danish american history 
a chronological perspective


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.


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.


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.

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, schools, businesses were established. The town was incorporated in 1910.

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.

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 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.

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 given 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

1891 - Danish Home of Chicago established.

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.


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.

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.

1917 - Denmark sells the Virgin Islands to the United States for $25 million.

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.

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.

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

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.

1993 - Danish Heritage Museum of Danevang, Texas established.


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.

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

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