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Finns in Minnesota

By Arnold Alanen

Publication Year: 2012

The first Finnish immigrants arrived in R ed Wing in 1864, the vanguard of thousands who eventually and resolutely placed Minnesota second among the states in terms of Finnish population. Today we may recognize Minnesota’s “Finnishness” in the popular sauna, in the characteristic tenacity known as sisu, or in place names and cultural markers that link to homeland. The newest contribution to the People of Minnesota series traces the Finns’ migration to the state, particularly its northeastern region; their log construction techniques, including dovetail notching; and their ethnic organizations, from religious to political to fraternal. Colorful sidebars enliven the narrative, highlighting such topics as “Finglish,” New World legends, and the 1920s Olympic competitors in track and field known as the “Flying Finns.” A separate thread tells the story of the Finland Swedes—“the minority within a minority” whose members were born in Finland but spoke Swedish and thus straddled two ethnic groups, belonging fully to neither. The book concludes with a personal narrative of Fred Torma (1888–1979), a miner and carpenter from Nashwauk, who describes establishing a Socialist hall, involvement in the 1907 Mesabi strike, and founding a cooperative boardinghouse and store. His is just one engaging example of the vibrant lives and legacy of Finnish Americans in Minnesota.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Series: People of Minnesota

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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Table of Contents

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Finns in Minnesota

In the early summer of 1864, a group of Finnish immigrants, numbering at least seventeen, stepped off a Mississippi River steamboat and onto Minnesota soil at Red Wing. They weren’t the first Finns to arrive in North . . .

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Immigrant Numbers

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pp. 2-4

Sweden ruled Finland until 1809, when it became an autonomous Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire; Finland achieved independence in late 1917, once Russian rule ended. Because of Finland’s status as a Grand Duchy, U.S. officials grouped Finns with Russians when preparing . . .

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A Finnish Presence in Minnesota

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pp. 4-6

Despite their relatively small overall numbers, Finns have been concentrated within a few sections of Minnesota, earning a higher profile in these areas. People residing outside of these concentrations may still have some knowledge of Minnesota’s “Finnishness”—very likely the . . .

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Early Emigration from Finland

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pp. 6-10

Significant emigration from Finland occurred during the 1500s and 1600s when more than ten thousand Finns, most from the eastern region of Savo-Karelia, departed for the uninhabited uplands of Värmland and west-central Sweden. Several hundred of these “Värmland Finns” . . .

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Minnesota’s First Rural Finnish Settlements

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pp. 10-15

The first seventeen Finns who arrived in 1864 included three families with eight young children among them: Peter and Johanna Lahti, Matti and Maria Niemi (Johnson), and Antti and Maria Rovainen. The youngest traveler was the Niemis’ . . .

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A Minneapolis Finntown

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pp. 16-18

Minneapolis served as the first urban center for Minnesota’s Finns. Early immigrants often paused in Minneapolis before moving westward in their search for farmland or employment, and some farmers pursued seasonal work in the city. Minneapolis also was where Finns from the . . .

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New York Mills and West-Central Minnesota

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pp. 19-22

While Cokato served as America’s foremost Finnish agricultural settlement into the 1880s, another community soon replaced it: New York Mills. This area of Otter Tail County became a magnet for Finns after the first settlers, Antti and Elsa Puuperä and Tuomas and Maria . . .

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Northeastern Minnesota

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pp. 22-35

The first Finns appeared in Duluth in 1868, but according to one chronicler, “they did not settle down in that little disorderly town.” There is some evidence that in 1869 fisherman Johan Moilanen became Duluth’s first Finnish resident; only seven Finns, six of them fishermen, followed him over the . . .

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Farming the Cutover

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pp. 35-44

The dangers of mining, coupled with employment fluctuations, periodic strikes, and the discriminatory attitudes of company officials, led many Finns to flee the range and establish farms in the cutover region—a vast section of northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and upper . . .

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Religion, Politics, and Organizations

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pp. 44-61

Minnesota’s Finns formed numerous ethnic organizations, ranging from churches and temperance societies to cooperatives and radical political groups. These organizations played a vital role by assisting the Finns in surviving the conditions they encountered in America and in . . .

