This presentation provides information about immigration from Finland to the
United States, and about the activities of Finnish-American immigrants in the
United States from the 17th to the 20th centuries.
Information is contained in a chronology and selected bibliography.
Finns, as subjects of the Swedish Crown, were included in Sweden's
seventeenth century effort to gain a New World foothold in the Delaware Valley.
It is estimated that about half of the approximately one thousand colonists in
"New Sweden" were either Finns who had first settled in Värmland, Sweden, or who
came directly from Finland. The colonizing effort was initiated by the
Dutch-Swedish New Sweden Company, and led by the German-born Peter Minuit. The
Company Board included a Finnish admiral, Klaus Fleming.
Two ships, Kalmar Nyckel and Fågel Grip, set sail for the New World in 1637.
They arrived in 1638, and the colonists purchased land from the native Americans
to build Fort Christina, named after the Swedish queen. In 1655 Dutch colonists
took over the small settlement. The year 1664 saw both the arrival of a final
contingent of 140 Finns, and the change of ownership of the area from the Dutch
to the English.
The memory of the early Finnish settlement lived on in place names near the
Delaware River such as Finland (Marcus Hook), Nya Vasa, Nya Korsholm, Tornea,
Lapland, Finns Point and Mullica. Several authors have suggested that the log
cabin was a Finnish contribution to the New World, and that John Morton, one of
the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a descendant of the Värmland
Finnish Marttinen/Mårtenson family.
The Finnish scholar Pehr (Pietari) Kalm toured North America
exploring areas of what are now the United States and Canada. He was one of the
first Europeans on the continent to visit Niagara Falls. Kalm's findings were
published in the work En resa til Norra America (Journey to North
America) which was subsequently translated into several languages. The well
known Swedish naturalist Linnaeus, Kalm's mentor, named a plant genus
kalmia in honor of his distinguished student.
Possibly the first Finn to have reached Alaska was a carpenter, Aleksanteri
Kuparinen, who accompanied a group of Russian Orthodox monks locating on Kodiak
Island in 1794.
After Finland came under Russian rule in 1809, a number of Finnish sailors
and craftsmen found employment in Alaska, at the other geographic extreme of the
Russian empire from Finland. Of the approximately 500 Europeans living in Sitka
in mid-nineteenth century, the majority were Russians, Finns and Balts. Many
took Aleut wives. A number of Finnish professionals, including clergymen,
academics and prospecting engineers, visited Alaska for periods of time, while
those in more menial occupations lacked the means to return and remained in
Alaska even after it was sold to the United States in 1867.
Two Finns in particular left their mark on the North American continent as
chief managers of the Russian-American Company: Arvid Adolf Etholén and Johan
Hampus Furuhjelm. Etholén first reached Sitka in the service of the
Russian-American Company in 1818, rising to chief manager of the Company
1840-1845. The name Etolin, based on the Russian version of Etholén's name,
"Adolf Karlovich Etolin," can be found in several places on the map of Alaska.
The Etholén collection in the National Museum of Finland contains a number of
remarkable Alaskan ethnographic items.
Johan Hampus Furuhjelm served as Governor of the Russian-American Company
from 1859 to 1864 and retired with the rank of vice admiral. In 1935 the United
States Forest Service named Mount Furuhjelm after him.
Immigration from Finland to the United States started as a trickle consisting
mainly of sailors who saw the opportunity to settle down. Documents show that
sailors William Lundell and Carl Sjödahl left their respective ships to farm in
the United States, Lundell in Massachusetts, and Sjödahl in Alabama where the
latter achieved remarkable prosperity under his new name, Charles Linn.
Eventually, hundreds of Finnish sailors were on record as having abandoned
their ships tempted by California gold, and life in such big cities as New York
and Boston. Edward Kohn, a sailor from Turku smitten with California gold fever,
was possibly the first in his profession to take the official route by actually
applying for a passport in 1849.
Emigration from Finland to the United States has been documented through
Finnish passport applications and parish records. Small groups of Finns arrived
in Minnesota via Norway in 1864. Around this time Michigan copper mining
companies sent agents to recruit Finns living in Northern Norway. Their job
prospects encouraged others to follow suit. Carl Sjödahl, the former sailor, led
53 emigrants from Uusimaa in Southern Finland to Alabama in 1869, and another
group left Vaasa Province in Western Finland in 1871.
