Sweden

Where did they go?

Swedish Farmer Swedish Farmer, March 1942
Library of Congress
Swedish Farmer and Neighbor Swedish Farmer and Neighbor, March 1942
Library of Congress
Swedish Farmer Swedish Farmer, March 1942
Library of Congress

Upon arrival in New York the Swedish immigrant would usually travel up the Hudson River to Albany in upstate New York and then continue on through the Erie Canal to the Great lakes, changing vessels in Buffalo, continuing on another river boat to Chicago or Milwaukee. The last leg of the journey, which could take some three months was completed either by horse drawn carriage or even on foot. The introduction of the railroad in the late 1840s/ early 1850s changed this journey substantially. Immigrants could board a train in New York and ride right on through all the way to Chicago.

The Homestead Act of 1862 and the political stabilization following the Civil War in 1865 were the major factors that drew the poor Swedish farmers to the Midwest. The Homestead Act promised 160 acres of undeveloped land outside of the original 13 colonies to anyone who applied for it. The only condition the applicant had to comply with was that he had never taken up arms against the US government. Under this Homestead Act some 1.6 million homesteads were granted between 1862 and 1964 covering about 10% of all land in the USA.

As a result the Swedes flocked to Minnesota which became the “Swede State of America” where Swedish Civil War colonel Hans Mattson became the first director of the state immigration office. The land owners in some counties such as Chicago and in some areas in Minnesota where almost all Swedes. Many young immigrants worked for the railroad or as lumberjacks.

Iowa and Illinois were the preferred states where Swedish farmers settled. In 1930 about 1.3 million persons of Swedish descent lived in these two states. Chicago and Milwaukee were the preferred cities with a high percentage of Swedish residents.

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