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Presentation Immigration and Relocation in U.S. History

Scandinavians Today

Hubert Humphrey

As the 20th century moved forward, Scandinavian America moved forward as well, and Scandinavian immigrants and their descendants took leading roles in all areas of American life.

Scandinavian Americans took an especially prominent role in electoral politics, particularly in the heartland of Scandinavian immigration. In 1895, the Norwegian immigrant Knute Nelson became the first U.S. senator of Scandinavian descent, serving the state of Minnesota for nearly 30 years. Ever since, Minnesota has always had at least one senator of Scandinavian descent. The Scandinavian Americans Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey both reached the U.S. vice-presidency, though they were defeated in their presidential campaigns. Earl Warren, the son of a Norwegian father and a Swedish mother, served as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969, and ruled on many of the pivotal cases of the Civil Rights era.

Scandinavian Americans also found success in business and academia. Entrepreneurs Arthur Andersen, Ole Evinrude, Conrad Hilton, and John Nordstrom founded the businesses that still bear their names. In academia, the chemists Christian Anfinsen and Glenn Seaborg, as well as the physicist Ernest Lawrence, were each awarded the Nobel Prize for their research.

Greta Garbo

The Swedish American Seaborg was involved in the discovery of at least nine elements, including plutonium, and even had an element named after him—Seaborgium.

In the 1920s and 30s, the age of mass communications got underway, and Americans of Scandinavian descent were among the first multimedia stars. The actor and Swedish immigrant Greta Garbo, the Norwegian-American athlete Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the Norwegian-American crime fighter Elliot Ness, and the Swedish-American aviator Charles Lindbergh all helped launch the new culture of celebrity.

Meanwhile, Scandinavian Americans were also undertaking distinguished careers in the arts. Carl Sandburg, the son of Swedish immigrants, became one of the most-read poets in United States, and was named the Poet Laureate of Chicago. Novelist Nella Larsen, the daughter of a Danish mother and a West Indian father, was one of the most promising writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Later in the century, the Swedish immigrant Claes Oldenburg was hailed as a pioneer of the Pop Art movement, and every year thousands of visitors walk under the St. Louis Gateway Arch, one of the most beloved works of the Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen.

Today, the great era of Scandinavian immigration is more than a century distant, but the cultural legacy of the Scandinavian immigrants is alive and well. Many of the great Scandinavian newspapers are still being published, and have been joined by an increasing number of Web sites in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, and Icelandic. Scandinavian-American social clubs, choirs, debating societies, and sports teams can still be found across the U.S., and every year tens of thousands of Americans gather at conventions and festivals to celebrate their Scandinavian-American heritage.