In the 1870s, poor farming conditions contributed to substantial emigration
from Western Finland, notably from Tornio River Valley, Kalajoki, and the areas
around Kokkola, Vaasa and Kristiina. In the south, Turku was a gateway to North
America. Newspaper accounts of the United States as the land of freedom,
democracy, and equality further generated interest in emigration. During the
1860s and 70s Finnish settlers were found in Cokato, New York Mills, and Duluth,
Minnesota, the latter subsequently known as the "Helsinki of America." Michigan
mining communities included Calumet, Hancock, Marquette, Ishpeming, Negaunee and
Ironwood. Farming communities were found in Nisula, Kyrö, Watton-Covington and
Kaleva. Between 1870 and 1920, approximately 340,000 Finns immigrated to the
Transmitting the Finnish cultural heritage to the next generation was
considered a high priority among Finnish-Americans. The first Finnish-American
newspaper, Amerikan Suomalainen Lehti (America's Finnish Newspaper) was
published by Antti Muikku in Hancock, Michigan, 1876, the first of several
hundred Finnish-American papers. Amerikan Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden
Seura (The American Finnish Literature Society) was founded in Calumet,
Michigan 1878, initially to publish instructional material for children, as well
as religious literature. In general, Finnish immigrants were distinguished by
their high literacy rate.
In the 1880s emigration was common from Finland's coastal areas,
particularly Ostrobothnia, as well as the Åland Islands, while in the 1890s the
idea of emigration also spread to the inland. Remarkably accurate passenger
lists were maintained by the Suomen Höyrylaiva Osakeyhtiö, a Finnish shipping
company which transported Finns to England where they subsequently transferred
to English or American vessels. In the 1870s and 1880s about 40 percent of all
Finnish-Americans lived in Michigan, primarily working in mining and logging.
Minnesota's Mesabi Iron Range was another area providing substantial employment
for Finnish-Americans. Farming was another significant way in which the
immigrants made a living. Single young women often were employed as
Emphasis on Finnish culture and literacy remained strong. It is estimated
that of the Finnish immigrants arriving between 1899 and 1910, 98 percent were
able to read, compared to the average immigrant literacy rate of 76 percent.
The Lutheran Suomi (Finland) Synod was founded in 1890 with strong ties
to the Finnish Lutheran church. Suomi-College was established in Hancock,
Michigan in 1896 as a theological and teacher-training seminary. The1962 merger
of Suomi Synod into the Lutheran Church in America and the decreasing percentage
of Finnish-Americans attending Suomi-College reflected the inevitable
Americanization of Finnish immigrants
The division between those Finnish-Americans with a more conservative,
religious orientation, and those with a more leftist and labor focus began in
the 1890s. Church life contrasted with labor activities which centered around
the various local meeting places, the "halls." The first and perhaps most noted
of these was Brooklyn's Imatra Hall which catered to the inhabitants of
Brooklyn's "Finntown." The history of the Finnish-American Workers' College
illustrates the range of immigrant loyalties. This institution, which was
particularly active prior to World War I, began as a seminary, but became
progressively more labor-oriented before closing in 1941.
The Finnish National Brotherhood, the Knights of Kaleva, was founded in 1898
to further Finnish culture in the United States.
Finns were identified for the first time in the 1900 U.S. census, which
counted about 63,000 persons born in Finland. Of these, about 56,000 lived in
Michigan, Minnesota, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Wisconsin, and California. Almost a third of the total, approximately 19,000,
lived in Michigan. Inspired by the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala,
Kaleva was founded in southern Michigan in the early 1900s and attracted
hundreds of Finnish-American residents.
This decade saw the founding of the Finnish
cooperative colony, Redwood Valley, California (1912-1932), and the flowering of
the Finnish cooperatives, particularly general stores in the Midwest.
The 1920 Census again showed that Michigan and Minnesota were home to largest
numbers of Finnish-Americans, with about 34 percent of the total United States
population born in Finland evenly divided between each state. Elsewhere,
Finnish-American settlements could be found in Oulu, Wisconsin; Frederick
(Savo), South Dakota; Waukegan and De Kalb, Illinois; and Ashtabula (Iloinen)
Harbor and Cleveland, Ohio. On the East Coast, Massachusetts quarries provided
employment, as did the industry and other businesses of Boston. New York City
was home to Finnish-Americans, particularly Brooklyn's 10,000-strong "Finntown."
