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Danish American


Danish American

Danish American
Total population


0.5% of the U.S. population (2009)
Regions with significant populations
California, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota
American English, Danish, Languages of Denmark
Christianity (Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism)
Related ethnic groups
Danes, Greenlanders, Greenlandic Americans,, Danish Canadians, Danish Australian, Scandinavian Americans, European Americans
Distribution of Danish Americans according to the 2000 census.

Danish Americans (Danish: Dansk-amerikanere) are Americans of Danish descent. There are approximately 1,500,000 Americans of Danish origin or descent. Most Danish-Americans live in the Western United States or the Midwestern United States.


  • History 1
  • Population 2
  • Usage of Danish Language 3
  • Culture 4
    • Education 4.1
    • Religious life 4.2
  • Danish American communities 5
  • Notable Danish Americans 6
    • Art 6.1
    • Dance 6.2
    • Design 6.3
    • Science 6.4
    • Sports 6.5
    • Music 6.6
    • Entertainment 6.7
    • Journalism 6.8
    • Politics 6.9
    • Movies 6.10
    • Military 6.11
  • Infamous Danish Americans 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Bibliography 10
  • External links 11


The first Dane known to have arrived in North America was explorer Vitus Jonassen Bering (1681–1741). In 1728, he discovered the narrow body of water that separated North America and Asia, which was later named the Bering Sea in his honor. Bering was the first European to arrive in Alaska in 1741. In 1666, the Danish West India Company took control of the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean and eventually, the islands of St. John in 1717 and St. Croix in 1733. The Danes brought African slaves to those islands, where the slaves were put to work in the snuff, cotton and sugar industries. These early settlers began to establish trade with New England. In 1917, they sold the islands to the United States, and they were renamed "U.S. Virgin Islands."

In the early seventeenth century, individual Danish immigrants became established in North America. In the 1640s, 50 percent of the 1,000 people living in American Revolution, Charles Zanco (1808–1836) who died at the Alamo in March 1836 in the struggle for Texan independence, and Peter Lassen (1800–1859), a blacksmith from Copenhagen who led a group of adventurers from Missouri to California in 1839. The trail established by Lassen was followed by the "forty-niners" during the California Gold Rush. Lassen is considered one of the most important early settlers of California.

From 1820 and 1850, about 60 Danes settled in the United States every year. Between 1820 and 1990 there was a population of 375,000 Danes; a vast majority of whom emigrated between 1860 and 1930 The greatest Danish emigration occurred in 1882 when 11,618 Danes settled in the United States.

The first significant wave of Danish immigrants consisted mainly of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) members who settled in United States in 1850. They settled in the newly acquired state of Utah, which had been under Mexican control until 1848. There were 17,000 such immigrants, many of these settled in small farming communities in the Sanpete and Sevier counties. Today, these counties respectively have the second and fifth largest percentages of Danish Americans in the United States.

Between 1864 and 1920, 50,000 Danes emigrated from Schleswig, Jutland, where the use of Danish language was banned in schools following the Danish defeat in the Second Schleswig War and Prussia seizing control. They were called North Slesvigers, however, most of these Danes are recorded in the census statistics as immigrants from Germany rather than Denmark. Most Danes who immigrated to the United States after 1865 did so for economic reasons. By 1865, there had been a large increase in the Danish population in Europe because of the improvement in the medicine and food industries. It caused a high rate of poverty and ultimately resulted in a significant and rapid increase in Danish migration to other countries. Another reason for migration was the sale of lands. Many Danes became farmers in the United States. During the 1870s, almost half of all Danish immigrants to the United States settled in family groups. By the 1890s, family immigration made up only of 25 percent of the total. It has been suggested that many of these immigrants eventually returned to Denmark.[2]


According to the United States Census of 2000, the states with the largest populations of Danish Americans are as follows:

The states with the smallest populations of Danish Americans are as follows:

  • Washington, D.C. has the smallest Danish American population, with 1,047 counted in 2000.