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Cooperatives and the Common Good

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pp. 61-64

Despite their differences, Finns representing a full range of political views— left, right, independent, and indifferent— often found reconciliation and agreement in an institution based on the common good: the cooperative. While Finns engaged in forming various types of cooperatives—boardinghouses, . . .

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Supporting Finland During the 1930s and 1940s

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pp. 64-67

For centuries, Finland had remained a distant and unknown place to most Americans. But then, following the convergence of three events during the mid- to late 1930s, Finland suddenly found itself receiving considerable favorable attention . . .

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The Postwar Era

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pp. 67-76

Finland may have maintained its independence, but the nation still faced years of austerity in coping with the aftermath of war. While Help Finland served as the official source of American assistance, thousands of Minnesota and North America Finns also sent money and untold . . .

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Finland Swedes

Finland Swedes (Finlandssvenskar) share a language with Sweden, but their history has been firmly rooted in Finland for centuries. Finland Swedes, often called Swede-Finns in North America, are concentrated along Finland’s western and southern coasts and on the Åland Islands, which . . .

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Twin Cities

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pp. 78-79

Some writers have claimed that Minnesota’s first Finland Swede came to Minneapolis in 1869; the 1860 census, however, lists Theodore Hubert, very likely a Finland Swede. The best-known early Finland Swede was Kustaa (Gustaf) Fredrick Bergstadius, who arrived in Minneapolis . . .

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pp. 79-80

Northeastern Minnesota was the Finland Swedes’ primary domain, and Duluth was their midwestern Helsingfors Duluth’s first pioneers settled by sawmills along the St. Louis River, including in their number Matt and Hannah Kynell, . . .

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Iron Range

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pp. 80-82

When mining began in northeastern Minnesota, some Finland Swedes immediately made their way to the district; one, Gust Nyman, began working on the railroad between Two Harbors and the Vermilion Range in 1883–94 and was subsequently employed for almost forty years by . . .

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Lake Superior’s North Shore

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pp. 82-85

Finland Swedes outnumbered Finns in most of the diminutive North Shore settlements that extended from French River toward the Canadian border. By 1920, the French River area (Duluth Township) was populated by twentyseven Finland . . .

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Rural and Agricultural Settlements

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pp. 85-86

Finland Swedes were scattered throughout several areas of rural Minnesota, but even when they clustered together their numbers were seldom sufficiently large to give them an identifiable presence, most notably when nearby Finnish or Swedish immigrant communities were larger. . . .

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Organizational Life

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pp. 86-91

Some Finland Swedes sought to link their early organizations to those sponsored by Finnish-speaking immigrants. A few employed Finnish names, others were intended to . . .

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pp. 91-92

Little evidence remains of the Finland Swedes’ presence in Minnesota. The most recognizable place is Larsmont, where the residents’ strong sense of community is displayed by the former schoolhouse, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. . . .

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Personal Account: Fred Torma (Törmä)

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pp. 93-95

Fred Torma (1888–1979), a Finnish immigrant miner and carpenter, was a Socialist and cooperative leader in Nashwauk. Torma married Hilda Lampeä (1889–1959) in 1909, one year after she arrived from Alatornio, Finland. The couple had two children: Sylvia and William. Their . . .

Further Reading

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p. 96-96


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pp. 97-106


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pp. 107-111

Illustration Source Details and Credits

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pp. 112-113


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p. 113-113

About the Author

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p. 114-114

Back cover

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p. 115-115

E-ISBN-13: 9780873518604
E-ISBN-10: 0873518608
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518543
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518543

Page Count: 112
Illustrations: 50 b&w illustrations, 1 map, notes, index, bibliography
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1
Series Title: People of Minnesota

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Finns -- Minnesota -- History.
  • Finns -- Minnesota -- Social conditions.
  • Finland-Swedes -- Minnesota -- History.
  • Finland-Swedes -- Minnesota -- Social conditions.
  • Finnish Americans -- Minnesota -- History.
  • Finnish Americans -- Minnesota -- Social conditions.
  • Minnesota -- Ethnic relations -- History.
  • Finland -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
  • Minnesota -- Emigration and immigration -- History.
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