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Norwegians are credited with being the first Europeans to discover North America. The Norwegian/Icelander Leiv Eiriksson reached America by way of Norse settlements in Greenland circa A.D. 1000, nearly five centuries before Columbus. It is usually agreed that the Norwegian settlers in Greenland founded the capital settlement of Vinland at L'Anse aux Meadows, and that their territory included the entire isle of Newfoundland. Just how much they explored further past the Canadian Maritime Provinces in North America has been a matter of discussion for the past hundred years among romantic and ethnic nationalists as well as some lay historians. Some widely disputed evidence suggests that Norwegians having made a lot of settlements much further into the North American mainland than was thought before (Norwegian-Americans, 2011).
Norwegian migration to North American is thought to have started in July 1825, with the sailing of the sloop Restauration from Stavanger bound for New York City. From that beginning to the present, Norwegians and Norwegian Americans have meticulously documented the migration movement, the lives of the immigrants, and the development of their settlements. This documentation has been in the form of parish registers, ships' manifests, and publication in Norwegian newspapers of lists of emigrants, personal memoirs, letters from America, and book-length histories of the new settlements. In addition, immigrants from a variety of towns, valleys, and fjords maintained contact in their new country through regional societies that published newsletters, held periodic reunions, and disseminated information on members' places of residence, professions, marriages and new births (Douglas, 2011).
Between 1825 and 1925, more than 800,000 Norwegians immigrated to America. This was about one-third of Norway's population. With the exception of Ireland, no single country contributed a larger percentage of its population to America than Norway did (Norwegian-Americans, 2011). By 1840 only about 400 Norwegians had immigrated to the United States. Ten years later, in 1850, the number had risen to about 15,000. While the number of Norwegian immigrants went down sharply during the Civil War, the wave picked up again instantaneously after the end of that war, and in 1866 more than 15,000 Norwegian immigrants arrived in the U.S. From then until the outbreak of World War I, about 750,000 immigrants from Norway arrived in the United States (A Brief History of Norwegian -- American Immigration, 1999). Between 1992 and 2002, an average of about 450 Norwegians immigrated to the United States annually (Norwegian immigration, 2011).
Norwegian immigration through the years was predominantly motivated by economic concerns. Compounded by crop failures, Norwegian agricultural resources were unable to keep up with population growth, and the Homestead Act promised fertile, flat land. As a result, settlement trended westward with each passing year. Early Norwegian settlements were in Pennsylvania and Illinois, but moved westward into Wisconsin, Minnesota, and the Dakotas. Additionally, craftsmen also immigrated to a larger, more diverse market. Until recently, there was a Norwegian area in Sunset Park, Brooklyn originally populated by Norwegian craftsmen (Norwegian-Americans, 2011).
The majority of the pioneer immigrants known as the Sloopers were helped by the kind-hearted services of American Quakers. "They went to Orleans County in western New York State and settled in what became Kendall Township. In the mid-1830s the Kendall settlers gave impetus to the westward movement of Norwegians by founding a settlement in the Fox River area of Illinois. A small urban colony of Norwegians had its genesis in Chicago at about the same time. Immigrant settlements now stood ready to welcome Norwegian newcomers, who, beginning in 1836, arrived annually. From Illinois, Norwegian pioneers followed the general spread of population northwestward into Wisconsin. Wisconsin remained the center of Norwegian American activity up until the Civil War" (Norwegian Americans, 2012).
In the 1850s Norwegian land seekers began migrating into both Iowa and Minnesota, and serious movement to the Dakotas was happening by the 1870s. The preponderance of Norwegian agrarian settlements developed in the northern region of the Homestead Act Triangle between the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The upper Midwest became the home for the majority of immigrants. In 1910 almost eighty percent of the one million or more Norwegian Americans lived in that part of the United States. In 1990, a little over fifty percent of the Norwegian American population lived in the Midwest. Minnesota had the largest number. Minneapolis served as a Norwegian American capital for secular and religious activities. In the Pacific Northwest, the Puget Sound region, and particularly the city of Seattle, became another center of immigrant life. Enclaves of Norwegians emerged as well in greater Brooklyn, New York, in Alaska, and Texas. After Minnesota, Wisconsin had the most Norwegians in 1990, followed by California, Washington, and North Dakota (Norwegian Americans, 2012).
