The major reason for Danish immigration was the search for a better standard of living. The promise of free or inexpensive land, better wages, and the possibility to create a better life for themselves and their children made Danes leave Denmark to move to the US.
In the early 1880’s, the Danish population increased rapidly, unemployment grew and wages were low. The eldest son inherited the land, and younger children had little hope of owning a farm. In the United States, on the other hand, any immigrant could claim 160 acres of unoccupied government land, homestead it, and earn title in five years in accordance with the Homestead Act of 1862. Wages were also higher, making it possible to save up and buy a farm or piece of property or create a business within a foreseeable number of years.
What parts of Denmark did the Danish immigrants come from?
A high rate of immigration is found in the parts of Denmark where the price for land was high and which were dominated by large estate owners. This includes the areas of Lolland-Falster, Langeland and southern Funen. A somewhat high percentage left from the island of Bornholm and North Jutland as well. The majority of Danish emigrants came from the capital city of Copenhagen and from the towns, which was not the case in Norway and Sweden.
Did they leave for religious reasons?
A small proportion of emigrants left for religious reasons – in particular Mormons and Baptists. The Mormons carried out missionary work in Denmark. They also organized group emigration travel, without any up-front out-of-pocket cost to the individual. Many single women joined the Mormons, and Salt Lake City and Utah is home to many Americans with Danish heritage. Finally, some people had personal reasons to leave – or at least the personal played a role in making the decision to emigrate. They left to join a loved one in the new country, due to an unhappy love affair or a family feud, or simply to pursue adventure in the new world.
How many people in the US have Danish ancestry, and where do they live?
According to the 2000 census, approximately 1.5 million Americans list Danish as their primary or secondary ancestry. The number of people with Danish ancestry in the United States is therefore about ¼ of the number of people living in Denmark today.
The Danes primarily established themselves in the Midwest such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa and also Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana and the Dakotas. Many immigrants and their children later moved further west. Today, the majority of the people with Danish ancestry in the US live in California. Other states with a larger Danish-American population are Utah and Minnesota. The following states make up the fourth tier: Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Florida.
How was the Danish settling pattern different and similar to other North European groups?
The Danes were generally quick to integrate into the American society and assimilated faster than most other groups. While there were Danish towns and enclaves, many settled among members of other ethnic groups. When choosing between an opportunity for a good job or good land on one hand and staying close to other Danes on the other hand, many Danes choose the first option. In general, Danes also learned the language quickly and were more likely than members of other ethnic groups to marry outside of their national ethnic group. However, most Danes married other Northern Europeans, and today, many of them form part of the Anglo-Germanic, mostly white, protestant population in the US.