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Norwegian Immigration

Why people left Norway

Why people left Norway
The long way over
Life in America

There are many reasons why close to 900,000 Norwegians immigrated to America. Some went because they were adventurous. Some just wanted to try something new. But, the great majority left because of bad times, unemployment, famines, and other individual reasons for leaving. In my opinion, however, I think all the reasons above were combined to help Norwegian citizens make the decision to leave their homes and to make new lives for themselves in the United States.


Norway wasn’t the most exciting place on earth in the beginning of the 20th century. The country had been under Denmark for four hundred years. But, after several rebellions with the Danish king in Copenhagen, some Norwegians from all over the country met in Oslo (called Christiania at that time) in the spring of 1814 and declared their independence from Denmark. In the late spring, on May 17th the same year, the Constitution of Norway was written. However, with Denmark out of the way, the Swedish king saw the opportunity to increase the area of his country. Norway was then under Sweden until 1905 when the Swedish king no longer could defend himself and the government from angry Norwegians neighbors that wanted their country free. When the Norsemen eventually got their freedom, King Haakon & Queen Maud, who came from the English royal family, were the first royalties since the age of the Vikings to rule the country without any influence from another monarchy. However, the Norwegian people were poor, and in 1905, when Norway became an independent country, the immigration to America was reaching a maximum. There was hardly any industry, and farming was the only way of life. However, cold weather, fjords and other forms of weird landscape made farming barely profitable and very difficult. When farmers and /or other people received letters from relatives that had moved to America, many decided to take the chance and move “over there” as well.  The Homestead Act of 1862 opened up land to settlers who promised to farm and live on the farm for five years and more, and compared with Norway, where most farm land was expensive or already used, land in America was quite inexpensive. In Minnesota (a state with many immigrants from Norway), land costs where as low as $ 1.25 per acre when purchased from the US Government, or $5 to $10 purchased from private corporations.


The social and political differences between America and Norway also pulled immigrants to the US.  Socially, people in Norway lived under a strict social system. The difference between the few rich and the many poor was enormous, and people were expected to show public signs of respect to members of the upper class. Because the United States didn’t have such strict protocols for interactions among classes, most Norwegians looked at the US as an appealing place to live. There was also a significant political difference in the two respective countries. The fact that the US was a republic with elections every fourth year was appealing to people from Norway. It was only an elite minority of the population that was allowed to vote back in Norway, and since all white men and some white women were allowed to vote in America, some people moved for political reasons. Although the great majority of immigrants, as mentioned, were farmers, the US also gave individuals who were not farmers the opportunity to become successful. A laborer in Norway could earn $40 to $50 a year, while the same laborer in America could earn up to $5 a day in good times, so the difference was huge.





                                                                 AP US History 2005