Danes in Racine

Christensen, Thomas P. “Danish settlement in Wisconsin”

Danish Settlement in Wisconsin: Danes began to arrive in Wisconsin in the late 1830s, first in Racine Co. and later in Waukesha, Winnebago, Polk, and Brown counties. This article describes their experiences, discusses the emigrant letters and pamphlets that drew Danes to Wisconsin, and profiles notable early immigrants such as Claus Clausen (1820-1892) and Rasmus Sorensen (1799-1865). Specific towns where the Danish settlements were concentrated, such as Racine, Muskego, and West Denmark, Polk Co., are described, and a long excerpt is provided from the memoirs of a woman immigrant in Shennington, Monroe Co. The different faiths and religious practices among the Danish are also described. (21 pages)

Ethnicity in Wisconsin: Historical Background

Danish immigration to Wisconsin began in the 1840s, spurred by overpopulation in the rural areas of Denmark, especially the less arable southern and eastern parts of the country. Wisconsin became the most attractive destination in North America in part because large areas of the state were being opened for settlement, and land could be purchased cheaply, sometimes for as little as $1.25 an acre. By 1860, there were 1,150 Danes in Wisconsin, mostly in small farming communities such as New Denmark in Brown County and Hartford in Waukesha County. Danish immigration, interrupted by the Civil War, resumed in the late 1860s and continued its rural character: large numbers of Danes settled on small farms in Waupaca and Polk Counties near their fellow Scandinavians. Racine, however, quickly became “the most Danish city in America,” home to several Danish libraries, the Dania Society, and several mutual-aid societies. By the turn of the century, a majority of Wisconsin’s 33,000 Danes (about ten percent of the national total) lived in Racine and worked in industrial plants like the J.I. Case company or the Mitchell Wagon Works.

Around the World Tour: Ethnic Wisconsin

During the late 19th century, Racine developed a large concentration of Danish people. They were specifically recruited for employment by the Mitchell Wagon Works, in the area now known as West Racine. The area is known for its famous bakeries and was nicknamed “Kringelville,” after a famous, flaky, oval pastry. Today, kringle from Racine is known world-wide.

8 thoughts on “Danes in Racine

  1. Hi, I’m doing a school project with a partner, and I was wondering if we could possibly interview someone who knows a lot about this topic. Thanks.

  2. Some relatives – Schritzmeirs – immigrated from Denmark to Racine Wisconsin.
    The eastern and especially the south eastern parts of Denmark are the most fertile in the whole country. But the was a relative overpopulation and as a consequence severe lack of jobs for normal working people.
    For me this site is very interesting. Thank You!

    kind regards


  3. Greetings,
    This was so fun to read! My dad’s grandfather was 1st generation to come to Racine from Denmark. We know very little about our family tree and this was so wonderful to read about. I’m putting together a small booklet for my dad with a collection of stories about our family and what life was like in Racine and Denmark during this time. It wouldn’t be published, but copies will be shared among the family. May I please use your work to included in the booklet? If so, to whom should I note credit to?

    Anna (Jacobsen) Bechtold

  4. My Grandfather immigrated to Racine arriving from Uggerby, Danmark in Northern Jutland arriving March 31, 1911 at 22 years of age with $25.00 in his pocket. My soon to be Grandmother followed him arriving Nov. 7, 1911, my Grandmother Maren Sophie finding employment as a wedding dress seamstress and my Grandfather working at Mitchell Wagon Works, the place Mitchell School is named after. They married here in Racine but soon left for Albert Lea, Minnesota to become farmers renting 2 different farms in the years of life allowed to them. My Grandma Maren Sophie had 8 children, 4 of the 8 passing away shortly after their birth and Maren Sophie leaving her husband and 4 remaining children following the birth of her last child born December 31, 1931. My mother was 12 years old at the time with the world deep within the Great Depression. The family completely split up, my mom sent to work in a funeral home in Albert Lea so she could go to school, her older brother leaving for work at the CCC Camps in Northern Minnesota, the new born baby sent off to live with an Uncle and his wife here in Racine and the 1 remaining younger brother staying with his dad to now run a 1 pump gas station, their home and business in a 1 room building somewhere in Minnesota. The life of a Danish immigrant family and how often my mother cried for the welfare of her little brother. The streets of Racine were said to be described as if they were gold as advertised throughout the Danish newspapers, thus the huge number of Danish immigrants to specifically immigrate to the Racine area and as for myself, being 100% of Danish decent couldn’t have had a better life! I LOVE being Danish.

  5. My great grandparents immigrated to Racine from Lolland, Denmark in 1881.. Their ship took them to Canada & from there they took a train to Detroit & then to Racine. My grandmother was only one & my uncle was two years old. The family eventually grew to ten children & had a farm in Yorkville for many years. He grew “sugar beets”. His name was Anton Emil Jacobsen & his wife was Christine Rasmine Koch Jacobsen. Both are buried in the Yorkville Cemetery.
    All my aunts & uncles lived in Racine & Union Grove until they were adults, but then many moved to California. I did get to know & love most of them.

    • I laid my Mothers ashes to rest with two of her older sisters (that she had never met) roughly 50 yards from where they were born! The homestead is still there but was moved north of its original position and turned 90 degrees. My Mother was the youngest of ten. Her Father, Karl Frederik Johansen, and his wife Kristine Sorensen Johansen, became Charley & Christine Johnson, because it was easier to “say and understand” according to the officials where my grandfather first entered the country. My (1st) husbands family, from the same area, Horring, Denmark, are also in Sylvania Cemetery. I could spend hours just looking at the history resting there. My son in laws Mother’s family is also there, German and Russian heritage.

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