The role of the Finn in America goes back to early Colonial Times. In 1638,
just eighteen years after the Pilgrims first landed at Plymouth, Finnish
colonists first set sail for the "New World." Finland was then part of Sweden.
News about America, with its supposedly unlimited opportunities, had reached
those northern countries, Sweden and Finland, and the spirit of adventure ran
high. In the spring of 1627, under the influence and initiative of Swedish
royalty, a New Sweden Company was organized to establish a Swedish colony in
The first of Finnish and Swedish colonist groups arrived at the mouth of the
Delaware River, landing at a point about which the city of Wilmington is now
located. From Indians they bought land on the western side of the river as far
as its tributary, Schuylkill. There New Sweden was founded, a fortress built,
and cultivation of land and building of homes started. The city of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania, is said to be located on the original site of New Sweden.
Through the inter-mixture of Swedes and Finns with the English and Dutch, the
Finns lost their identity for a considerable period of time in the course of
Colonial history. Some Finns are said to have been among early settlers in the
Pacific Coast region, and there are reasons to believe that Finnish sailors were
on the scene with those who sought fortunes along the riverbeds of Sutter's
Creek, California, where gold was first discovered more than a century ago.
Finnish sailors also left their British and Norwegian ships, early windjammers,
at Pacific ports, and remained after the ships sailed away. Such, according to
legend, is the beginning of permanent Finnish settlement in San Francisco,
California, and Astoria, Oregon.
No statistics are available on immigration to the United States prior to 1850.
In the census of that year immigrants from Finland, as well as those from the
Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, were listed as Russians because
they were Russian subjects. Not until the year 1900 were Finnish immigrants
listed as a separate group apart from Russians.
The census of 1900 listed 62,641 foreign-born Finnish persons in the United
States. The next census, 1910, indicated that the number of Finnish immigrants
in the United States had more than doubled during the decade. The census of 1920
showed the highest number of foreign-born Finns in the United States, a total of
149,824. The same census showed 145,506 native born Finns here. Thenceforth, the
number has steadily declined to 142,478 in 1930 and 117,210 in 1940. Two reasons
for the decline in Finnish immigration were restrictive U.S. Immigration laws
and much improved economic and political conditions in Finland.
The early immigrants from Finland who arrived here in the closing decades of the
nineteenth century were predominately from rural districts. They settled mostly
in the northern states where employment in copper and iron ore mines and lumber
camps was rather easily found. Many of them, however, soon began seeking
opportunity to acquire land on which to settle. Although Finns are still known
to be good miners and woodsmen, thousands of pioneer Finnish families have
cleared their own farms either on purchased, uncultivated land or on homesteads
made available by federal and state homestead laws. Recent trends in New England
show Finnish purchase of numerous abandoned farms, which have been raised out of
so-called economic submarginality into a highly prosperous state by the Finn's
willingness and "know-how" to tackle this seemingly unproductive glacial soil,
so similar to his "homeland."
Finnish immigrants have found their way into every state of the United States,
but the largest Finnish settlements are in states where climatic conditions are
in many respects comparable to those of Finland. Michigan and Minnesota rank
first in number of Finnish pioneers. New York and Massachusetts rank next,
followed by Washington and California. Only a small number of Finns have settled
in the southern states or even in the central states south of the Great Lakes
Later arrivals have changed the pattern somewhat. Large numbers of Finnish
immigrants have sought permanent employment in industrial centers and large
cities, particularly in the Atlantic Seaboard states and in such centers as
Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, and principal cities of Pacific Coast states, as
well as in mining communities of all states.