The Road to The West

The railway

The canal construction had to quickly give way to the railway. The first two railroads in the United States were put into operation in 1826. Around 1840, there were nearly 4,800 kilometers of railroads in the United States, almost twice as far as in all the countries of Europe combined. The railroad made the journey across North America easier and shorter. In 1869, the transcontinental railways opened. It made it possible for newcomers to settle in the states along the east coast.

Simply put, it was the canals, steamboats and railways that made mass emigration possible.

In the countryside From the middle of the 19th century, most Norwegians settled in the states of the Midwest, especially Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

In the United States, free land lured. The Homestead Act of 1862, which gave every man and woman over the age of 21 about 640 acres of free land, and that the Civil War ended in 1865, increased interest in Minnesota, especially among people from Scandinavia. In 1870, they formed the largest group of immigrants in Minnesota. Most were Norwegians, and in 1875 more than 84,000 first- and second-generation Norwegians lived in Minnesota. At the census in 1990, there were 757,212 people who counted themselves as Norwegian-born.

Norwegians were more strongly attached to the earth than any other immigrant group in the United States. More than half of all Norwegian-born breadwinners worked in agriculture in 1900. And many did well, even though the forms of operation were different from the Norwegian one. Some set up small workshops where they repaired plows and made machines. In Wisconsin, tobacco growing became a Norwegian-American specialty.

Many Norwegians also settled on the West Coast, especially in the state of Washington. Here, fishermen from Rogaland and Sunnmøre participated in the fishing for cod, herring and salmon. Around 1900, they had control over around 95 percent of the halibut fishery. Many Norwegians also worked as lumberjacks or at the sawmill in Oregon and Washington.