Swedish Ohioans

From Ohio History Central

Numerous Ohioans are descended from Swedish ancestors. Today, Swedish Ohioans continue to enhance Ohio's cultural and social landscape.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, millions of immigrants migrated to the United States of America, hoping to live the American Dream. Before the American Civil War, most immigrants arrived in the United States from Great Britain, Germany, and Ireland. By the 1880s, the home countries of immigrants began to change. Many of the new immigrants to arrive in the United States came from Eastern or Northern European countries, like Sweden, Finland, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania, and Czechoslovakia, rather than from Western European countries.

In 1860, 328,249 immigrants lived in Ohio. These people accounted for fourteen percent of the state's population. By 1900, the number of immigrants in Ohio rose to 458,734, but the percentage of the population that was foreign-born declined to eleven percent. Most of these immigrants in 1900 came from Germany, Great Britain, and Ireland, yet a growing number of Eastern and Northern Europeans were also migrating to the state.

In 1900, approximately two thousand Swedish immigrants resided in Ohio. Most of these Swedes settled along Lake Erie, especially in Cleveland and Ashtabula, where they found low-paying jobs in factories or worked as day laborers. Many Swedes also worked as sailors or fishermen. Immigrants who were more successful established businesses that supplied their fellow migrants with traditional Swedish products. In 1930, approximately three thousand Swedes lived in Cleveland alone. At first, the Swedish immigrants tended to settle in their own communities, preferring to live among people who shared similar cultural beliefs and spoke the same language as they did.

Most Swedish immigrants arrived in the United States prior to World War II. Over the succeeding decades, Ohio's traditional Swedish communities began to lose their cohesiveness and many Swedish communities began to disintegrate. The Swedish population moved into other communities, while non-Swedes began to infiltrate the traditionally Swedish neighborhoods. Second and third generation Swedes also preferred the more open and free lifestyle of Americans, opposed to their traditional and more conservative customs and beliefs. By the 1930s, the Swedish language was no longer used in the various Swedish churches established in northeastern Ohio.

Today, Swedish Ohioans participate in various social and cultural groups that serve to promote and support Swedish beliefs and customs. The Swedish Cultural Society maintains an identity in Ohio.  The Scandinavian Club in Columbus and in Cincinnati, representing Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland, celebrates their heritage with monthly cultural events highlighting traditional holidays, cooking, literature, and history.

See Also


  1. Van Tassel, David D., and John J. Grabowski, eds. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996.