REMARKS OF THE CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM H. REHNQUIST
SWEDISH COLONIAL SOCIETY'S ANNUAL LUNCHEON
UNION LEAGUE, PHILADELPHIA
APRIL 9, 2001
Thank you Mr. Hendrickson for the kind introduction. I am delighted to be here today among so many of you with whom I share common Swedish ancestry. Swedes are nothing if not good genealogists, and so like all of you I know something of my Swedish ancestry. I will tell you a little about that, and then reflect briefly on the results of Swedish emigration to the United States. Actually, the Swedish genealogists were so good that I found out more than I wanted to about my Swedish ancestors: one of them in the 17th century was executed for having embezzled funds from an estate for which he was the steward.
My paternal grandfather, Olaf Rehnquist, came from Varmland, the quite rural Swedish province that runs along the border with Norway. My paternal grandmother was born Adolfina Ternbourg in Vretakloster in Ostergotland. My grandfather was a tailor's apprentice, and my grandmother was a school teacher. They immigrated separately in 1880, although they may have known one another before they did so, and both ended up in Chicago. Chicago, of course, was the major stopping place for Swedish immigrants heading west and many settled there. By 1900, one in ten Swedish-Americans lived in Chicago.
I have made two trips to Sweden, and on the first trip not only did my hosts furnish me with several genealogies, but one actually found a picture of the boat on which my grandfather sailed from Gothenburg. It is a very moving scene -- the people on the boat leaving are waving to all of their families on the dock, knowing that they will probably never see one another again. To this day, the Swedes refer to this emigration in the late 19th and early 20th century as a "brain drain" -- the people who left were at the bottom of the economic totem pole, but had enough gumption to try to find a better life in a strange new world.
My grandfather emigrated with his two brothers, Laurence and Andrew, and after all three reached Chicago they split up. My grandfather married my grandmother, and moved to Milwaukee to become a tailor. Often during pleasant weather my grandfather would walk from his house to my parents' house to have dinner with us. I still have memories of him when I was a young child, walking up the street to our house in the summertime, in a straw boater hat, impeccably attired -- as I suppose all tailors are -- carrying a cane which he used as a walking stick.
As for the name Rehnquist, I am quite uncertain as to its origin. Under the Swedish patronymic system of naming, my grandfather and his brothers would have been named Anderson, since Anders was the name of their father. "Quist" in Swedish means branch, I am told. For example, "Lindquist" means lime branch or linden branch, and Palmquist means palm branch. The best I can come up with is that the "rehn" in my name refers to a small village near the farm on which my grandfather grew up.
Of course, Swedish explorers and traders arrived in North America as early as the 1600s settling here in the Delaware River Valley near what is now Wilmington. Most Swedish immigrants arrived in America much later. Between 1850 and 1930 over one million Swedes -- one seventh of Sweden's population -- immigrated to the United States. Where did these Swedish immigrants settle? Almost 70 percent settled in the Midwestern states, mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin -- where I grew up -- and Illinois. By 1930, Minnesota remained the largest Swedish stronghold, claiming 10 percent of its population as Swedish-American. But Washington state moved into second place with a Swedish-American population of almost 5 percent. In 1936, Vilhelm Berger published a study of Swedish place names in the United States and Canada. He found that at least six states have a "Stockholm," four have a "New Sweden" and two states have a "West Sweden." Overall, he found more than 300 places with names of Swedish origin.
Almost fifty years later, in 1980, although Minnesota still claimed the highest percentage of its population as Swedish-Americans -- 13 percent -- California claimed the largest number of Swedish-American residents -- over half a million. Of course, California with its population of more than 30 million, probably has the most of a number of different ethnic groups simply by virtue of its large population. Today, Swedish-Americans live in every state of the Union.
Among the first Swedish colonies established in the nineteenth century in the United States was New Uppsala at Pine Lake, Wisconsin -- about twenty-five or thirty miles west of Milwaukee. New Uppsala was founded by Gustaf Unonius, who was born in Finland but educated at Uppsala University. Unonius, his wife, her maid and three other young men sailed for New York on a clipper ship carrying iron. The trip cost about $26 each and they had to supply their own food and bedding.
