Why Chicago?

Walking down the streets of Chicago today you will meet many immigrants. I'll bet none of them however will be Swedish. It was a different story when my grandparents came to Chicago in the early twentieth century. But why did they choose Chicago?

Swedish immigration to America had been at its highest level from 1850-1880. The Homestead Act  provided fertile and inexpensive farmland ($1.25 an acre) to any squatter willing to work it. Swedes were actively encouraged and welcomed to populate the rich farmland of the Midwest. Whole families left Sweden to establish a farm of their own. At the turn of the twentieth century the good farm land was taken or more expensive but the industrial revolution was in full swing and the draw was now to the cities. It was young singles who arrived daily now. Men with skills (Rikard was a blacksmith) or just a strong back could find lucrative work in cities. Young women that could only hope for a husband or life as a lowly milkmaid were welcomed as educated servants who were relatively well paid and now had money of their own.

Chicago @ 1915 State and Washington Street (Marshall Fields)

Chicago was one of the popular places for these young people to go to. Scandinavian immigrants were generally able to read and write, many of the men were skilled iron workers, carpenters or other tradesmen of some sort, known for their work ethic. Young Swedish women were prized as domestic workers. They blended well and became "Americanized" quite quickly. They were proud to do domestic work that many young American women looked down upon and they did those jobs well. Immigrants generally followed and settled in the same area as friends or relatives who had come before. Chicago had a large Swedish population at the turn of the twentieth century. It is said that only in Stockholm were there more Swedish born folk than in Chicago. The Swedish neighborhoods of Chicago  were complete with Swedish stores, newspapers, churches, restaurants, social clubs. It was possible to live most of your life in Chicago and only hear Swedish being spoken. In fact, my father, born in Chicago, once said that he spoke no English until he went to school. Swedish neighborhoods tended to overlap with ethnic groups not unlike themselves such as Norwegians and Danes. When my Swedish family arrived in Chicago, Swedes generally had located to three North Side Neighborhoods: Lakeview, Andersonville and North Park. My father graduated from Lakeview High School and I was born in the Swedish Covenant Hospital. 

With the Stock market crash of 1929 the influx of Swedes ended. In the next few years and during the Great Depression, in fact many even returned home. Now in the 21st century there is really no longer a Swedish immigrant population in Chicago although there are many who can point to Sweden as part of their genetic makeup. Sweden is a wonderful place to live, quite unlike what it was 100 years ago. Andersonville is now populated with other ethnic groups. The Swedish American Museum, a few Scandinavian shops and names of streets, schools, hospitals and buildings are left to tell the story of how at one time it was said that "The Swedes built Chicago".

Here are a few websites with information on the Swedish influence in Chicago.





                                            **clicking on photos or documents will enlarge them for easier viewing*

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