Viking: The Role of the Viking in Sweden, the United States, and Swedish America." Journal of Transnational American Studies 7.1 (2016). online
  • Brøndal, Jørn. Ethnic Leadership and Midwestern Politics: Scandinavian Americans and the Progressive Movement in Wisconsin, 1890–1914 (University of Illinois Press, 2004).
  • Brøndal, Jørn. "'The Fairest among the So-Called White Races': Portrayals of Scandinavian Americans in the Filiopietistic and Nativist Literature of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries." Journal of American Ethnic History 33.3 (2014): 5–36. in JSTOR
  • Evjen, John O. Scandinavian Immigrants in New York 1630–1674 (Genealogical Pub. Co., Baltimore, 1972)
  • Hoobler, Dorothy, and Thomas Hoobler. The Scandinavian American Family Album (Oxford University Press, 1997).
  • Jackson, Erika K. Scandinavians in Chicago: The Origins of White Privilege in Modern America (University of Illinois Press, 2019) online review
  • Janson, Florence Edith. The background of Swedish immigration, 1840–1930 (1931; reprinted 1970), Push factors conditions in Sweden. online
  • Kastrup, Allan. Swedish heritage in America (1975) online
  • Lovoll, Odd S. ed., Nordics in America: The Future of Their Past (Northfield, Minn., Norwegian American Historic Association. 1993)
  • Ljungmark, Lars. For Sale: Minnesota. Organized Promotion of Scandinavian Immigration, 1866–1873 (1971).
  • Nelson, O. N. History of the Scandinavians and Successful Scandinavians in the United States (2 vol 1904); 886pp online full text also online review
  • Norman, Hans, and Harald Runblom. Transatlantic Connections: Nordic Migration to the New World After 1800 (1988).
  • Olson, Daron. "We Are All Scandinavians: Norwegian American Press Reaction to the 1938 Swedish Tercentenary." Swedish American Historical Quarterly 65 (2014): 3–30. Norwegian-American press argued the colonial settlement was Scandinavian not just Swedish.
  • Rasmussen, Anders Bo. Civil War Settlers: Scandinavians, Citizenship, and American Empire, 1848-1870 (2022) see online book also see online book review
  • Sverdljuk, Jana, et al., eds. Nordic Whiteness and Migration to the USA: A Historical Exploration of Identity (Routledge, 2020).
  • Thernstrom, Stephan; Orlov, Ann; Handlin, Oscar, eds. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0674375122, (1980) online; scholarly coverage of all groups
  • Wisby, Hrolf. "The Scandinavian-American: His Status." The North American Review 183.597 (1906): 213–223. online


  • Kvisto, P., and D. Blanck, eds. American Immigrants and Their Generations: Studies and Commentaries on the Hansen Thesis after Fifty Years. (University of Illinois Press, 1990)
  • Lovoll, Odd S. ed., Nordics in America: The Future of Their Past (Northfield, Minn., Norwegian American Historic Association. 1993)
  • Schnell, Steven M. "Creating Narratives of Place and Identity in 'Little Sweden, U.S.A.'" The Geographical Review, (2003) Vol. 93,
  • Vecoli, Rudolph J. "'Over the Years I Have Encountered the Hazards and Rewards that Await the Historian of Immigration,' George M. Stephenson and the Swedish American Community," Swedish American Historical Quarterly 51 (April 2000): 130–49.