Good Question: How Norwegian Is Minnesota?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota is the unofficial Norwegian capital of the United States: More Norwegians live in Minnesota than in any other state. So on the eve of the visit of Norway’s king and queen, it seems appropriate to ask: How Norwegian are we?

“This is Norwegian headquarters,” said Steve Dahl, the butcher for 40 years at Ingebretsen’s, an institution that has lived on Lake Street in Minneapolis for 90 years.

Like Minnesota, over those years, Lake Street has changed.

“This was the main immigrant area in Minneapolis at that time,” said Jorunn Henrikssen, an employee at Ingebretsen’s, and a Norwegian immigrant to Minnesota.

It is still the main immigrant area, but now it’s lined with shops and restaurants reflecting Latino and African immigrants.

According to the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census, in 1990, 757,212 Minnesotans described their ancestry as Norwegian. That made up 17 percent of the state at that time.

As our state’s population grew, so did the Norwegian population, but not as fast as other ethnic groups.

By 2009, there were 868,361 self-described Norwegians, making up 12 percent of the state’s population.

That number is equal to that of the combined populations of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Duluth and St. Cloud.

But it pales in comparison to the nearly 2 million Minnesotans who say they’re German (1,987,491), which makes up 28 percent of our state’s population.

“I came over in 1988 to go to school,” said Elvind Heiberg, CEO of Sons of Norway, a fraternal life insurance company founded by 18 Norwegian immigrants in 1895.

Norwegians first came to the United States in the mid-1800s, because of a combination of poor farming conditions and overpopulation.

After the potato famine had the Irish fleeing to America, the farming crisis had Norwegians fleeing in droves, too.

They first settled in Illinois and Wisconsin, and before long they came to Minnesota, seeking cheap, available land.

“A lot of them left the country in search of a better life for them and their families,” Heiberg said.

Not only have the Norwegians given us lefse, lutefisk, and dried mutton, they’ve also given us Walter Mondale, Robert Bly, and “uff-da.”

So if the Germans are tops, followed by the Norwegian: Then it’s the Irish with about 600,000 Irish-Minnesotans (9 percent of the population).

There are about 500,000 people who identify as Swedish, 7 percent of Minnesotans. And there are about 262,000 Polish-Minnesotans, or 4 percent.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Doug

    Why didnt my grandfather have the foresight to move to a warmer climate? Time to have duel houses, one summer (here) one eleswhere (warm)

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  • Bill

    Interesting article. It lists the percentages of several European nationalities–German, Norwegian, Irish, Swedish, and Polish. But what about the ones that have really seemed to have grown in recent times–Latino, Somali, and Hmong? What are their current percentages? It would seem to have been worthwhile information to have included.

  • Ann Trippler

    My family has keep traditions alive in baking. Lefse, Kransaka Wedding cakes and much more! We have family and friend lefse making parties! Great times and many memories, with traditions kept alive generation after generation!!! Welcome to MN!!!!

    • Wendy Schmidt

      Good for you! It’s important to keep your family traditions alive, no matter where you’re from. I have many fond memories of growing up and making lefse, fattigman, krumkake, and others with my grandmother (herself English, but she married a Scandinavian). We used to attend a lutefisk dinner every year in November at the Sons of Norway in that town.

  • Trisha Saulsbury

    Am I a true Minnesotan if I am Norwegian, German, Swedish, Polish and Irish? Or just common.

    • Wendy Schmidt

      I’m Norwegian/Swedish/Irish/English/Danish, so I think you’re a “European mutt” like me, sounds like! ;) If you feel Minnesotan, than you are, I guess!

  • Per Jørgen Olafsen

    “Not only have the Norwegians given us lefse, lutefisk, and dried mutton, they’ve also given us Walter Mondale, Robert Bly, and “uff-da.””

    – Adding Hupert Huphrey who’s mother was a Norwegian ;-)

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