The Scandinavian countries, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, are commonly grouped together by their close historic, linguistic, and cultural ties. Their age-old bonds continued to flourish both during and after the period of mass immigration to the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scandinavians felt comfortable with each other, a feeling forged through centuries of familiarity, and they usually chose to live in close proximity in communities throughout the Upper Midwest of the United States.
Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century and continuing until the 1920s, hundreds of thousands left Scandinavia to begin life in the United States and Canada. Sweden had the greatest number of its citizens leave for the United States, with more than one million migrating between 1820 and 1920. Per capita, Norway was the country most affected by the exodus; more than 850,000 Norwegians sailed to America between 1820 and 1920. In fact, Norway ranks second only to Ireland in the percentage of its population leaving for the New World during the great European migration. Denmark was affected at a much lower rate, but it too lost more than 300,000 of its population to the promise of America. Once gone, the move was usually permanent; few returned to live in Scandinavia. Michigan was never the most popular destination for Scandinavian immigrants. As immigrants began arriving in the North American interior, they settled in areas to the west of Michigan, particularly in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, and North and South Dakota. Nevertheless, thousands pursued their American dream in the Great Lakes State. They settled in Detroit and played an important role in the city’s industrial boom and automotive industry. They settled in the Upper Peninsula and worked in the iron and copper mines. They settled in the northern Lower Peninsula and worked in the logging industry. Finally, they settled in the fertile areas of west Michigan and contributed to the state’s burgeoning agricultural sector. Today, a strong Scandinavian presence remains in town names like Amble, in Montcalm County, and Skandia, in Marquette County, and in local culinary delicacies like æbleskiver, in Greenville, and lutefisk, found in select grocery stores throughout the state at Christmastime.