This year’s icebar design is inspired by those brave men and women who had the courage to cross the ocean to make themselves a new home. Inspired by the great migration from Sweden to the United States mainly in the 19th century, we are celebrating those who dared look for something new; those who left home in search of their Promised Land.
The search for a better life somewhere else
Between the years 1860 and 1930, approximately 1,4 million people left Sweden to find happiness elsewhere. At the time that meant around one fourth of the country’s population. Most of them went to the land to the west that was the talk of the town at the time: America, USA. The political situation in Sweden and the religious repression by the Lutheran State Church were both reasons for leaving, but the main reason is said to be poverty due to food shortage and rising population. The cold years of 1867-1869 resulted in failed crops and starvation, mainly in the northern parts of Sweden. This set off the biggest wave of migration this country has ever experienced. People left with hopes for a better life in America.
The ways of getting from Sweden to America were not very developed in the mid 1800s. The first emigrants made their way over the Atlantic in the holds of sailing ships transporting cargo. The trip was long, uncomfortable and the ships were not at all adapted for people transport. With the breakthrough of the steam engine, the means of transportation got better and better. In the end of the 19th century, big ocean liners trafficked the route between Europe and North America, bringing millions of people mainly to New York and Quebec. Companies like Svenska Amerika Linien advertised great prospects and painted dreamlike scenarios of a life in the land to the west.
The point of departure from Sweden was often Gothenburg, where the travelers were advised to stay for a couple of nights before leaving with the boat. The main street for immigrants to get the necessary supplies for the trip was Sillgatan. A notorious street with the reputation of hosting thieves, swindlers and prostitutes. Where deceitful salesmen tricked unsuspecting country folks into spending their hard-earned money on overpriced things they didn’t need. It got to the point where the name of the street was changed to get rid of the bad reputation.
Up until 1915 the Swedish emigrants went to America in two steps. From Gothenburg they sailed to Hull, England, with Wilsonlinjen’s ships. From Hull they went by train to Liverpool or Southampton from where they embarked the ocean liners for a weeklong journey at sea. From 1892 the first step on American soil for most of the emigrating Swedes, was Ellis Island. A small Island in the port of New York which became the gateway to America for many European immigrants. Up until it closed in 1954, approximately 12 million immigrants was processed by the US officials at Ellis Island. Around 2% of them was rejected for different reasons and sent back home.
Gold turned into sand
Sometimes life in the new country wasn’t as good as you might have expected. Maybe your relatives back home had told you about the risks of going, but you had ignored them and gone anyway. Luckily for you, at this time lying was much easier than it is nowadays. With the lack of social media and internet, letters were the main means of communication, and you can imagine how easy it is to lie in a letter with no way for the recipient to actually check if what you’re writing is true or not. Amerikabreven (lit. The America Letters) was the letter correspondence between the new swedish-americans and the people in the villages back home. The content of these letters ranged from despair and homesickness to unbelievable success stories. Some of the writers also wanted to show off by using the new language that they had started to use, which resulted in a mix between English and Swedish that in some cases was very hard for the readers to understand. Impressive though.
If you really wanted to impress the folks back home you could send them a so-called ”Exaggeration Postcard”. Now this was a great way to make them jealous of your success in the new world. Fake images of enormous corncobs and potatoes loaded onto railroad cars with the help of cranes, and huge chickens with eggs the size of balloons, would surely have put the doubters in place. Whether these postcards convinced anyone into moving to the USA is left to be said, but some of the letters probably did.
Three Lucky Swedes
For some emigrants, there was no need to exaggerate the life in the new country. Some made a good living there and some made an actual fortune, literally struck gold. John Bryntesson, Eric Lindblom och Jafet Lindeberg, the trio later known as Three Lucky Swedes, met in Golovin in the end of the 1890s. This was during one of the big gold rushes that led so many fortune seekers to Alaska and the northwest of Canada. The three Scandinavians (Jafet Lindeberg was actually Norwegian) spent a few intense years in Alaska, mining and panning for gold. Together they started ”Pioneer Mining Company” that had up to 400 employees, of which many was of Swedish origin. 1907 John Bryntesson returned to Sweden as one of the richest persons in Europe. It is believed that he during his few years in Alaska acquired a fortune of around 600 million dollars (which estimates to around 15,5 billion dollars in today’s value). Eric Lindblom moved to California where he also ran hotels, mining companies and other businesses. Jafet Lindeberg moved to San Fransisco where he continued as president for Pioneer Mining Company while entering other fields of business, such as reindeer breeding, banking and mining in russia. At one time he was said to be the richest Scandinavian in America and socialized with celebrities and presidents. Though a great deal of his fortune was lost in the stock market crash of 1929, he continued as a businessman until his death 1962, 88 years old.
Minnesota was one of the states where many Swedish immigrants ended up when they first arrived to the USA. Then as now people sharing the same culture or language felt comfort by being close to one another, and in the 1850s a group of Swedish immigrants settled in an isolated valley by Phalen Creek in St. Paul. They named the valley Svenska Dalen (lit. The Swedish Valley) but it later got the name Swede Hollow. In the early 1900s the valley was the home to over 1000 people and the living conditions were very poor. It is said to be one of the poorest neighborhoods in the USA at the time. Because of their low status in society, swedes were viewed as dirty and stupid. They were even said to have an awful smell that reminded of herring. The swedes with their bad reputation had to take the work they could get, which often ment the toughest and dirtiest ones. At this point in time, and at this place in the world, swedes were at the bottom of society.
This kind of prejudice and suspicion is something we can recognize in the society of today. But the roles have changed. Now Sweden is seen as one of the best countries in the world to live in. Now people are migrating here to avoid poverty and persecution. When conditions change throughout the world we need to remember our own history and that everything will change again in the future. What reputation do we want to have then?