There are more than 4.5 million people of Norwegian ancestry in the U.S. today. Of these, approximately 3 million claim 'Norwegian' as their sole or primary ancestry. A little more than 2% of whites in the U.S. are of Norwegian descent. In the Upper Midwest, especially Minnesota, eastern Wisconsin, northern Iowa, and the Dakotas, more than 15% of whites are of Norwegian descent. 55% of Norwegian-Americans live in the Midwest, although a large number, about 21% live in the Pacific states of Washington, Oregon, and California (Norwegian-Americans, 2011).
Norwegian-Americans actively celebrate and maintain their heritage in many ways. Much of it centers on the Lutheran-Evangelical churches they were born into, but also culinary customs, costumes and Norwegian holidays are popular. Certain towns in the United States, particularly in the Upper Midwest, have very strong Norwegian influences. Although the Norwegians were the most numerous of all the Scandinavian immigrant groups, other Scandinavians also immigrated to America during the same time period. Today, there are 11-12 million Americans of Scandinavian ancestry. Scandinavians represent about 6% of the white population in the U.S.A. As a whole, and more than 25% of the white population of the Upper Midwest (Norwegian-Americans, 2011).
Norwegian cuisine is mostly limited to special occasions like weddings and anniversaries, and holidays such as Christmas, when other customs are revived as well. A cone-shaped cake of almond macaroon rings is customarily served at weddings and anniversaries. It is normally decorated with costumed figures and with flags, snappers, flowers, or medallions. "The observance of the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve, when a big meal is served, followed by the reading of the Christmas gospel and the opening of gifts. Hymns and carols are sung later, accompanied in some families by tradition of holding hands and circling the Christmas tree "(Norwegian Americans, 2012).
"A typical old-country Christmas meal consists of lutefisk, rommegrot, pork or mutton spare ribs with pork sausages, as well as fattigmann, a deep-fried diamond-shaped cookie; sandkake, a cookie made of butter, flour, and almonds, baked in small metal molds; krumkake, a wafer baked in a special iron and rolled into a cylindrical shape while still warm; julekake, a sweet bread containing raisins, citron, and cardamon, and the essential lefse, which appears in many regional variations" (Norwegian Americans, 2012).
The Norwegian cold table is basically the same thing as a smorgasbord but with selected cold dishes. Some of the conventional dishes of the Norwegian cold table include herring in many forms; sardines; smoked salmon and other fish; sliced cold ham, lamb, and beef; pickles, cranberries, apple sauce, and spiced apples; and various types of bread, including flatbread. The meal is often served with a strong distilled alcoholic drink and beer (Norwegian Americans, 2012).
The Norwegian language belongs to the mutually comprehensible northern branch of the Germanic family of languages. Throughout the very long union with Denmark, Norwegians acknowledged Danish as their written language. Following independence in 1814 efforts to supply a national written standard created disagreement between those who worked for a Norwegian version of Danish and those who wanted to create a completely new written language. The Norwegian government formally recognizes the existence of the predominant Dano-Norwegian, which continues the Danish written custom greatly modified through a series of changes under the influence of Norwegian speech habits, and New Norse, constructed on the basis of modern dialects which most faithfully preserved the forms of Old Norse. Because of the cut off nature of Norwegian rural communities, the local dialect was distinct with noticeable dialectal differences from one district to the next (Norwegian Americans, 2012).
The cultural baggage of Norwegian immigrants included their precise local dialect and a Danish legendary language. The latter played a major role in the immigrant community, achieving a nearly holy quality. It was the language of their institutions, secular and religious, and of holy and profane literature. The immigrants had little admiration for the linguistic reforms in the homeland. Frequently such changers were seen as a betrayal to a general cultural heritage. Changes in the official written language in Norway made the older form even more complicated to retain in America. "A newspaper such as Decorah-Posten in Decorah, Iowa, persisted in using a Dano-Norwegian orthographic tradition from the 1870s well into the 1950s. The situation created confusion among teachers of Norwegian at American high schools, colleges and…[continue]
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