According to the 2019 census (American community survey), there is approximately 650,000 American Finns living in the United States. This counts all the Finns emigrated from Finland as well all the Americans with ancestral roots from Finland. That is, if they filled out that piece of information when the census questionnaire arrived. Roughly 20,000 of these Finns live in Florida.
When did the Finns started arriving to the US?
According to genealogy website, the first Finns set foot on America already in 1600. They were part of Swedish travel group and these people founded the so-called New Sweden by the Delaware river. Approximately 500 Finnish people were traveling with this group, majority of them originating from the forest areas of Sweden and Norway.
Fun fact: John Morton, 1725-1777, is one of the men who signed the United States constitution in 1776 and his father was Finnish, and he came to America with with this Swedish travel group.
So, the first Finns came already in the 1600, however, the history books do not consider immigration from Finland starting until 1864. There were 4 groups that arrived through Norway and they set camp in Minnesota. The mines in Michigan started attracting Finnish people and Michigan still has the largest number of Finnish descendants living there. 1870 was the year when America started talking about mass immigration from Europe. Finnish people were writing back to their families in Finland and inviting them over to live in this amazing country.
During the years of 1899 and 1913, over 20,000 Finnish people moved over seas. In 1923, America started tightening the laws and regulations of immigrants, so the numbers started declining. Moving out of Finland was fairly small compared to other European countries. For example, there were over 6 million immigrants who came from Germany. Finland’s total tally being only 350,000.
When Finnish people were applying for their passport, they had to fill out if Swedish or Finnish was their mother tongue. Based on this interesting fact, we now know that a lot of the Swedish Speaking Finns moved to Boston, Philadelphia, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin.
The other Finns, the Finnish speaking Finns, lived in different parts of the US. Many lived south from the Canadian border, in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Minnesota. Slowly Finns started spreading from these states to Montana, California, Oregon and to Washington state. Many chose their new home city based on their family and friends whom had already moved here. However, many chose their home state based on work opportunities.
United States needed good work force and Finns were ready to work. Tailors and craftsmen moved to New York area, Boston, Cleveland, and in Chicago. The sailors and harbor workers naturally ended up moving to the harbor cities. Main had a lot of people working in the mines. Lumber jacks were located in Northern parts of the country and goldminers were needed in California. Women usually worked as maids for the rich and in textile factories. Roughly 25% of Finnish immigrants got their income from farming, totaling to 15,000 farms.
In so many cases, people moved to the same area where their family members, or friends from the same city, had moved to. For example, people from Ilmajoki, Nurmo and Jurva, moved to Worcester, Massachusetts. From Isokyrö to Ashtabula, Ohio and from Evijärvi to Crystal Falls, Minnesota.
It is interesting to learn that Finnish people did not move to Florida in the beginning. The move to down south didn’t start until people were closer to retirement age and according to a survey done by Keijo Virtanen, majority of Finnish people wanted to spend their days in warm weather. Palm Beach County offers year-round warmth, having the average temperature of +24C / 75F. In the 1970, people started moving from Finland directly to Florida, which increased the population even further. Lake Worth area currently holds the largest population of American Finns in the state of Florida.
So, when comparing to other countries, our numbers are fairly small in the US, however, I think we have left an imprint in the American population. Did you know that for example these people come from Finnish roots:
Pamela Anderson – One word: Baywatch
Matt Damon – Have you heard about this Hollywood movie start
Eero Saarinen – Gateway Arch, St Louis, Missouri
David Lynch – and now I understand why Twin Peaks was such a popular TV show among my parents age group in Finland
Maila Nurmi or perhaps better known as the Vampira
Dave Mustaine – Ex Metallica band member ja now the Megadeth tähti
So, let’s keep our Finnish roots and sisu alive!
Would be great to hear what brough you to the US. Share your story below in the discussion area. Thank you.