One million may have gone to America

Like many other Norwegians, author Sverre Mørkhagen has family in America. ARCHIVE PHOTO: TOR G. STENERSEN

Like many other Norwegians, author Sverre Mørkhagen has family in America. ARCHIVE PHOTO: TOR G. STENERSEN

According to author Sverre Mørkhagen, far more Norwegians than may have emigrated to North America between 1825 and 1975 than numbers previously stated by Statistics Norway

By Torill Nordeng


Translation by staff

Emigration from Norway to North America continues to fascinate Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans alike, and Sverre Mørkhagen, author of the 600-page tome “Farvel Norge” (Goodbye Norway) gives a review of the cause for the large emigration to the United States, and the emotional experiences of hope and longing, loss and toil. It is the newest book about Norwegian emigration history of over 30 years, focusing on the period of 1825 to 1975.

According to Sverre Mørkhagen’s sources, the number of Norwegian emigrants to North American should be adjusted from approximately 850,000 people to around one million people. With this premise, Mørkhagen claims that today there are probably many more Norwegian descendants in the United States than there are Norwegians in Norway.

Only in the 35 years between 1880 and 1915, as many as a half a million Norwegians emigrated to North America. In comparison, Mørkhagen notes that the population in Norway passed two million in 1890.

Mørkhagen states also that the emigration flow from Norway was 3.5 times as strong as the average for the rest of Europe. If European emigration was the same rate as Norway, 147 million people would have sought happiness in North America, not the 41 million who actually sailed westward from European ports.

Not the whole truth

Many emigrants were lost on the road, and a lot of people were lost in the statistics, says Mørkhagen. He points out that among other things, perhaps as many as 70,000 Norwegian seamen on Norwegian ships escaped. “A large majority of them disappeared, for good reasons, in U.S. ports,” he writes.

The number of missing sailors is higher than previously estimated. Mørkhagen notes that these missing numbers of Norwegians who escaped to U.S. ports during the Great Depression and World War II. Perhaps as many as 5,000, Mørkhagen estimates.

Other missing numbers of Norwegians are those who participated in the early emigration from ports in Europe, and were not registered as immigrants at all. The figures for the number of Norwegians who went to America after World War II also have sources of error, according Mørkhagen. How many of them were, and how many came back home to Norway?

Relatively few Norwegians went home to Norway for good. Emigration historian Ingrid Semmingsen estimates that around 1920, approximately 50,000 Norwegian-Americans lived in Norway. It was a low number compared with other emigrant groups.

However, established Norwegian-Americans poured large sums of money back to the “old country.” “In the years before and after World War I, the total sum of the annual American money coming into Norway matched a quarter of the Norwegian national budget,” writes Mørkhagen.

The loyalty was also big in other ways, according Mørkhagen. When it became clear that Norway would break its union with Sweden, the Norwegians who emigrated offered to come back to fight on the Norwegian side.

Recent emigrants

The year 1975 marks a natural conclusion to a historic move the process had been ongoing since 1825, believes Mørkhagen. At this time, Norway, with its oil industry, was then among the world’s richest countries. From 1970 to 1975, 10,700 Norwegian emigrants were registered in the United States and Canada. In comparison, 30,701 Norwegians emigrated to America from 1960 to 1975.

It was an end to religious conflicts, lack of space in the home, poverty and friction in the village community. The dream of America had faded.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.