Usage of Danish Language

Danish Americans who continue to speak the Danish language number about 30,000. According to the 2000 US Census Bureau, 33,400 people spoke Danish at home; that figure was down to 29,467 5 years later (2005 American Community Survey). This decrease rate was about 11.8%.[3]


The Library of Congress has noted that Danish Americans, more so than other Scandinavian Americans, "spread nationwide and comparatively quickly disappeared into the melting pot....the Danes were the least cohesive group and the first to lose consciousness of their origins."[4] Historians have pointed to the higher rate of English use among Danes, their willingness to marry non-Danes, and their eagerness to become naturalized citizens as factors that contributed to their rapid assimilation, as well as their interactions with the already more assimilated German American community.[2]

Much that is regarded as "Danish" national culture today was not widespread in the psyche of Danish emigrants during the nineteenth century immigration to the United States. It would take the European nationalism and class struggles of the late nineteenth century to effectively seed the ideas of a distinctive national cultural personality. While many Danish emigrants to the U.S.A. fared far better economically than emigrants from Eastern Europe, a deep cultural awareness of Danish literature, with popular fiction authors such as Hans Christian Andersen, did not exist among the agrarian bønder or common people of Denmark. Exceptions exist, of course; primary among these are a rich heritage of folklore, an affinity to art, and regional traditions involving food and feast days.

As the Danes came to America, they brought with them their traditional foods. Popular Danish cuisine includes kringle (almond paste pastry), Wienerbrød and fastelavnsboller or Danish pastry (what Americans call breakfast "Danish"), æbleskiver (puffed pan cakes), frikadeller (Danish veal and pork meatballs), flæskesteg (pork roast), and risengrød (rice pudding). Despite the perceived importance of beer in modern Danish national culture, Danish immigrants were largely unsuccessful in penetrating the competitive American beer industry, which was saturated by immigrant German and Czech brew masters.

In 1872, Danish Americans in Omaha, Nebraska, founded the Den Danske Pioneer, or Danish Pioneer, an English-Danish newspaper. Now published in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, it is the oldest Danish American newspaper in publication.[5]


Like many other immigrant groups, Danish Americans also founded schools to educate their youth. Traditional Danish "folk schools," which focused more on learning outcomes than grades or diplomas, were operated primarily between the 1870s and 1930s in heavily Danish communities such as Kenmare, North Dakota; and Solvang, California.[2] Omaha, Nebraska and neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa, had major colonies of Danes for many years.[6]

The one major still-operating historically Danish American college is Grand View University, founded in 1896 in Des Moines, Iowa. Grand View University continues to maintain a large archival collection of Danish American history. Another institution, Dana College in Blair, Nebraska, operated from 1884 until 2010, but closed its doors in July 2010 due to failing enrollment. The Danish American Archive and Library that once resided at Dana College is now independently situated in Blair. The archive contains the country’s largest and broadest collection of materials relating to the life experience, cultural heritage and vital contributions to North America of the people of Danish extraction.

Religious life

Like other groups of Americans of Scandinavian descent, many Danes in America are Lutherans. Lutheran pioneer minister, Claus Lauritz Clausen, the first president of the Norwegian-Danish Lutheran Conference, traveled to Denmark and influenced religious leaders to send pastors to America. The oldest Danish Lutheran congregation is Emmaus Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin, founded August 22, 1851. Nearby Kenosha is home to the second oldest Danish Lutheran congregation, St. Mary's Lutheran Church, which is the largest congregation in the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In addition, a large number of Danish Americans belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Between 1849 and 1904, some 17,000 Danish Mormons and their children made the journey to the Church's settlements in Utah, making Danes second only to the British in number of foreigners recruited by the church to the state.

Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have the largest concentrations of non-Mormon Danish Americans. The states with the largest Mormon Danish American populations are Utah and Idaho—and in the case of Idaho, particularly the southeastern part of the state.

