The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







The Norwegian-Americans are an ethnic group in the United States. They are the descendents of Norwegian immigrants who came to America primarily in the latter half of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th century.

There are more than 4.5 million Norwegian-Americans according to the most recent U.S. census, and most live in the Upper Midwest.


Norwegians in America


Norwegians are credited with being the first Europeans to discover North America. The Norwegian Leifr Eirķksson reached America via Norse settlements in Greenland circa 1000 A.D., nearly five centuries before Columbus. It is generally agreed that the Vikings founded at least one permanent settlement on the North American continent, but just how much they did in North America has been a matter of debate for the past hundred years. Some controversial evidence exists that suggests that the Vikings had many settlements in North America, and actually reached much further into the North American mainland than was believed before. See Kensington runestone.

Norwegian immigration to America in the modern era began in 1825, when several dozen Norwegians left Stavanger bound for America on the sloop Restaurationen (often called the "Norwegian Mayflower") under the leadership of Cleng Peerson . The emigrants were primarily Quakers, though other motivations may have played a role. The ship landed in New York City, where it was at first impounded for exceeding its passenger limit. After intervention from president John Quincy Adams, the passengers moved on to settle in Kendall, New York, after having witnessed the opening of the Erie Canal enroute. Most of these immigrants moved on from Kendall, settling in Illinois and Wisconsin. Cleng Peerson became a traveling emissary for Norwegian immigrants and died in Norse Settlement near Cranfills Gap, Texas in 1865.

While there were about 65 Norwegian individuals that emigrated via ports in Sweden and elsewhere in the intervening year, the next emigrant ship did not leave Norway for the New World until 1936, when the ships Den Norske Klippe and Norden departed. In 1937, a group of immigrants from Tinn emigrated via Gothenburg to the Fox River Settlement, near today's Sheridan, Illinois. But it was the writings of Ole Rynning, who travelled to the US on the Ęgir in 1837 that energized Norwegian immigration.

To a great extent, early emigration from Norway was borne out of religious persecution, especially for Quakers and a local religious group, haugianere.

Norwegian immigration through the years was predominantly motivated by economic concerns. Compounded by crop failures, Norwegian agricultural resources were unable to keep up with population growth, and the Homestead Act promised fertile, flat land. As a result, settlement trended westward with each passing year. Early Norwegian settlements were in Pennsylvania and Illinois, but moved westward into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas.

Additionally, craftsmen also emigrated to a larger, more diverse market. Until recently, there was a Norwegian area of Brooklyn, New York originally populated by Norwegian craftsmen.

Heavy Norwegian immigration to America did not begin in earnest until the 1850s. Between 1850 and 1920, some 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to America, the peak decades being the 1880s, the 1890s, and the 1900s. The vast majority settled in the Upper Midwest.


  • There are more than 4.5 million people of Norwegian ancestry in the U.S. today. Of these, approximately 3 million claim 'Norwegian' as their sole or primary ancestry.
  • A little more than than 2 out of every 100 whites in America are of Norwegian descent. In the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota, eastern Wisconsin, northern Iowa, and the Dakotas, more than 15 out of every 100 whites are of Norwegian descent.
  • Norwegian-Americans actively celebrate and maintain their heritage in many ways. Much of it centers around the Lutheran-Evangelical churches they were born into, but also culinary customs (e.g., lutefisk and lefse), costumes (bunad), and Norwegian holidays (syttende mai) are popular. Certain towns in the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest, have very strong Norwegian influences.
  • Although the Norwegians were the most numerous of all the Scandinavian immigrant groups, other Scandinavians also immigrated to America during the same time period. Today, there are 11-12 million Americans of Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavians represent about 6% of the white population in the USA as a whole, and more than 25% of the white population of the Upper Midwest.

Norwegian-Americans by state

The 10 states with the most Norwegians:

  1. Minnesota – 851,000
  2. Wisconsin – 456,000
  3. California – 436,000
  4. Washington – 368,000
  5. North Dakota – 193,000
  6. Illinois – 179,000
  7. Iowa – 167,000
  8. Oregon – 147,000
  9. Texas – 119,000
  10. South Dakota – 115,000

The 10 states with the top percentages of Norwegians:

  1. North Dakota – 33% of the state's white population is of Norwegian ancestry
  2. Minnesota – 20%
  3. South Dakota – 17%
  4. Montana – 12%
  5. Wisconsin – 10%
  6. Washington – 8%
  7. Iowa – 6%
  8. Alaska – 6%
  9. Oregon – 5%
  10. Wyoming – 5%

Notable and famous Norwegian-Americans

See the complete List of Norwegian-Americans.

Use of Norwegian language in America

Use of the Norwegian language in America was at its peak between 1900 and World War I, during which time over one million Americans spoke Norwegian as their primary language, and during which time hundreds of Norwegian-language newspapers were in operation across the Upper Midwest, from Michigan to the Dakota plains. It is also estimated that there were 3,000 Lutheran churches across the Upper Midwest that used Norwegian as their sole language of worship during the same period.

Use of the Norwegian language declined in the 1920s and 1930s, with the younger generation mostly favoring English. By the late 1930s and 1940s, most Norwegian-language newspapers in America had closed down or converted to English-language, and the Lutheran churches in the Upper Midwest that conducted their services in Norwegian also switched to English due to declining numbers of Norwegian-speakers.

81,000 Americans speak Norwegian at home today, according to census figures.

External links

  • Norwegian American Historical Association
  • Norwegian population data
    from the U.S. Census Bureau
  • Norwegian population by state
  • U.S. Census data on number of language speakers, including Norwegian
  • Friends of Norway Caucus – A Congressional Caucus promoting Norwegian-American relations, founded by Norwegian-American congressmen
  • Norwegian-American homepage
  • Sons of Norway – An organization dedicated to preserving and promoting Norwegian heritage and culture, especially in America
  • Norwegian-American Foundation
  • Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum
  • Norwegians in the Civil War
  • Nordmanns Forbundet (The Norse Federation) – A non-profit organization founded in 1907 that seeks to strengthen cultural and personal ties between Norway and Norwegians abroad

Last updated: 02-07-2005 15:50:29
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55