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Waves of Norwegian Immigrants


Norwegian Immigration to the United States

When were the major waves of immigrants from Norway to the United States?

  • 1825 is recoginized as the start of Norwegian emigration, when the ship Restauration set sail to the U.S. with 53 Norwegians aboard.
  • However, it was not until 1865, the end of the Civil War, that a large Norwegian immigration occured, a mass immgration that lasted for eight years. During this time period, 110,000 Norwegians entered the United States.
  • A second and larger wave of mass immigration took place from 1880 to 1893. Prior to 1880, the majority of immigrants migrated with their families, and in 1880 that changed. Immigrants were younger, educated, and moving without their family.

From which regions of Norway did they leave?

  •  The first Norwegian immigrants left their homes in rural areas of western and eastern Norway.

Push Factors

  • The first immigrants, who were mainly Lutheran pietists and Quakers, came to the U.S. to avoid religioius persecution.
  • In the 1800s, Norway faced an industrial slowdown, which made it hard for the younger population to find jobs, and they left in search of a way to support themselves and their families.

 Pull Factors

  • While Norway had a shortage of jobs in the 1800s, America had a shortage of labor. As America's economy grew, more workers were needed. This opportunity for employment drew many Norwegian emigrants to America.

Where did they settle, and why?

  •  The early immigrants, the Lutheran pietists and Quakers with the help of American Quakers settled in western New York.
  • From there, the Norwegians began to move westward, finding Norwegian settlements along the way, first in Illinois and then in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
  • From the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, the majority of Norwegian immigrants lived in the upper Midwest (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, and the Dakotas).
  • Norwegian communities, also developed in Seattle, Brooklyn, New York, Alaska and Texas. As of 1990, the largest populations of Norwegian Americans lived in Minnesota and Wisconsin. 


  • In the 19th century, many lived in small communities, usually farming communities. In 1900, almost 75 percent of Norwegians lived in towns populated with less than 25,000 people.
  • In addition to living farming communities, Norwegians could also be found in enclaves of major cities, such as Seattle and Minneapolis. Although, the Norwegian communities have since disappeared as the Norwegians became more assimilated.
  • Starting in the 1920s more Norwegians began moving from rural areas into suburban ones.


  • When the Norwegians emigrated to the U.S. during the 1800s, they brought their traditions with them. One of these traditions was farming. Many Norwegian immigrants made a living as farmers, growing such crops as wheat and corn and raising cattle and hogs. In 1900, nearly 54 percent of Norwegian children came from farming families.
  • It was also common for other Norwegian and Scandinavian men to work in the construction, logging, and shipping industries.
  • While the men worked in physical occupations, women at the time, worked as domestic or personal servants.
  • Currently, access to higher education has broadened the occupational fields for Norwegian-Americans and they are not over-represented in any particular field.


  • By living in farming communities and in enclaves, the Norwegians found people who shared their culture, values, and homeland. While this may have offered some comfort for the immigrants, it also segregated them from American society.
  • However, when it became necessary to interact outside their communities to run their farms, Norwegians began to develop relations with the larger American society.

Stereotypes, Discrimination, and Other Struggles

  • While Norwegian immigrants did not face strong anti-immigrant sentiment, they were the targets of some unfriendly remarks. Sometimes they were called "guests," a label signifying that the Norwegians were not part of America and implied that they would eventually leave.

Contributions to the United States

  • Traditional Norewegian foods that have survived or have been reintroduced as part of Norwegian-American ethnic heritage are lutefisk and lefse.  Lutefisk is a dried Norwegian cod soaked in a lye solution and lefse is a thin buttered pancake made from a rolled dough.

Resources Used for this Report
Gale Encyclopedia of Multicultural America, 2nd edition.  Edited by Jeffrey Lehman.  New York: Gale Group, 2000.