Smaller but significant numbers of Danish Americans have also become Methodists, Baptists, Roman Catholics, and Seventh-day Adventists.[2]

Danish American communities

Two cities, Chicago and Racine, Wisconsin, claim to be the home to the largest group of Danish Americans in the United States. Racine, 25 miles south of Milwaukee has the largest concentration of city dwellers with Danish origin. A number of other communities were founded by Danish Americans or have a large Danish American community, including:

Additionally, Danish Americans helped settle three U.S. counties: Montcalm, Michigan; St. Louis, Minnesota; and Sanpete, Utah.

Notable Danish Americans


Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota, now a modern American icon.

Sculptor American frontier. Another Danish-American sculptor of note is Christian Petersen, who was born in Denmark and emigrated with his family to New Jersey, where his interest in beaux-arts style sculpture began. Many of his well-known sculptures arose out of his later migration to the Midwest and teaching at Iowa State University. Among America's earliest oil painters of merit is Amadeus Christian Gullager, a premier painter in early Federal America, who also worked in terra cotta. The marine painters Antonio Jacobsen and Emil Carlsen left a considerable body of work which continues to draw strong art auction prices. Several Danish artists settled in the American West where they left their mark on the regional artistic genre. Not least among this group is counted Olaf Wieghorst, called the "Dean of Western Painters," and Olaf Seltzer. Johann Berthelsen was a prominent and prolific Impressionist painter known for his urban scenes, especially those of New York City. On the less formal level, Carl Christian Anton Christensen, is America's Danish-American equivalent of "Grandma Moses." Another early Danish-American artisan was Peter Hanson, a landscape painter, tulip authority, and daguerreian. Hanson was born in Denmark in 1821 and came to America c. 1847, when he settled in Brooklyn, NY, with a photography studio in the Bowery. Roland Petersen born in Endelave, Denmark in 1926, are Americans painter and printmaker. He is known for his distinctive and recognizable style of intaglio printmaking. Peter Sekaer (born Peter Ingemann Sekjær (1901) was a Danish-American photographer and artist. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, Sekaer came to New York in 1918 to seek freedom and opportunity. By 1922 he acquired a reputation as a master sign painter and later as a master photographer documenting the New Deal and the plight of America's Depression Era. William Mortensen, born to Danish immigrant parents in Park City, Utah, became a famous American art photographer, primarily known for his Hollywood portraits in the 1920s-1940s in the pictorialist style.


The three Christensen brothers: Lew, Harold, and Willam are well known in the history of American ballet. The three carved out careers as choreographers, teachers and directors, and clearly helped ballet flourish in the United States. Willam Christensen (1902–2001) especially, was the founder of the San Francisco Ballet. The three brothers were born into a Danish-American Mormon family in Brigham City, Utah.


In the early American decorative arts, one Danish-Afro-American stands out in particular - the accomplished Danish West Indies silversmith Peter Bentzon, who produced his masterpieces on both St. Croix and in Philadelphia. Jens Risom a craftsman from Copenhagen, who emigrated in 1939, is renowned for his furniture design, as co-founder of the Hans Knoll Furniture Company, and as a trustee at the Rhode Island School of Design. Tage Frid, another Danish furniture designer, who came to the United States in 1948, is likewise known for his wood furniture design and professorship at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1962-1985. In the field of metalsmithing, John Prip, who was born in New York to a Danish father and an American mother, performed his apprenticeship in Denmark and returned to the United States where he became known for his silverwork and design. Many years after creation, some of Prip's designs are still in production by the Reed & Barton Silver Company. Prip taught at both the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design.


