2014: The 150th Anniversary Of

The Start Of Modern Finnish Immigration

To North America

Lake Pepin, Mississippi River, at Red Wing, Minnesota
Douglas, Renville, and Wright counties.
Cokato, Minneapolis, and Red Wing
Cabin in Cokato, Minnesota
Peltoperä 1866 – Länkki 1870
Savu sauna from 1868 in Cokato, Minnesota
Pioneer Memorial Plaque in Cokato, Minnesota
(Right Click and download the image for higher resolution)

What happened in 1864?

In the summer of 1864, a small group of Finns embarked from a riverboat in Red Wing, Minnesota. Most were originally from the Tornio River valley of Finland and Sweden; at the time of their departure all were residing in Arctic Norway. By moving to America, these early immigrants specifically intended to create new lives through the formation of Finnish communities in the New World.

These Finns became the vanguard for what can be termed Modern Finnish Migration to North America, an immigration eventually involving peoples from all of Finland. The people who exited that riverboat came specifically to North America as settlers. These pioneers created the first modern Finnish homesteads on the continent, specifically in the Minnesota counties of Renville, Wright and Douglas; these rural settlements also created an urban outpost in the emerging urban center of Minneapolis.

FinnFest USA is creating six months of activities to commemorate the 150th anniversary of their arrival, a commemoration starting in May, 2014 and continuing into November, 2014.

Why is Minnesota considered the state where the Modern Finnish Immigration Movement began?

Since the early 1850s, hundreds of Finnish sailors had been deserting their ships in American seaports, pursuing work, adventure, and fortunes. However, their presence neither began as an effort to immigrate nor emphasized an effort to create communities. Their presence was accidental, although some stayed and started homes and families.

Actual immigration for the purpose of settlement began in 1864 in Minnesota. Although an even smaller number of Finns may also have traveled to Michigan’s Copper Country in 1864, direct evidence of their arrival is lacking. Therefore, Minnesota served as the site for the nation’s first modern Finnish immigrant communities. These immigrants and their descendants, as well as contemporary Finns living in the state, have all enriched and influenced what we define today as Minnesota and North American cultural life.

What’s there to celebrate about Finnish-America in Minnesota today?

  • Today, Minnesota is the home of the largest percentage of Finnish related persons in any single state in the USA.
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota together with nearby Wisconsin communities creates the largest Metropolitan area of Finns in the USA. 44,204 out of the 2,968,806 population identify with Finnish ancestry.
  • Minnesota is one of the few states in the USA where Nordic cultural roots remain visibly strong as well as provide broad community leadership to the public identity of the State. In that capacity, Finland and things Finnish, enjoy high visibility and recognition as part of Minnesota’s rich Nordic heritage.