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Scandinavian Immigrants

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Swede Johann Eckstrom holding a "key fiddle," which has piano-like keys along the neck. Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.

Scandinavians--from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden--began to come to Utah in the 1850s. Why? Like other Mormon converts, they wanted to come to "Zion."

In 1850, the first Mormon missionaries began to preach in Denmark. After that, missionaries converted many Scandinavians to the LDS church, and those converts usually migrated to Utah to join the “Saints.”

They believed that Utah would be "Zion"--a place where the people of God would gather and live in peace.

What do you think Scandinavians thought of Utah when they first got here?

A big transition

Coming to the American West was a big transition for many of the new immigrants. They were used to a moist, sea-level climate--a place where they had plenty of rain to grow crops. (Utah, of course, is dry.)

They also had to adapt to a very different Anglo-American culture, foods, style of dress, and language.  And that had to do it pretty quickly.

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Roland Gustafson, on the far left, and Halvar Wallin, on the far right, with their band in Sweden. Roland and Wallin grew up together in Sweden and both immigrated to Utah. See them also in the picture below. Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.

Also--they may have been disappointed that not everyone in "Zion" was perfect!

Read the heroic story of Elsie Rasmussen and Jens Nielsen, a Danish couple who converted to the Mormon church.

Read about Hilda Erickson, a Swedish immigrant who accomplished a lot!

Getting "acculturated"

When they arrived in Utah, people from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden tended to live together in towns in Sanpete County, or in Sevier, Tooele, and Cache counties. By living together, they could all go through the process of getting used to their new home--sometimes called "acculturation"--together. Which made it easier.

Sharing culture

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In this photo of Swedish dancers at This is the Place Park in 1986, the musicians include Donna Collard playing accordion, Halvar Wallin on button accordion, George Olsen on guitar, and Roland Gustavson standing with guitar Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.

But they were also able to share their own culture. They had brought along valuable skills that helped them and their neighbors. Many were good farmers. Others were skilled in various crafts and trades. They shared their culture and skills, changing Utah in the process. For instance, Scandinavian builders brought new kinds of architecture into Utah buildings—some of which you can see today.

The bad and the good

Like all immigrants, Scandinavians sometimes had to deal with prejudiced people. Sometimes the earlier settlers mocked them for their language or poverty.  Also, because Danes, Norwegians, and Swedes didn’t always get along, they sometimes fought among themselves.

And it helped that they shared a faith and mingled with other Mormons.  Scandinavians became part of Utah’s fabric fairly easily, and many rose to prominence in the social landscape.

Thanks, Norwegians!

By the way, Norwegians brought their skiing and snowshoeing skills to the state. New Norwegian immigrants in the 1930s and ‘40s introduced ski jumping as a spectator sport in the United States and later helped establish the ski industry.

More cool things to learn

Learn more about Scandinavian immigrants' sense of humor.

Read more about Scandinavians in this article from The Peoples of Utah.

Listen to Swedish music made in Utah

Sankta Lucia

Staffan var en stalledrant

Sma grodorna

Sma grodorna dance

 

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Halvar and Birgit Wallin, Swedish immigrants to Utah, in their traditional dress. Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.

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Dancers at a Lucia Julfest program in 2003. St. Lucia is a saint whose feast day is celebrated around Christmas time. Swedes in Utah celebrate the day with a program of singing and dancing. Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.

 

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Decorating the "midsummer pole" with greens. Swedes in Utah still celebrate midsummer (around June 21) with a festival. Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.

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Dancing around the "midsummer pole." Courtesy of Utah Folk Arts Program.