6 Scandinavian American Contributions to the USA

The big wave of immigration from the Scandinavian countries to the United States occurred primarily in the 19th century and into the early 20th century. Sweden was the biggest contributor of immigrants, with 1.3 million Swedes leaving Sweden for the United States, while Denmark and Norway were represented by 375,000 and 110,000 immigrants respectively during the peak immigration period. The majority of Scandinavian Americans settled in the midwest, but pockets of communities could be found all over the country. Since their arrival in the USA, Scandinavian Americans have contributed significantly to the advancement of the country across numerous fields.

1. Nordstrom

Though unsurprising due to its name, the Nordstrom department store was founded in Seattle, Washington by Swedish-American immigrants John W. Nordstrom and Carl Wallin. In 1887, the 16-year-old left his home in Sweden with $5 for the promise of New York City. While working in the US, Nordstrom met Wallin, and they opened Wallin & Nordstrom, a small shoe store in downtown Seattle in 1901. By 1960, it was the largest shoe store in the country and began to venture into the women’s clothing market. In 1971, the company became Nordstrom, Inc. and had expanded into Alaska and along the east coast. Today, Nordstrom operates a total of 280 stores in 37 states, with one in Canada and continues to maintain John W. Nordstrom’s philosophy: offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value.

Nordstrom Scandinavian American department store

Nordstrom, a popular department store based in the USA and Canada, was founded by Swedish immigrants in Seattle.

2. Mount Rushmore

While the granite of Mount Rushmore clearly features American former presidents, the sculptor behind this iconic American monument was the son of Danish-Mormon immigrants, Gutzon Borglum. Borglum and his team of carvers (400 in total), worked on the monument in a variety of capacities, with 90% of the work being done by dynamite. Despite the complex nature of the project, no workers were killed during the course of its work. Borglum’s death on March 6, 1941, marked the end of the project as World War II made funding scarce. Mount Rushmore hosts, on average, 3 million visitors per year. 

mt rushmore american scandinavian

The iconic Mt. Rushmore featuring four American former presidents was sculpted by the son of Danish immigrants, Gutzon Borglum.

3. The Trampoline 

The trampoline, and the subsequent sport of trampolining, was invented by the son of Danish immigrants, gymnast George Nissen. Nissen was inspired by watching trapeze artists bounce into a safety net when dismounting from the swinging bars and thought if the net was sturdier, the artists could use the power from the bounce to continue performing tricks. Working out of his parents’ garage, Nissen built the framework for what he called a bouncing rig. With Larry Griswold, his gymnastics coach, Nissen put more bounce into the design by connecting the canvas to the frame using tyre inner tubes, later replaced by coil springs. The word trampoline comes from the Spanish word trampolin, for “diving board” or “springboard.” which Nissen thought was a catchy name.  

Trampolining Scandinavian American

The trampoline, and the sport of trampolining, was invented by the son of Danish immigrants George Nissen.

4. Walgreens

America’s #1 drugstore traces its roots back to Swedish-American businessman Charles Rudolph Walgreen of the Chicago, Illinois area in 1901. Walgreens was one of the first pharmacy chains to carry non-pharmaceuticals as a part of the store’s retail selection. The company offered low-priced lunch counters, and an ice cream factory. By 1927, Walgreen had opened 110 stores. Today, Walgreens is the largest drug retailing chain in the country with 8,217 stores in 50 states. 

Walgreen's Swedish Americans

Walgreen’s is America’s #1 drugstore and was founded by Swedish American businessman Charles Rudolph Walgreen.

5. practical jokes

America’s greatest prankster was actually a Danish immigrant to the United States named Soren Sorensen Adams. Originally working as a salesman, Soren discovered a chemical which caused people to sneeze and decided to sell it as sneezing powder. It eventually became a craze, which prompted Soren to launch other prank products such as the exploding cigarette box, itching powder, and the dribble glass. Soren would also go on to invent the joy buzzer.

prank items

The joy buzzer, among many other prank items, was invented by Danish-American inventor Soren Sorensen Adams

6. The Tunnels in new york city

It was Norwegian-American immigrant Ole Singstad who pioneered the ventilator system for automotive tunnels. He also designed and directed the work for many of the long automotive tunnels in North America and Europe which are still of importance today. Some notable tunnels designed by Singstad where this system was implemented include the Holland Tunnel, the Lincoln Tunnel, and the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel in New York City.

new york city tunnels

The underwater tunnel system was pioneered by Norwegian-born Ole Singstad who built many of New York City’s tunnels.

Today, millions of Americans claim Scandinavian ancestry, and these six contributions only scrape the surface of what Scandinavians have contributed to American society over the centuries. One of the key factors which made Scandinavian Americans successful was their hardworking nature and ability to adapt to the new environment quickly. The United States is certainly grateful for their all of their contributions.

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Anna Guastello
6 Oct 2014

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