danish american history 
a chronological perspective

1600's

1619 - Danish explorer Jens Munk (1579-1628) reaches Hudson Bay while searching for Northwest passage.

1636 - Earliest documented Danish immigrants to the new world, Jan Jensen and his wife Engeltje, arrive with their children in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

1650 - By the mid 17th century, many individual Danes reach North America. It is believed approximately 50 percent of the 1,000 people living in the Dutch colony of New Netherlands (later New York) were Danes.

1666 - Danish West Indies Company takes possession of island of St Thomas in the Caribbean. Two nearby islands eventually come under Danish control, St. John in 1717 and St. Croix in 1733.

1700's

1721 - Denmark begins colonization of Greenland. Full colonization established in 1776.

1728 - Danish explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681-1741), discovered that a narrow body of water separated the North American and Asian continents. Today this strait is named the Bering Sea in his honor.

1750 - After the mid 18th century, several Danish families who were members of a religious denomination called the Moravian Brethren immigrated to Pennsylvania where they settled among German Moravians in the Bethlehem area.

1776 - Approximately one thousand Danish settlers participate in the American Revolutionary War including commander Hans Christian Febiger who serves as a trusted advisor to General George Washington. Febiger, born in Faaborg, Denmark in 1749 was known as “Old Denmark” and also served as the Treasurer of Pennsylvania from 1789 until his death seven years later.

1792 - Denmark becomes the first country to abolish the slave trade in overseas possessions.  Approximately 120,000 people from present-day Ghana had been brought to the Danish West Indies (now the United States Virgin Islands) to plant and harvest sugar cane. The emancipation of slaves on the Danish West Indies occurred in 1848, and the Virgin Islands’ former plantation economy collapsed. 


1800's

1836 - March 6. Danish immigrant Charles Zanco dies in battle at the Alamo. Zanco is thought to have helped in the design which became the Texas flag, and originated the idea of the “lone star”.

1839 - Danish immigrant Peter Lassen leads an expedition from Missouri to California. Lassen National Forest, Lassen Peak, and Lassen Volcanic National Park are named in his honor.

1840 - Earliest Danish settlers arrive during the 1840's in Wisconsin areas of Racine, Neenah and New Denmark as well as Chicago, Illinois.

1848 - Denmark, Wisconsin is settled by the first Danish immigrants to the area, Niels Gotfredsen and his wife.

1850 - Mormon missionaries from Utah arrive in Denmark following the new 1849 Danish constitution providing freedom of religion. Between 1850 and 1904 approximately 17,000 Danes convert to the Mormon church and leave Denmark for Utah.

1860 - Elk Horn, Iowa the first Danish settlers arrive during the 1860s. In the following 10-15 years, a post office, churches, a Danish folk school and businesses were established. The town was incorporated in 1910.

1860 - Danish immigrants settle in the area of South Dakota which would become "Viborg".  The area was first settled by Danish migrants in the 1860s, founding a community known as Daneville. With the advent of the railway in 1893, a new settlement closer to the railway was created as Viborg. Viborg was incorporated as a city on August 25, 1903.

1862 - Dania Society organized in Chicago.

1862 - The "Homestead Act" is passed by U.S. Congress giving 160 acres of governments land to any adult who did not own land elsewhere, provided he lives on the land for at least 5 years.

1864-1930 - Greatest wave of Danish immigration to the U.S. following the Danish 1864 border war with Prussia (Germany). However it was primarily economic reasons including the U.S Homestead Act which caused over 300,000 Danes to leave Denmark for the U.S. during this time period.

1869 - Grundtvigian Danish settlers establish the Kansas colony of Denmark.

1871 - Dannebrog, Nebraska established by Danish settlers relocating from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

1872 - “Den Danske Pioneer” The Danish Pioneer newspaper founded in Omaha by Mark Hansen. In 1958, the paper was sold and moved to Illinois and Hjalmar Bertelsen served as Editor from 1958 until 1981. In 1997, Queen Margrethe II made then-editor Chris Steffensen a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog to commemorate the newspaper's 125th anniversary. Today the newspaper is a unit of Bertelsen Publishing Co., based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Elsa Steffensen, wife of former editor Chris Steffensen, is publisher, and their daughter Linda Steffensen is editor.

