Danish Americans

Danish Americans
Total population


0.5% of the U.S. population (2009))
Regions with significant populations
Utah, Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin
English, Danish
Christianity (Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism)
Related ethnic groups
Danes, Greenlanders, Greenlandic Americans, Danish Canadians, Danish Australians, Scandinavian Americans, Norwegian Americans, European Americans
Distribution of Danish Americans according to the 2000 census.

Danish Americans (Danish: Dansk-amerikanere) are Americans who have ancestral roots originated fully or partially from Denmark. There are approximately 1,500,000 Americans of Danish origin or descent.


The first Dane known to have arrived in North America was explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681–1741). In 1728, he documented the narrow body of water that separated North America and Asia, which was later named the Bering Sea in his honor. Bering was the first European to arrive in Alaska in 1741. In 1666, the Danish West India Company took control of the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean and eventually, the islands of St. John in 1717 and St. Croix in 1733. The Danes brought African slaves to those islands, where the slaves were put to work in the snuff, cotton and sugar industries. These early settlers began to establish trade with New England. In 1917, they sold the islands to the United States, and they were renamed "U.S. Virgin Islands."

In the early seventeenth century, individual Danish immigrants became established in North America. Scandinavians, Danes and Norwegians in particular, made up a large portion of the settlers in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, now New York. After 1750, Danish families in the Protestant Moravian Brethren denomination immigrated to Pennsylvania, where they settled in the Bethlehem area alongside German Moravians. Until 1850, most Danes who emigrated to North America were unmarried men. During this period, some Danes achieved notability and recognition. Among them were Hans Christian Febiger (1749–1796), one of George Washington's most trusted officers during the American Revolution, Charles Zanco (1808–1836) who died at the Alamo in March 1836 in the struggle for Texan independence, and Peter Lassen (1800–1859), a blacksmith from Copenhagen who led a group of adventurers from Missouri to California in 1839. The trail established by Lassen was followed by the "forty-niners" during the California Gold Rush. Lassen is considered one of the most important early settlers of California.

From 1820 and 1850, about 60 Danes settled in the United States every year. Between 1820 and 1990 there was a population of 375,000 Danes; a vast majority of whom emigrated between 1860 and 1930 The greatest Danish emigration occurred in 1882 when 11,618 Danes settled in the United States.

The first significant wave of Danish immigrants consisted mainly of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) members who settled in United States in 1850. They settled in the newly acquired state of Utah, which had been under Mexican control until 1848. There were 17,000 such immigrants, many of these settled in small farming communities in the Sanpete and Sevier counties. Today, these counties respectively have the second and fifth largest percentages of Danish Americans in the United States.

Between 1864 and 1920, 50,000 Danes emigrated from Schleswig, Jutland, where the use of Danish language was banned in schools following the Danish defeat in the Second Schleswig War and Prussia seizing control. They were called North Slesvigers, however, most of these Danes are recorded in the census statistics as immigrants from Germany rather than Denmark. Most Danes who immigrated to the United States after 1865 did so for economic reasons. By 1865, there had been a large increase in the Danish population in Europe because of the improvement in the medicine and food industries. It caused a high rate of poverty and ultimately resulted in a significant and rapid increase in Danish migration to other countries. Another reason for migration was the sale of lands. Many Danes became farmers in the United States. During the 1870s, almost half of all Danish immigrants to the United States settled in family groups. By the 1890s, family immigration made up only of 25 percent of the total. It has been suggested that many of these immigrants eventually returned to Denmark.[2]


According to the United States Census of 2000, the states with the largest populations of Danish Americans are as follows:

The states with the smallest populations of Danish Americans are as follows:

Usage of Danish

About 30,000 Danish Americans continue to speak the Danish language. According to the 2000 US Census Bureau, 33,400 people spoke Danish at home; that figure was down to 29,467 five years later (2005 American Community Survey), a decrease of about 11.8%.[3]


The Library of Congress has noted that Danish Americans, more so than other Scandinavian Americans, "spread nationwide and comparatively quickly disappeared into the melting pot....the Danes were the least cohesive group and the first to lose consciousness of their origins."[4] Historians have pointed to the higher rate of English use among Danes, their willingness to marry non-Danes, and their eagerness to become naturalized citizens as factors that contributed to their rapid assimilation, as well as their interactions with the already more assimilated German American community.[2]

Much that is regarded as "Danish" national culture today was not widespread in the psyche of Danish emigrants during the nineteenth century immigration to the United States. It would take the European nationalism and class struggles of the late nineteenth century to effectively seed the ideas of a distinctive national cultural personality. While many Danish emigrants to the US fared far better economically than emigrants from Eastern Europe, a deep cultural awareness of Danish literature, with popular fiction authors such as Hans Christian Andersen, did not exist among the agrarian bønder or common people of Denmark. Exceptions exist, of course; primary among these are a rich heritage of folklore, an affinity to art, and regional traditions involving food and feast days.