By this time thousands of Finns also had settled in California, Washington and
Oregon. A distinct correlation could be found between the areas of emigration in
Finland and of immigration in the United States, as people from certain Finnish
localities preferred to settle in particular areas of the United States.
The Order of Runeberg was founded in 1920 by Swedish-speaking
Finnish-Americans of whom about 70,000 were estimated to have arrived in the
United States between 1880-1940. Johan Ludvig Runeberg was a well known
Swedish-speaking Finnish poet who, among other things, wrote the lyrics to the
Finnish national anthem.
The first Finnish-American Congressman, Oscar J. Larson, an attorney from
Minnesota elected as a Republican, served in the Sixty-seventh and Sixty-eighth
Congresses 1921-1925. The year 1921 also saw the founding of a second
Finnish-American cooperative community in McKinnon, Georgia (1921-1966).
The last large wave of Finns immigrating to the U.S. came in 1923, numbering
Finnish-American runner Ville Ritola broke the world record for the 10,000
meter race winning four gold and two silver medals in the Paris Olympics, 1924.
He won a gold and a silver medal in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics for the 10,000
meter and 5,000 meter races, respectively.
Possibly the best-known Finnish-American organization, Suomi-Seura, was
founded in 1927 and proved particularly active in celebrating the 300th
anniversary of the Finnish settlement in Delaware, 1938.
Beginning in the 1920s, Finnish-American accordionist Viola Turpeinen won
acclaim for her performances and recordings. Together with Sylvia Pölsö, fellow
accordionist, the two attractive young women were a popular draw in the Midwest.
Viola Turpeinen's music was recorded for Victor and Columbia in the 1920s and
1930s. In the 1940s and 1950s Turpeinen and her musician husband William Syrjälä
recorded for the Standard Phono Company. In 1958, at the age of 49, Viola
Turpeinen died of cancer in Lake Worth, Florida where she had settled with her
1930s to 1940s
Finnish-Americans provided aid as well as a number of volunteers to Finland
during the Winter War and World War II. The Finnish Relief Fund established to
provide civilian aid was headed by former President Herbert Hoover.
The architects, father and son, Eliel and Eero Saarinen became particularly
well known in the United States during these decades. Eliel Saarinen was the
first director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.
Eero Saarinen's most notable contribution is the design for the Jefferson
National Expansion Memorial, or "Gateway Arch to the West," in St. Louis,
1950s to 1980s
St. Urho's Day, a Finnish-American celebration, began in Minnesota in the
1950s. This tongue-in-cheek event reflects the Finnish-American acculturation
process with a nod to St. Patrick's Day. St. Urho's Day is celebrated March 16,
and is now recognized as a Finnish-American event throughout the United States.
Minnesotans Richard L. Mattson and Sulo Havumaki are credited for initiating
this celebration in 1956. The colors worn on St. Urho's Day, royal purple and
nile green, are in memory of the fictitious occasion on which St. Urho ("St.
Brave") supposedly chased away the grasshoppers threatening Finland's grape
Lantana, Lake Worth and New Port Richey, Florida acquired popularity as areas
for Finnish settlement.
FinnFest USA, Inc. has been arranging annual FinnFests since 1983 to
highlight Finnish-American culture and heritage. FinnFest '88 at the University
of Delaware, Newark, Delaware had as its theme "350 years of Finns in the United
States" to observe the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Finnish settlers to
the site of present day Wilmington.
To observe the 350th anniversary of the Finnish settlement in Delaware, a
Joint Resolution of the 99th Congress, May 22, 1986 and a Presidential
Proclamation on September 17, 1987 designated 1988 as the "National Year of
Friendship with Finland."
1990 to Present
The groundbreaking for Salolampi Finnish Language Village was held in 1990.
This center for language learning is currently owned by Concordia College.
The 1992 Library of Congress Exhibition, Bearers of the Word: Finnish
Immigrant Literature in America 1876-1992, highlighted the continuation of
the Finnish literary tradition in the U.S.
Finnish American Societies with chapters in various localities include the
Finnish-American Historical Society, International Order of Runeberg, Finnish
American Heritage Society, and Finlandia Foundation which thrived for many years
under the patronage of Dr. Vaino Hoover (Huovinen).