Jens Clausen revolutionized the study of evolutionary genetics in botany, while Erik Erikson revolutionized developmental psychology with his theory on social development. Niels Ebbesen Hansen was a noted pioneer in plant breeding. Charles Christian Lauritsen was a physicist. In the final months of World War II he was part of the team of scientists who invented the atomic bomb. Mikkel Frandsen was a physical chemist noted for his experiments involving chemical thermodynamics, oil, and heavy water. Adam Giede Boving served as Assistant Curator of Entomology in the Zoological Museum in Copenhagen from 1902 to 1913 and after emigration became a Research Associate at the Smithsonian, in 1939 he joined the staff of the Bureau of Entomology at United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) until his retirement in 1945.


James J. Ward (born in Denmark as Jens P. Wilson) stands as an early pioneer aviator and biplane exhibition flyer. He was among those who attempted the first transcontinental (New York to San Francisco) air race in 1911.

Battling Nelson, presumed early 1900s

Oscar Mathæus Nielsen, also known as Oscar Battling Nelson, was a Danish boxer who held the world lightweight championship on two separate occasions. He was nicknamed "the Durable Dane". Nelson was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, and emigrated to the United States in 1883. Another boxer, Peter "Black Prince" Jackson (1861–1901) was a heavyweight boxer free-born in Christiansted on the island Saint Croix, which was then the capital of the Danish West Indies. Later he emigrated to Australia in 1880 before becoming a boxer of international renown. Morten Andersen holds the distinction of being the all-time leading scorer in NFL history and the all-time leading scorer for two different teams.

Americans gymnast and inventor who developed the modern trampoline and made trampolining a worldwide sport. Related to American sports culture, competitive swimming and sports apparel have never been the same since Danish-American Carl C. Jantzen and his partners founded the Jantzen Knitting Works in Portland, Oregon, in 1910.


Carl Busch readily stands out as a Danish-American composer who embraced new musical themes, taking his artistic inspiration from "Western" Native-American tribal themes and melodies. The Danish-American tubist Anders Christian August Helleberg is remembered as not only a great symphony musician and virtuoso, but his Helleberg mouthpieces, which he developed, are still used throughout the world. Mose Christensen was a noted American violinist; he became a founder and conductor of the Oregon Symphony. A native of Salt Lake, Utah, Christensen's father emigrated from Denmark with the wave of Mormon pioneers in the early 1850s. Kai Winding was a popular trombonist and jazz composer.


The Barrison Sisters reveal kittens beneath their skirts, at the conclusion of their notorious vaudeville cat dance, c. 1890s

The Soren Sorensen Adams, who was known as "king of the professional pranksters," was an inventor and manufacturer of novelty products, including the Joy Buzzer. He was born near Aarhus, Denmark in 1879 to Hans and Sofia Sørensen, and emigrated to the US with his family at age four. He grew up in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. His other contributions to American popular culture include: Cachoo Sneezing Powder, the Exploding Cigarette Box, the Snake Nut Can, Itching Powder, the Stink bomb, and the Dribble glass


Jacob Riis, a prominent socially conscious journalist and photographer, used his influence to help the less fortunate of New York City with his implementation of "model tenements. " As one of the first American photographers to use flash, he is also considered a pioneer in photo journalism.


Esther Peterson, the daughter of Danish Mormon immigrants, grew-up in Provo, Utah, and later served as Assistant Secretary of Labor and Director of the United States Women's Bureau for President John F. Kennedy, Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1981 and was named a delegate the UN as a UNESCO representative in 1993. Ted Sorensen, the 8th White House Counsel had a Danish father. Steny Hoyer, a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives and the present House Minority Whip, is a native of New York City, but grew up in southern Maryland. Hoyer's father emigrated from Copenhagen, Denmark. Hoyer was bestowed a knighthood by the Queen of Denmark in 2008.


During the early days of Hollywood film making numerous Danes either produced, directed, or acted on the silver screen, to include: Robert Andersen, Ann Forest, Anders Randolph, Karl Dane, Otto Mathiesen, Winna Winfred, Gwili Andre, Gale Sondergaard, Torben Meyer, Bodil Rosing, Benjamin Christensen, Svend Gade, Carl Gerard, Ann Forrest, James Cruze, Jean Hersholt, Carl Brisson, Johannes Poulsen, William Orlamond, Max Ree (1931 Oscar), and Tambi Larsen.

