Brief History of Swedes in Wisconsin

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Between 1860 and 1890, the greatest and most important wave of Swedish immigration to Wisconsin occurred. Almost all came from rural areas in Sweden, however they chose to remain in cities and work as workers once they arrived in the United States. The first Swedish community in Wisconsin was established at Pine Lake in Waukesha County in 1841, followed by another along the shores of Lake Koshkonong in 1843. Following the adoption of the Homestead Act of 1862 and crop difficulties in Sweden in the late 1860s, immigration from Sweden rose considerably. Between 1880 and 1900, Wisconsin had the greatest influx of Swedes, albeit they accounted for just a small percentage of the state's foreign population. The northwest of Wisconsin had the biggest Swedish inhabitants.

Immigration in Major Waves

Swedish immigration to America began with the arrival of the first explorers, traders, and colonists in the New World. New Sweden (Nya Sverige) was the name given to the Swedish colony in America. In the 1800s, there were three big Swedish immigrant waves to America:

  • The 1840s saw the first big surge of Swedish immigration. Economic issues and agricultural failure fueled the flood of immigration. The American Civil War interrupted the migratory influx (1861 to 1865)
  • Between 1866 and 1873, the second big wave of Swedish immigration occurred. The catastrophic Famine of 1866–1868 triggered a surge in immigration, resulting in the emigration of 146,000 Swedes.
  • Between 1880 and 1890, a total of 485,000 Swedes immigrated to the United States in the third major wave of Swedish immigration.

Differences in Generation

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many classes of Swedes immigrated to Wisconsin. The newer Swedes were impoverished farmers who had fled their homelands as a result of economic and social upheavals. Swedish agricultural policy has begun to strive for modernisation, resulting in a shift away from open-field farming and toward systems centered on enclosure and individual ownership. Demographic and military constraints exacerbated the financial challenges, as Sweden saw a huge population increase in the nineteenth century, making land even more scarce, and the Swedish crown tightened rules demanding male impressment.

Motives for Swedish Immigration to the United States

There are various reasons that causes pushed Swedes to assimilate or migrate further. Religious identity was not strong, and the community appeared to have assimilated linguistically and culturally by the first generation of American-born Swedish descendants.

Why did individuals desire to leave Sweden and relocate to the United States? Early colonial immigrants desired to conquer new territories, create Swedish colonies, and profit from new commercial possibilities. Crop failures, blights, and low harvests, which led to poverty, were the major causes for Swedish immigration to America in the 1800s. Unemployment and the financial urge to seek a better life were generated by the agricultural revolution. Others emigrated to avoid religious or political persecution, or to be closer to family or friends who had already made their homes in the United States.

As a result, the Swedish immigrants that came in Milwaukee and Wisconsin were often poorer than the early Swedish settlers. They were mostly men looking for jobs in rural areas and prepared to adapt into their new communities' emerging civilizations. The number of Swedish-Americans in Milwaukee, including first-generation descendants, was never very big, peaking at little over 2,200 in 1910. These urban Swedes tended to congregate alongside other Scandinavian populations in Walker's Point. Many of the Swedes who arrived in Milwaukee or Chicago at the turn of the century did not want to work in factories, and those who did had more options in Chicago than in Milwaukee.