Happy Birthday, Norwegian American Weekly!
The Norwegian American press was once described as a “near avalanche of newspapers” by historian Arlow W. Andersen. Visiting journalists from Norway expressed great surprise at the number of newspapers that found subscribers in an expanding Norwegian American community. It was a striking contrast with the homeland, which was described as this: “Servents, cotters, and laborers in 19th century Norway found newspapers too expensive and not necessary for their simple way of life.” On the other hand, these immigrants adjusting to a new life in a foreign land became avid newspaper readers and subscribers printed in the familiar and comforting Norwegian language.
The Norwegian immigrant press had humble beginnings. The first Norwegian-language newspaper in the Midwest, Nordlyset (Northern Lights), appeared in the Muskego, Wis. Settlement in 1847, 22 years after the first Norwegian immigrants arrived in New York on the Restauration sloop. The Norwegian American press flourished with the massive arrival of Norwegian immigrants in the post-Civil War decades. According to historian Theodore Blegen, some of the most gifted minds among Norwegians in America were attracted to immigrant newspapers. Newspapers sprang up from coast to coast in the shifting centers of Norwegian population. No complete count of the newspapers has been made, due to a high number of mergers and consolidations, which makes it difficult to follow the path of individual newspapers.
The immigrant newspapers served as local news organs in rural and urban settings, covering various perspectives on political issues, dissemination of regional, national, and international news, and also served as magazines, serialized novels, and short stories. And they responded to problems facing the immigrants: readers directed questions to the editors in regard to adjustment and success in the new society.
The significance of the Norwegian American newspapers can hardly be overstated. Around the turn of the 20th century, the largest Norwegian-language newspaper did not come out of Kristiania (now Oslo), but Chicago: in 1912, the Skandinavien newspaper published a circulation of 25,000, whereas Norway’s largest daily, Aftenposten, claimed a circulation of 14, 000. Skandinavien in Chicago (1866-1941), Decorah-Posten in Iowa (1874-1972), and Minneapolis Tidene (1887-1935) were the leading newspapers in the Midwest, and they sought a national readership. Regional and local journals came into being both on the East Coast and the Pacific coast, most notably the Washington-Posten, which began publication in Seattle in 1889. It became the largest journal in the Pacific Northwest, and later changed its name to Western Viking in 1961. In 1891, Nordisk Tidene was launched in Brooklyn, N.Y., later known as Norway Times. In 2006, the Norwegian American Foundation purchased the Western Viking, and changed its name to the Norwegian American Weekly.
In February 2008, Norway Times, published in New York, merged with the Norwegian American Weekly, based in Seattle, to create a truly national Norwegian newspaper. Today, the Norwegian American Weekly boasts 20,000 weekly readers, with subscribers in every state, as well as Canada, Norway, Mexico, Sweden, and the Netherlands. On its 120th anniversary, the Norwegian American Weekly takes pause to celebrate its rich heritage and honor the publications that created the Norwegian American press. We look forward to another 120 years!
Compiled with information by Odd Lovoll, historian of the Norwegian American press.
This article was originally published in the Norwegian American Weekly’s 120th Anniversary Issue on June 12, 2009. For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.