Finnish-Americans count in their number the actresses Christine Lahti and
Jessica Lange, producer Renny Harlin, authors Jean Auel, Anselm Hollo, Stephen
Kuusisto and Tiina Nunnally, who is also known for her fine translations. Gus
Hall is the long-time leader of the U.S. Communist Party. Charles Wuorinen is a
Pulitzer Prize winning composer. Paul Kangas is best known from Nightly Business
Report on TV. Last but not least, Finnish names are often seen in the National
Barnes, Mary Clark and Lemuel Call Barnes. The New America, a Study in
Immigration. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1913.
Engelberg, Rafael. Suomi ja Amerikan suomalaiset: keskinäinen yhteys ja
sen rakentaminen. Helsinki: Suomi-Seura, r.y., 1944.
Engle, Eloise. The Finns in America. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Lerner
Publications Company, 1977.
Hoglund, A. William. "Breaking With Religious Tradition: Finnish Immigrant
Workers and the Church, 1890-1915," For the Common Good: Finnish Immigrants
and the Radical Response to Industrial America. Superior, Wisconsin: Tyomies
_________. Finnish Immigrants in America 1880-1920. Madison: The
University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.
Hoobler, Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler. The Scandinavian American Family
Album. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Ilmonen, Salomon. Amerikan Ensimäiset Suomalaiset eli Delawaren
Siirtokunnan Historia. Hancock, Michigan: Suomalais-luteerilaisen
kustannusliikkeen kirjapaino, 1916.
Jalkanen, Ralph J., ed. The Faith of the Finns: Historical Perspectives of
the Finnish Lutheran Church in America. East Lansing: Michigan State
University Press, 1972.
_________, ed. The Finns in North America: A Social Symposium.
Hancock, Michigan: Michigan State University Press for Suomi College, 1969.
Kalm, Pehr. Travels into North America; containing its natural history,
and a circumstantial account of its plantations and agriculture in general, with
the civil, ecclesiastical and commercial state of the country, the manners of
the inhabitants, and several curious and important remarks on various
subjects. Translated by John Reinhold Forster. 2d ed. London: T. Lowndes,
Karni, Michael G., ed. Finnish Diaspora II: United States. Toronto:
The Multicultural History Society of Ontario, 1981.
_________, Olavi Koivukangas and Edward W. Laine, eds. Finns in North
America:Proceedings of Finn Forum III. Turku, Finland: Institute of
Kaups, Matti. "A Commentary Concerning the Legend of St. Urho in
Minnesota," Finnish Americana: A Journal of Finnish American History and
Culture. Volume 7, 1986, pp. 13-17.
Kero, Reino, Auvo Kostiainen, Arja Pilli, and Keijo Virtanen. Suomen
Siirtolaisuuden Historia, Osa I, II, III. Turku: Turun Yliopiston Historian
laitos, Julkaisuja, 1986.
Korkiasaari, Jouni. Suomalaiset Maailmalla. Suomen siirtolaisuus ja
ulkosuomalaiset entisajasta tähän päivään. Turku: Siirtolaisuusinstituutti,
Leary, James P. "The Legacy of Viola Turpeinen," Finnish Americana: a
Journal of FinnishAmerican History and Culture. Volume 8, 1990, pp. 6-9.
Selvala, Robert W., ed. FinnFest USA: The First Decade 1982-1992.
Owatonna, Minnesota: Finnfest USA, Inc., 1992.
Solsten, Eric and Sandra Meditz. Finland, A Country Study. Washington,
D.C.: Library of Congress, 1990.
Thernstrom, Stephan, ed. Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic
Groups. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980.
United States. Congress. Biographical directory of the United States
Congress, 1774-1989 : the Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October
21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First through the One
Hundredth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 1989,inclusive.
Bicentennial edition. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing
Varjola, Pirjo. The Etholén Collection. The ethnographic Alaskan
collection of Adolf Etholénand his contemporaries in the National Museum
of Finland. Helsinki: National Board of Antiquities, 1990.
Virtanen, Keijo, Richard Impola, and Tapio Onnela. Finnish Literature in
North America. Turku: Institute of History, Cultural History, University of
Turku, in association with the Finnish North American Literature Society of