More to modern times, many Danes are actively involved in the movie industry. However today's air transportation no longer necessitates a Dane moving to America to be an artistic part of Hollywood. Among the few Danes who have moved to the U.S.A. to pursue acting careers is Connie Inge-Lise Nielsen, who was born in Denmark and today lives in Sausalito, California. Additionally, a few stars claim connection to Denmark via their Danish-American parents. For example, the actor Viggo Mortensen was born to a Danish father and an American mother. Likewise, actress Scarlett Johansson was also born to a Danish father.


Society of the Cincinnati. Known by the moniker "Old Denmark", Febiger also served as Treasurer of Pennsylvania from November 13, 1789 until his death nearly seven years later.[7]

Chris Madsen, the famous lawman of the Old West, was born Chris Madsen Rørmose in Denmark. After emigrating in 1876, he served for 15 years in the U.S. Army in the Fifth Cavalry and fought in many major Indian campaigns. After his discharge in 1891, Madsen became a deputy U.S. marshal in the Oklahoma Territory, where he apprehended or killed many outlaws. In 1898, he joined Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, serving as Quartermaster Sergeant. After more service as a U.S. marshal, and at the outset of World War I, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected due to his age

Robert A. Arensen, FM1, USN, lost his life on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor when the U.S.S. Helena was torpedoed. Arensen came from Perth Amboy, NJ. Dale M. Hansen, Pvt., USMC, earned his nation's highest military decoration — the Medal of Honor — for his outstanding heroism on 7 May 1945 in the fight for Hill 60 on Okinawa. He was killed by enemy sniper fire three days later. Hansen came from Wisner, Nebraska. Camp Hansen, one of the ten Marine Corps camps on Okinawa, is named in honor of Pvt. Hansen.

A leading executive in the automobile industry, William S. Knudsen, an emigrant from Copenhagen, Denmark, accepted President Franklin Roosevelt's urging to manage the task of overseeing America's vast wartime military armament and supply production. In 1942, Knudsen accepted a brevet commission and served for the duration of the war as a Lieutenant General in the U.S. Army.

Danish born Congressional Medal of Honor recipients

  • James Miller (Medal of Honor) (1865), Quartermaster, USN, U.S.S. Marblehead, for action on St. John's Island on 25 Dec 1863. Born Denmark.
  • John Brown (Medal of Honor) (1866), Captain of the Afterguard, USN, for rescuing two seamen of the U.S.S. Winooski off Eastport, ME, on 10 May 1866. Born in Denmark.
  • James Benson (Medal of Honor) (1872), Seaman, USN, U.S.S. Ossipee, for lifesaving on 20 Jun 1872. Born Denmark.
  • Claus Kristian Randolph Clausen, (1899) Coxwain, USN, for heroism connected to the sinking of the U.S.S. Merrimac, Santiago, Cuba, on 2 Jun 1898. Born Denmark.
  • Frederick Muller (1901), Mate, USN, U.S.S. Wompatuck, for action at Manzanillo, Cuba, on 30 Jun 1898. Born Denmark.
  • Gotfred Jensen (1906), Private. Co. D, 1st ND Vol. Inf. for action at San Miguel de Mayumo, Luzon, Philippine Islands, on 13 May 1899. Born Denmark.

Infamous Danish Americans

George Anderson

Robert Hansen (Robert Christian Hansen) is a serial killer, who between 1980 and 1983 murdered between 17 and 21 people near Anchorage, Alaska. Hansen was born in Estherville, Iowa, to Christian and Edna Hansen. Hansen's father was a Danish immigrant baker and he worked in his father's bakery as a youth. It is theorized that Hansen began killing prostitutes around 1980. After paying women for her services, he would kidnap, torture, and rape them, further binding and flying them to his cabin in the Knik River Valley in his private airplane. Once there, he would release his victim on a river sandbar, stalk and then kill them with a hunting knife or carbine as they fled through the woods. Apprehended in 1983, Hansen was convicted in 1984 and sentenced to 461 years plus life, without chance of parole. He is currently imprisoned at Spring Creek Correctional Center in Seward, Alaska. The Hansen case served as inspiration for the action thriller Naked Fear (2007).