1876 - The "United States Club" is formed in Copenhagen by Danes who emigrated to the U.S., but returned to Denmark.

1878 - Danish Priest Rasmus Andersen holds his first worship service in Brooklyn, New York. Present was noted Danish journalist and photographer Jacob A. Riis, who was to prove invaluable support for the Seamen's Church and a friend for Rasmus. This service marks the beginning of the Danish Seamen's Church in New York as we know it today. In 1958, the Seamen's Church moved to its current address on 102 Willow Street in Brooklyn Heights.

1879 - Danish owned shipping company "Thingvalla Line" is founded.  Danes now have a transatlantic voyage option to New York directly from Copenhagen.  But many still travel to America on German and English ships.  By the 1870's, the transition from sail to steamships was nearly complete, cutting the travel time from 6-8 weeks to 10-14 days.

1880 - The first wave of Danish migration to the Pacific Northwest areas of Washington and Oregon and the Puget Sound in the 1880's and 90's.

1880 - In the early 1880s, Danish settlers establish the northern Iowa community of "Ringsted".  The St. Ansgar Lutheran Church is established by the settlement's founders in 1882.  The town of Ringsted is platted in 1899.

1882 - “Bien” The Bee Weekly Danish American newspaper is established in California. Publication ceased in 2018.

1882 - 11,618 Danes emigrate to the U.S. which is the highest number for a single year.

1882 - Danish Brotherhood in America founded. In 1881 Mark Hansen formed the Danish Arms Brothers, a group of Danish veterans who had fought in the American Civil War or the Danish-Prussian War, in Omaha, Nebraska. Other societies sprang up in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. In January 1882, five of these societies met in a convention in Omaha and decided to form an ethnic fraternal order that would offer benefits to its members as well as preserving Danish culture and traditions.

1883 - The Danish Sisterhood of America was founded on December 15, 1883 by Christine Hemmingsen, a Danish immigrant from Orup, Denmark. Inspired by the success of the Danish Brotherhood of America, Mrs. Hemmingsen established Christine Lodge #1 in Negaunee, Michigan.

1884 - Dana College is founded in Elk Horn, Iowa by Danish immigrants. Moved to Blair, Nebraska in 1899. The name “Dana College” was first used in 1903. The Danish Evangelical Lutheran Association in America (or Blair Church) was formed in 1884 by a group of Danish members who left the Conference of the Norwegian-Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Many Blair Church pastors were supportive of the Inner Mission. In 1896, two small groups of Danish Lutherans in America - known as the Blair Church and the North Church - came together to form the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church (commonly known as the United Church). This church body was a part of the Danish Lutheran "Inner Mission" movement, which supported a revival of religious practice based on the Bible and orthodox Lutheran teachings. Its members strongly opposed the liberalizing influence of Danish theologian N. F. S. Grundtvig, who had supported the realization of religious expression through sacramental and congregational practices. Dana College closed in 2010.

1885 - Danish Colony of Danebod established near Tyler, Minnesota

1887 - A Danish Church seminary, based on the theology of N.F.S. Grundtvig, is established in West Denmark, Wisconsin.

1887 - The Dansk Folkesamfund (Danish Peoples Society) was founded in 1887 by Frederik Lange Grundtvig, the son of N. F. S. Grundtvig, to conserve Danish social heritage and promote immigration to the USA.

1888 - In the early morning hours of August 14, 1888, 105 lives were lost when two ships of the Danish owned Thingvalla Lines collided about 40 miles off Sable Island, east of Halifax, Nova Scotia.  The S/S Geiser sunk within minutes, and the S/S Thingvalla, badly damaged, limped into port carrying survivors. 

1889 - On April 6, 1889, the S/S Danmark bound for New York and carrying 735 passengers, sank in the Atlantic Ocean.  All the passengers and crew were rescued by the S/S Missouri. 

1891 - Danish Home of Chicago established.

1892 - Beautiful Victorian Style home is built by Danish immigrant and cattle rancher Niels Petersen near Tempe, Arizona.   Today, the "Petersen House Museum" is owned and operated by the city of Tempe.

1893 - Danish Lutheran Publishing House established in Racine, Wisconsin, but operations took place in Blair, Nebraska until closing in 1960.

