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)
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.
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.