As the Danes came to the US, they brought with them their traditional foods. Popular Danish cuisine includes kringle (almond paste pastry), Wienerbrød and fastelavnsboller or Danish pastry (what Americans call breakfast "Danish"), æbleskiver (puffed pan cakes), frikadeller (Danish veal and pork meatballs), flæskesteg (pork roast), and risengrød (rice pudding). Despite the perceived importance of beer in modern Danish national culture, Danish immigrants were largely unsuccessful in penetrating the competitive American beer industry, which was saturated by immigrant German and Czech brew masters.

In 1872, Danish Americans in Omaha, Nebraska, founded Den Danske Pioneer, or Danish Pioneer, an English-Danish newspaper. Now published in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, it is the oldest Danish American newspaper in publication.[5]

Snow College, located in Ephraim, Utah in Sanpete County, Utah, holds an annual Scandinavian Festival to honor their heritage and Danish as well as immigrants from other Scandinavian countries.[6] The festival is held during two days in May. "And it expresses the warmth you’ll feel as you visit with us. You see, many of us are descendants of the plucky Scandinavians who crossed ocean and plain to settle our gorgeous valley. That proud past is part of our everyday lives. And we delight in sharing it with visitors." [6] It features costumes, dancing, storytelling, entertainment, historical tours, craft and food booths.


Like many other immigrant groups, Danish Americans also founded schools to educate their youth. Traditional Danish "folk schools," which focused more on learning outcomes than grades or diplomas, were operated primarily between the 1870s and 1930s in heavily Danish communities such as Racine, Wisconsin, Elk Horn, Iowa; Ashland, Michigan; West Denmark, Wisconsin; Nysted, Nebraska; Tyler, Minnesota; Viborg, South Dakota; Kenmare, North Dakota; and Solvang, California.[2] Omaha, Nebraska and neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa, had major colonies of Danes for many years.[7]

The one major still-operating historically Danish American college is Grand View University, founded in 1896 in Des Moines, Iowa. Grand View University continues to maintain a large archival collection of Danish American history. Another institution, Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, operated from 1884 until 2010, but closed its doors in July 2010 due to failing enrollment. The Danish American Archive and Library that once resided at Dana College is now independently situated in Blair. The archive contains the country’s largest and broadest collection of materials relating to the life experience, cultural heritage and vital contributions to North America of the people of Danish extraction.

Religious life

Like other groups of Americans of Scandinavian descent, many Danes in America are Lutherans. Lutheran pioneer minister, Claus Lauritz Clausen, the first president of the Norwegian-Danish Lutheran Conference, traveled to Denmark and influenced religious leaders to send pastors to America. The oldest Danish Lutheran congregation is Emmaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin, founded August 22, 1851. Nearby Kenosha is home to the second oldest Danish Lutheran congregation, St. Mary's Lutheran Church, which is the largest congregation in the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In addition, a large number of Danish Americans belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Between 1849 and 1904, some 17,000 Danish Mormons and their children made the journey to the Church's settlements in Utah, making Danes second only to the British in number of foreigners recruited by the church to the state.

Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have the largest concentrations of non-Mormon Danish Americans. The states with the largest Mormon Danish American populations are Utah and Idaho—and in the case of Idaho, particularly the southeastern part of the state.

Smaller but significant numbers of Danish Americans have also become Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Seventh-day Adventists.[2]

Danish American communities

Two cities, Chicago and Racine, Wisconsin, claim to be the home to the largest group of Danish Americans in the United States. Racine, 25 miles south of Milwaukee has the largest concentration of city dwellers with Danish origin. A number of other communities were founded by Danish Americans or have a large Danish American community, including:

Additionally, Danish Americans helped settle three U.S. counties: Montcalm, Michigan; St. Louis, Minnesota; and Sanpete, Utah.

Notable Danish Americans


Gutzon Borglum chiseled Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, now a modern American icon.


The three Christensen brothers: Lew, Harold, and Willam are well known in the history of American ballet. The three carved out careers as choreographers, teachers and directors, and clearly helped ballet flourish in the United States. Willam Christensen (1902–2001) especially, was the founder of the San Francisco Ballet. The three brothers were born into a Danish-American Mormon family in Brigham City, Utah.





