Danish American

Danish American
Danish American
Four famous dano-americans.jpg
Viggo Mortensen · Jacob Riis
Lars Ulrich · Scarlett Johansson
Total population

0.5% of the U.S. population (2009)

Regions with significant populations
California, Utah, Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota

American English, Danish


Christianity (Protestantism, Catholicism, Mormonism)

Related ethnic groups

Danes, 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.



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:

If it were a state, Washington, D.C., would have the smallest Danish American population, with 1,047 counted in 2000.

Usage of Danish Language

Danish Americans that continue the usage of the Danish language number about 30,000. According to the US Census Bureau, in 2000, 33,400 people spoke Danish at home, the figure was down to 29,467 5 years later (2005 American Community Survey), the decrease rate was about 11.8%.[2]


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."[3] 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.[4]

Much that is regarded as "Danish" national culture today was not widespread in the psyche of Danish emigrants during the Nineteenth Century era of 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 H. C. Andersen, did not exist among the agrarian bønder or common people of Denmark. Exceptions exist, of course, and 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 fastelavn bolle or Danish pastry (what Americans call breakfast "Danish"), æbleskiver (puffed pan cakes), frikadeller (Danish veal and pork meatballs), Flæskesteg (Christmas 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 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 Racine, Wisconsin, Elk Horn, Iowa; Ashland, Michigan; West Denmark, Wisconsin; Nysted, Nebraska; Tyler, Minnesota; Kenmare, North Dakota; and Solvang, California.[4] 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. 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 of them 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 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.[4]

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:

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

Notable Danish Americans


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

Sculptor Gutzon Borglum provided a staple of modern Americana when he chiseled Mount Rushmore in the Black Hills of South Dakota. His brother, sculptor Solon Borglum, also gained fame for his representations of the American frontier. 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." 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 in both St. Croix and Philadelphia. 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, is an American 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.


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.


Battling Nelson, presumed early 1900s

Oscar Mathæus Nielsen, also known as Oscar Battling Nelson, (1882-1954) 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. 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.

George Nissen (1914-2010) was an American 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.

Also, former BYU basketball player (as well as NBA, and Euroleague Basketball player) Travis Hansen.


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 Barrison Sisters were a risqué Vaudeville act who performed in the United States and Europe from about 1891 to 1900, advertised as The Wickedest Girls In the World. The sisters, whose birth name was Bareisen, emigrated with their mother to the United States in 1886, joining their father who immigrated earlier. Victor Borge, known as the Great Dane and Clown Prince of Denmark, gained fame for his offbeat comedy and music routines. Lauritz Melchior was a Danish and later American opera singer. He was the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and has since come to be considered the quintessence of his voice type. Michael J. Nelson well known as the head writer of the series Mystery Science Theater 3000 and currently Rifftrax

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, and 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.


William Leidesdorff, the son of a Danish West Indies planter and an African mother arrived in San Francisco in 1841 and became both wealthy and arguably the first mixed-race U.S. diplomat in United States history. As the United States subconsul, he played a significant role in the turnover of Mexican California to the United States. Charles Walhart Woodman, who was born in Aalborg, Denmark, served as an U.S. Representative for Illinois from 1895-1897. Jacob Johnson, who also emigrated from Aalborg, Denmark, in 1854 and later served one term as a U.S. Representative for Utah from 1912-1915. Niels Juul a lawyer, State Representative, and U.S. Representative from Illinois, was born in Randers, Denmark, and served in Congress from 1917-1921. Andrew Petersen, an U.S. Representative from New York, was born in Thisted, Denmark, and emigrated with his parents to Boston in 1873, the family later moving to New York. Petersen served in Congress from 1921-1923. Herman Carl Andersen, an U.S. Representative from Minnesota, was born in Washington state and after a career in Minnesota politics served in the House of Representatives from 1939-1963. Andersen's father emigrated from Denmark in the late 1870s and later moved his family to a Danish immigrant enclave in Tyler, Minnesota. Hjalmar Petersen, an emigrant from Eskildstrup, Denmark, Midwest journalist, and onetime mayor of Askov, Minnesota, served in the Minnesota Legislature, and later as the Lieutenant Governor. Upon the death of Governor Olson in 1936, he became the 23rd Governor of Minnesota. George A. Nelson, the 1936 Vice Presidential candidate of the Socialist Party of America, was born to Danish parents in rural Wisconsin. Morgan F. Larson, of Perth Amboy, NJ, the son of a Danish immigrant blacksmith, served as governor of New Jersey from 1929-32. 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. Steny Hoyer, a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives and the present House Majority Leader, 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 signal the offspring from 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.


Christian Febiger (1749-1796) was an American Revolutionary War commander, born on Funen, he became a confidante of General George Washington and was an original member of the 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 Rormose 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

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.

Bjarne Skounborg, born Peter Kenneth Bostrøm Lundin, (more commonly known as 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.

George Anderson also known as George "Dutch" Anderson 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 and emigrated to the United States around the turn of the century. His criminal infamy included burglary, armed robbery, boot-legging, prison escape, counterfeiting, and murder. Anderson died in a gunfight with police in 1925.



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See also

  • Danish American Chamber of Commerce (also listed in the list of external links, below)


External links

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