1894 - Approximately 100 Danish families establish community of Danevang, Texas

1896 - United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church synod founded (based on "Inner Mission" theology).  The newly established Trinity Seminary in Blair, NE (later to become Dana College) became the synod's theological training school.  Elk Horn, Iowa Pastor P.S. Vig was named Seminary President, and Pastor G.B. Christiansen was named Synod President.  Theology classes, taught by Pastor Vig, were held in Elk Horn the first year, before moving to Blair.

1896 - Grand View College and Seminary established in Des Moines, Iowa by Danish immigrants. Grand View College and Seminary was started in 1896 by members of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (N.F.S. Grundtvig theology). In 1912, Grand View opened a high school academy department; instruction at the junior college level began in 1924 and was accredited by the Iowa State Department of Public Instruction in 1938 following the dissolution of the academy. After receiving accreditation by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools in 1959, the theological seminary was relocated to Maywood, Illinois, in 1960. In 1975, nursing programs were added for the first time along with baccalaureate programs. The college, then known as Grand View Junior College, became known as Grand View College. In 2008, after adding graduate programs, the college renamed itself Grand View University. The Grand View Danish Immigrant Archives houses a wide variety of information sources related to the Danish immigrant influence on the United States, including personal histories, photographs, writings, and a large collection of Danish American newspapers and magazines.

1900's

1900 - 1900 census shows over 10,000 first generation Danes living in Chicago, approximately 5,600 in New York City, 2,800 in Racine, Wisconsin, 2,700 in St. Paul/Minneapolis, and 2,400 in Omaha.

1904 - Southern Florida community of "Dania" incorporated.  In 1998 the name was changed to "Dania Beach".  Most of the community's initial residents were Danish settlers.

1906 - The Danish Home for the Aged, Brooklyn opens. Present at the opening celebration was Jacob Riis, renowned Danish American author and photographer. The present-day Danish Home facility is a historic former estate at Croton-On-Hudson, New York.

1906 - The first Danish Lutheran churches are established in California - Den Første Danske Evangelisk Luthersk Kirke i Los Angeles, and St. Ansgar Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in San Francisco.

1906 - Settlement of Dagmar, Montana established by Danish immigrants.

1908 - Estimated 500 Danes per year return to Denmark from America, many disillusioned, between 1908 and 1914.

1909 - Minnesota community of "Askov" established by Danish settlers.  

1911 - Solvang, California founded by Danish settlers. In 1906, Danish Lutheran pastor and Grand View College President Benedict Nordentoft, together with Jens M. Gregersen, a pastor from Kimballton, Iowa, and Peder P. Hornsyld, a lecturer at Grand View, had discussed the possibility of creating a new Danish colony with a dedicated Lutheran church and school on the west coast. In 1910, together with other Danish-Americans, they created the Danish-American Colony Company in San Francisco. Later that year, suitable land was found in the Santa Ynez Valley northwest of Santa Barbara. On January 23, 1911, the contract was signed and Solvang was founded.

1911 - American Scandinavian Foundation (ASF) established in New York by Danish American industrialist Niels Poulson. In 2000, ASF opened Scandinavia House in New York.

1912 - Rebild National Park Society established by Danish immigrant Max Henius in Chicago, Illinois. Celebration each July 4 in the Rebild Hills near Aalborg, Denmark to recognize the friendship between Denmark and the United States.

1914 - After emigrating from the Danish island of Langeland, brothers Tom and Carl Knudsen establish a dairy consulting business "Knudsen Laboratories" in Los Angeles.  Ten years later, the brothers would divide their business, and Tom would establish "Knudsen Creamery" which would become one of the largest supplier of dairy products in California and the United States.  In subsequent years Tom and his wife Valley would generously support Danish American organizations in Southern California and especially the Danish Lutheran Church and Cultural Center in Yorba Linda.

1917 - Denmark sells the Danish West Indies (now the U.S. Virgin Islands) to the United States for $25 million.

1922 - Danish American Athletic Club (DAAC) organized in Chicago on April 18,  "to promote sport and physical culture among the Danish young people of Chicago or descent of said nationality" and their affiliation with "the AAU, Illinois Soccer Football Association & District League, and the Danish National Committee of Chicago". The first President was Laurits Madsen. 