Thor Nis Christiansen was a serial killer from Solvang, California. He was born in Denmark and emigrated to Inglewood with his parents and on to Solvang when he was five years old. His father, Nis, ran a restaurant in Solvang. In sum, Thor Christiansen was obsessed with fantasies of shooting women and having sex with their corpses. Christiansen killed four women and his fifth victim escaped with serious wounds. After conviction, he was stabbed to death in Folsom State Prison in 1981.

Peter Lundin), is a convicted murderer. He was born in Solrød Strand, Denmark in 1971 and emigrated to the United States when he was seven years old. In April 1991, Lundin strangled his mother to death in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, and, with the help of his father, he buried her body on a Cape Hatteras beach, where it was later found. In 1992, Lundin was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for the murder and in 1999 Lundin was released from prison for capacity reasons and deported back to Denmark. After his return to Denmark he was convicted for killing his girlfriend and her two sons and is currently serving life imprisonment.

was an early Prohibition-era gang criminal in the mid-1920s. Anderson was born Ivan Dahl von Teler to a wealthy Danish family circa 1880, graduated from the universities of Heidelberg and Uppsala, and emigrated to the United States around the start of the 20th century. Anderson, along with Gerald Chapman (America’s first Public Enemy Number One), operated a Prohibition-era gang during the late 1910s until the mid-1920s. After settling in New York City, he and his associates successfully robbed a U.S. Mail truck of $2.4 million in cash, stocks, bonds, and jewelry, an act that was at the time the largest robbery in U.S. history and became known as the "Great Post Office Robbery of 1921." After even more robberies, Anderson and Chapman were finally captured, tried, and sentenced to 25 years in prison, to be served at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. However after serving a mere seven months Anderson and Chapman both escaped. Chapman was captured shortly after his escape and while a fugitive Anderson swore revenge. In Indiana he killed a key prosecution witness from Chapman's trial and drew further attention by passing poor-quality counterfeit currency in Michigan. Ultimately, Anderson was arrested, made a short-lived escape, and was killed in a police shootout while trying to flee on October 31, 1925. Anderson's remarkable criminal infamy included burglary, armed robbery, boot-legging, prison escape, counterfeiting, and murder.

Scandinavian American

  • Norwegian American
  • Swedish American
  • References

    1. ^ "Census 2006 ACS Ancestry estimates"
    2. ^ a b c d "Danish Americans". John Mark Nielsen and Peter L. Petersen. Retrieved 2011-03-10. 
    3. ^®ion_id=&division_id=&ll=all&ea=&order=a&a=
    4. ^ Danes in America - Danish Immigration to America - Bibliographies & Guides - Local History & Genealogy Reading Room (Library of Congress)
    5. ^ The Danish Pioneer Oldest Danish-American Newspaper in USA
    6. ^ Thernstrom, S. (1980) Harvard encyclopedia of American ethnic groups. Harvard University Press. p 276.
    7. ^ Christian Febiger Bio


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    External links

    • Danish Immigrant Museum
    • Danish American Society
    • Danish American Heritage Society
    • Danish American Archive and Library
    • Danish Archive North East
    • National Danish-American Genealogical Society
    • Danish Emigration Archives
    • Danish American Chamber of Commerce
    • Danish Society of Massachusetts
    • Rebild National Park Society
    • Danes Worldwide
    • Bien Newspaper
    • Danish Pioneer Newspaper
    • Danske Kulturministeriets Kulturkanon (Danish Cultural Canon)
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