Battling Nelson, presumed early 1900s



The Barrison Sisters reveal kittens beneath their skirts, at the conclusion of their notorious vaudeville cat dance, c. 1890s


Jacob Riis, a prominent socially conscious journalist and photographer, used his influence to help the less fortunate of New York City with his implementation of "model tenements. " As one of the first American photographers to use flash, he was a pioneer in photo journalism. His book How the other half lives: Studies among the tenements of New York (1890) has proven especially influential in studies of poverty.[10]



During the early days of Hollywood film making, numerous Danes and children of Danish emigrants directed, or acted on the silver screen, to include: Ann Forrest, Anders Randolf, Bodil Rosing, Benjamin Christensen, Carl Brisson, Carl Gerard, Ellen Corby, Gale Sondergaard, Gwili Andre, James Cruze, Janet Leigh, Jean Hersholt, Johannes Poulsen, Karl Dane, Lillie Hayward, Max Ree (1931 Oscar), Otto Mathiesen, Robert Andersen, Seena Owen, Svend Gade, Tambi Larsen, Torben Meyer, Winna Winfred and William Orlamond.

More to modern times, many Danes are actively involved in the movie industry. However today's air transportation no longer necessitates a Dane moving to America to be an artistic part of Hollywood. Among the few Danes who have moved to the U.S.A. to pursue acting careers is Connie Inge-Lise Nielsen, who was born in Denmark and today lives in Sausalito, California. Additionally, a few stars claim connection to Denmark via their Danish-American parents. For example, actors Leslie Nielsen, Viggo Mortensen, Virginia Madsen and Michael Madsen were born to Danish fathers and American mothers. Likewise, actress Scarlett Johansson was also born to a Danish father. Director and cinematographer Mikael Salomon was born in Sweden to a Danish mother and father.


Christian Febiger was an American Revolutionary War commander, born on Funen, he became a confidante of General George Washington and was an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati. Known by the moniker "Old Denmark", Febiger also served as Treasurer of Pennsylvania from November 13, 1789 until his death nearly seven years later.[11]

Chris Madsen, the famous lawman of the Old West, was born Chris Madsen Rørmose in Denmark. After emigrating in 1876, he served for 15 years in the U.S. Army in the Fifth Cavalry and fought in many major Indian campaigns. After his discharge in 1891, Madsen became a deputy U.S. marshal in the Oklahoma Territory, where he apprehended or killed many outlaws. In 1898, he joined Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, serving as Quartermaster Sergeant. After more service as a U.S. marshal, and at the outset of World War I, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected due to his age

Robert A. Arensen, FM1, USN, lost his life on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor when the U.S.S. Helena was torpedoed. Arensen came from Perth Amboy, NJ. Dale M. Hansen, Pvt., USMC, earned his nation's highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor — for his outstanding heroism on 7 May 1945 in the fight for Hill 60 on Okinawa. He was killed by enemy sniper fire three days later. Hansen came from Wisner, Nebraska. Camp Hansen, one of the ten Marine Corps camps on Okinawa, is named in honor of Pvt. Hansen.

A leading executive in the automobile industry, William S. Knudsen, an emigrant from Copenhagen, Denmark, accepted President Franklin Roosevelt's urging to manage the task of overseeing America's vast wartime military armament and supply production. In 1942, Knudsen accepted a brevet commission and served for the duration of the war as a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army.

Danish born Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

Infamous Danish Americans

Robert Hansen (Robert Christian Hansen) was a serial killer, who between 1980 and 1983 murdered between 17 and 21 people near Anchorage, Alaska. Hansen was born in Estherville, Iowa, to Christian and Edna Hansen. Hansen's father was a Danish immigrant baker and he worked in his father's bakery as a youth. It is theorized that Hansen began killing prostitutes around 1980. After paying women for their services, he would kidnap, torture, and rape them, further binding and flying them to his cabin in the Knik River Valley in his private airplane. Once there, he would release his victim on a river sandbar, stalk and then kill them with a hunting knife or carbine as they fled through the woods. Apprehended in 1983, Hansen was convicted in 1984 and sentenced to 461 years plus life, without chance of parole. He was imprisoned at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska. The Hansen case served as inspiration for the action thriller Naked Fear (2007).