When Unonius and his party arrived in New York, they met another Swede who advised them to go to Illinois. On their way to Illinois, they were persuaded by others they met to head for Wisconsin instead. Although New Uppsala saw many Swedish immigrants come and go, by 1850, there were only a handful of families remaining. Unonius himself had left for Chicago where he established a Swedish Episcopal Church, St. Ansgarius. In 1858, he returned to Sweden.
Another Swedish pioneer was Sven Magnus Swenson. Swenson arrived in New York City in 1836 from Barkeryd in Jönköping County, but left for Texas in 1838. He eventually established a Swedish settlement near Austin with his uncle, Swante Palm. Most Swedish-Americans in Texas are descended from these early settlers.
Swedish-Americans have made important contributions to many fields in America. In his 1938 book Americans All: A Human Study of America's Citizens from Europe, William Seabrook wrote about Scandinavians: "They crossed the Atlantic, everybody knows, long before Columbus; then Lindbergh flew it first; and it's a fair guess, if they ever get to tinkering with the Goddard rocket, that they'll be the first to reach the moon." Seabrook was not far off: Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon, was a descendent of blacksmiths from Värmland.
The poet and author Carl Sandburg's parents were from Östergötland. Eric Wickman, who was born in Våmhus in 1887, founded the Greyhound Corporation. Two second-generation Swedish-Americans, Carl David Anderson and Glenn T. Seaborg, have won the Nobel Prize. Anderson was the co-winner of the prize in physics in 1936 at the age of 31 for his discovery of subatomic particles called positrons. Seaborg and a colleague shared the chemistry prize in 1951 for research on elements like plutonium. Seaborg was born in Michigan, but his family moved to California when he was a boy.
Perhaps the most famous Swedish-American was the pilot, Charles A. Lindbergh, Jr., who became known around the world in 1927 when he was the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic from Long Island to Paris. Lindbergh's father, who was born in Stockholm, was quite successful in his own right. He was a lawyer and was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Minnesota in 1906.
Most Swedish immigrants, however, were not famous. Until the 1870s, Swedish immigrants tended to be from rural villages; they came to the United States with hopes of finding fertile farmland. By 1920, there were 60,000 Swedish-born farmers in America. The vast majority owned their own farms.
My father's brother, Andrew, left Chicago to buy a farm near Fairmont, Minnesota. I remember that when I saw the province of Varmland, Sweden, where my grandfather was born, I thought how much it looked like Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota -- many lakes and forests. And of course the Swedes today know well that the destination of most of those immigrants was the upper mid-west. Every year to celebrate the immigration to the United States the city of Vaxjo in Sweden has "Minnesota Day," with festivities fitting the occasion.
There were also many engineers who emigrated from Sweden between 1850 and 1930. Rather than heading for the Midwest, however, almost 70 percent of the engineers went to New England and the Midatlantic. They made their homes in cities like Boston, Schenectady, Pittsburgh and here in Philadelphia. Emil Swenson, who was born in Denmark but raised in Varberg, designed the first steel skyscraper in New York City. John Ericsson was born in Värmland in 1803 and came to New York in 1839. Ericsson was a ship builder who invented the ship propeller and designed the Monitor, which was involved in the famous battle with the Merrimac during the Civil War.
Swedish immigrants were also among the laborers who built the railroads -- especially in the Midwest. It has been reported that the railroad builder James J. Hill once said "Give me Swedes, snuff and whiskey, and I'll build a railroad right through hell!" Many Swedish immigrants and their descendents worked for companies owned by Swedes. In Chicago, one building contractor, Adolph Lindstrom, is said to have employed up to ten thousand Swedish born workers at one time. Deere's Plow Works and the Moline Plow Company employed over one thousand Swedes during the 1880s in Moline, Illinois.
Although there have been only sixteen Chief Justices of the United States, I am not the first one to have Swedish roots. Earl Warren, who served as Chief Justice from 1953 until 1969, had a Swedish mother who emigrated from Halsingland to America, where she met and married a Norwegian who eventually worked as a master car builder for the Southern Pacific Railroad in California. Chief Justice Warren himself married a young widow born in Sweden named Nina Palmquist Meyers.
It has been said that Sweden's loss has been America's gain, and I think this is true. Swedish immigrants and their descendents have contributed a great deal to America and it is worthwhile to remember our Swedish heritage. Thank you.