People, Races, Ethnicity in the U.S. Danish Americans

About the Danish Americans in the U.S. including where they are from, why they left, how many there are, famous Danish-Americans and more.


Where They Came From: The great majority of Danish immigrants came from the northern part of Jutland and from the southeastern portion of Denmark, including southern Zealand and the islands of Lolland, Falster, Langeland, and Bornholm.

Why They Left: The first Danes to settle in America during the 1600s and 1700s were mostly well-to-do merchants and businessmen who were attracted to the New World by the promise of commercial profits. In the mid-1800s, when mass migration began, Danish immigrants tended to be farmers and unskilled laborers, who had been displaced by the industrial revolution and by the consolidation of small landholdings into large farms.

Mass migration was greatly stimulated by the Mormon Church. One of the closest friends of Mormon leader Brigham Young was a Dane who had Mormon religious teachings translated into Danish. In the 1860s, half of the 20,000 Danish immigrants were Mormons headed for Utah.

Where They Settled: While some 9% of Danish immigrants went to Utah, most Danes settled in the farming regions of Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Nicknamed "Dane City," Racine, Wis., was founded by Danish immigrants and was the center of Danish culture in the Midwest in the 1800s. After 1932, during the Depression, Danish Americans in large numbers left their farms and migrated to urban centers.

Numbers: From 1860 to 1930, over 300,000 Danish immigrants settled in America; about 88,000 arrived in the peak immigration decade of the 1880s. In the 1930s, Danish immigration virtually ended. Today there are an estimated 2 million Americans with Danish ancestors.

Their Story in America: Danish merchants accompanied Dutch colonial enterprises. When the Dutch established New Amsterdam (New York City) in 1623, Danes were also there. A Dane named Jonas Bronck bought and settled a nearby piece of land which was called the Bronx in his honor and now is a borough of New York City.

The Danish immigrants who came between 1860 and 1930 were mainly engaged in agriculture. Skilled in dairy farming, Danish Americans became the major producers of dairy products in the Midwest, including the famed Wisconsin cheeses.

Danish immigrants have given America hundreds of place-names, including 22 towns named Denmark. In the realm of food, Danish Americans have contributed the Danish pastry to the American menu. In agriculture, Danes introduced cooperatives, which have greatly aided the production capabilities of individual American farmers.

Famous Danish Americans: Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, who created the massive presidential heads at Mt. Rushmore; social commentator Jacob Riis, author of How the Other Half Lives; and humorist Victor Borge.

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