Thor Nis Christiansen was a serial killer from Solvang, California. He was born in Denmark and emigrated to Inglewood with his parents and on to Solvang when he was five years old. His father, Nis, ran a restaurant in Solvang. In sum, Thor Christiansen was obsessed with fantasies of shooting women and having sex with their corpses. Christiansen killed four women and his fifth victim escaped with serious wounds. After conviction, he was stabbed to death in Folsom State Prison in 1981.

Bjarne Skounborg, born Peter Kenneth Bostrøm Lundin, (more commonly known as Peter Lundin), is a convicted murderer. He was born in Solrød Strand, Denmark in 1971 and emigrated to the United States when he was seven years old. In April 1991, Lundin strangled his mother to death in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and, with the help of his father, he buried her body on a Cape Hatteras beach, where it was later found. In 1992, Lundin was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the murder and in 1999 Lundin was released from prison for capacity reasons and deported back to Denmark. After his return to Denmark he was convicted for killing his girlfriend and her two sons and is currently serving life imprisonment.

George Anderson also known as George "Dutch" Anderson was an early Prohibition-era gang criminal in the mid-1920s. Anderson was born Ivan Dahl von Teler to a wealthy Danish family circa 1880, graduated from the universities of Heidelberg and Uppsala, and emigrated to the United States around the start of the 20th century. Anderson, along with Gerald Chapman (America’s first Public Enemy Number One), operated a Prohibition-era gang during the late 1910s until the mid-1920s. After settling in New York City, he and his associates successfully robbed a U.S. Mail truck of $2.4 million in cash, stocks, bonds, and jewelry, an act that was at the time the largest robbery in U.S. history and became known as the "Great Post Office Robbery of 1921." After even more robberies, Anderson and Chapman were finally captured, tried, and sentenced to 25 years in prison, to be served at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. However, after serving a mere seven months Anderson and Chapman both escaped. Chapman was captured shortly after his escape and while a fugitive Anderson swore revenge. In Indiana he killed a key prosecution witness from Chapman's trial and drew further attention by passing poor-quality counterfeit currency in Michigan. Ultimately, Anderson was arrested, made a short-lived escape, and was killed in a police shootout while trying to flee on October 31, 1925. Anderson's remarkable criminal infamy included burglary, armed robbery, boot-legging, prison escape, counterfeiting, and murder.

Casper Holstein was a numbers racketeer who made a fortune in New York's Harlem neighborhoods. Born in 1878 on St. Croix, Danish West Indies, to a Danish military father and African descent mother, Holstein moved to New York City in 1894. After service in the U.S. Navy, the veteran Holstein eventually became involved in gambling and found a niche in the African-American neighborhoods of Harlem, where he devised a dime-based numbers betting enterprise. By the early 1920s, Holstein's system achieved huge popularity and he became known as the "Bolita King," earning him an estimated $5000 a day. Holstein used his illegal revenue for many philanthropic causes both within Harlem and back in the renamed U.S. Virgin Islands. Eventually, Holstein was muscled out of his operations by competing (white) organized crime. In 1935 Holstein was arrested and convicted of illegal gambling and served a one-year sentence. Upon release Holstein invested in real estate and offered mortgages to minorities in the Harlem community until his death in 1944, when a reported 2,000 people attended his funeral at Harlem's Memorial Baptist Church.

See also


  1. "Census 2006 ACS Ancestry estimates"
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Danish Americans". John Mark Nielsen and Peter L. Petersen. Retrieved 2011-03-10.
  3. http://www.mla.org/cgi-shl/docstudio/docs.pl?map_data_results&SRVY_YEAR=compare&geo=us&state_id=&county_id=&mode=geographic&lang_id=&zip=&place_id=&cty_id=&region_id=&division_id=&ll=all&ea=&order=a&a=
  4. "Danes in America - Danish Immigration to America - Bibliographies & Guides - Local History & Genealogy Reading Room (Library of Congress)". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  5. "DENDANSKEPIONEER.COM". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  6. 1 2 "ScandinavianFestival.org - Ephraim, Utah". Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  7. Thernstrom, S. (1980) Harvard encyclopedia of American ethnic groups. Harvard University Press. p 276.
  8. Shirley Emmons, Tristanissimo: The Authorized Biography of Heroic Tenor Lauritz Melchior, New York: Schirmer Books, 1990.
  9. William Rauscher, S.S. Adams: High Priest of Pranks and Merchant of Magic (Oxford, CT: David E. Haversat, 2002)
  10. Edward T. O'Donnell, "Pictures vs. Words? Public History, Tolerance, and the Challenge of Jacob Riis," Public Historian (2004) 26#3 pp 7-26.
  11. Christian Febiger Bio


In Danish

External links

Additional Danish American Links

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