1923 - Northwest Danish Association established. Beginning as an elderly care home, the Northwest Danish Association now provides active cultural centers, lending libraries, public programs and services for the Northwest in both Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.

1927 - Sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish immigrants, begins creation of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. In 1927 Borglum was commissioned by the state of South Dakota to turn Mount Rushmore, in the Black Hills, into a colossal monument. That year he began sculpting the 60-foot-high heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt on the face of the mountain, and in 1929 the United States government began financing the project, which would become a national memorial. Borglum brought all his engineering prowess to bear on this project, and he invented new methods that took advantage of the capacity of dynamite and pneumatic hammers to carve large quantities of stone quickly. Washington’s head was unveiled in 1930, Jefferson’s in 1936, Lincoln’s in 1937, and Roosevelt’s in 1939. The work was completed in 1941, the year of Borglum’s death, although the last details were completed by his son, Lincoln Borglum.

1934 - Los Angeles Naver Club  founded in downtown LA. Starting in the 1950’s meetings were held the second Friday of the month at their new Club house “Hulen”, on a 3-acre property donated by Bill Omer (616 Norumbega Dr. in the foothills of Monrovia, CA) a few miles east of Pasadena.  It remains there today, and is a primary meeting place for Southern California Danish American organizations.  The "Navers" is a European organization for well-traveled journeymen from many different trade groups in Scandinavia and Europe, founded in Switzerland in 1899.

1935 - The “House of Denmark” built in Balboa Park, San Diego for the California Pacific International Exposition. It is now home of the “House of Denmark” Danish Club of San Diego.

1936The Oersted Medal is named for Hans Christian Oersted (Ørsted) (1777-1851), a Danish physicist who, in the course of creating a demonstration for teaching his class, discovered that electric currents cause a magnetic field.   The award is now presented each year by the American Association of Physics Teachers.

1945 - May 5, Denmark is liberated from German occupation at the close of WWII.

1951 - Construction of a United States Air Force base in northern Greenland begins.  "Thule Air Base" is completed in 1953.

1976 - Authentic 60’ Danish windmill originally built in 1848 in Nørre Snede, Denmark is purchased by the town of Elk Horn, Iowa. It is dissembled and shipped to Elk Horn where it is reassembled and becomes a Danish American landmark.

1977 - Danish American Heritage Society established to promote an interest in Danish culture, heritage, and language and to encourage research in the life, culture, and history of Danish Americans. The society also publishes a journal, The Bridge.

1980 - Nordic Heritage Museum established in Seattle, Washington

1983 - Danish Immigrant Museum established in Elk Horn, Iowa. In 1994 a new museum facility was completed which is the current location. In 2013 the name was changed to The Museum of Danish America.

1986 - Danish Immigrant Archive established at Dana College, Blair, Nebraska. After the closing of Dana College in 2010, the archives were moved to a new location in Blair and renamed The Danish American Archive and Library.

1988 - Elverhøj Museum of History and Art opens in Solvang, California.

1991 - Danish Home of Chicago observes 100 years of operation.

1993 - Construction of new Danish Lutheran Church and Cultural Center in Yorba Linda, California.  The Tom and Valley Knudsen Cultural Center, a reception hall connected to the church, is a primary meeting place for many Danish American clubs and events in Southern California.

1993 - Danish Heritage Museum of Danevang, Texas established.

2000's

2010 - Following years of financial and enrollment struggles, Dana College, Blair, Nebraska closes its doors.

2012 - 100th anniversary of Rebild National Park Society celebrated on July 4 in Rebild Hills, Denmark near Aalborg with Queen Margrethe II in attendance.

2018 - Nordic Museum Seattle, Washington opens new museum facility in Ballard area of Seattle. Denmark Crown Princess Mary attends ribbon cutting. In 2019 the museum was granted National status by proclamation and renamed the National Nordic Museum.

2020 - Global coronavirus pandemic causes  cancellation and postponement of nearly all Danish American gatherings, events and festivals and forces development of many online "virtual" events, museum exhibits, and meetings.


National Foundation for Danish America
PO Box 1003
Wilmette, Illinois 60091

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