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Migration from Finland 1866-1970

Reino Kero

In Finnish emigration, three long periods can be seen. The first of them is the great overseas emigration from about 1850's to the World War I. About 350.000 persons left Finland during these years, if the emigrants to countries overseas and to Sweden, Norway and Russia are included. More than 300.000 emigrated to North America, where perhaps 95 % had their destination in the USA. Tens of thousands of persons emigrated also to Russia, especially to St Petersburg, while the streams to Sweden and northern Norway were smaller.

The second period in Finnish emigration history is the years between the world wars. In 1919-39, about 70.000 Finns emigrated. Emigration was weak during this period, especially this is true in the 1930's. The most important destination country was at first the USA, but in the late 1920's, Canada became the most important. Emigration to Australia was also stronger than before the World War I.

When perhaps more than 10.000 Finns emigrated during the World War I, emigration during the Second World War was on the other hand very rare. In the 1950's and 1960's, Finland has however had strong emigration. About 250.000 persons emigrated during these decades. The most important of the destination countries was now Sweden. Canada and Australia were also more important than the USA, the most important destination of early Finnish emigration.

As mentioned above, more than 300.000 Finns emigrated to North America before World War I1. Migration began as a migration of sailors at the time of the gold discoveries in California. A very great portion of the emigrants left from towns - from such seafaring centers as Oulu, Raahe, Kokkola, and Turku. After the end of the Civil War in the United States, the migration to America received a new tone in addition to sailors, the normal population of rural districts began to become interested in emigrating. The year 1866 seems to mark rather clearly a turning point : at that time, the first fairly large groups of emigrants left from Oulu and Vaasa Provinces.

At the beginning of the 1880's emigration spread beyond Oulu and Vaasa Provinces to the northern portion of Turku and Pori Province and to the Åland Islands. By the beginning of the 1890's migration to America was occurring from all the provinces of Finland. However, with the exception of that from Vaasa and Oulu provinces, that from the northern portion of Turku and Pori Province, and that from the Åland Islands, this emigration was rather slight.

Finns received examples in emigration from their relatives living in northern Norway; those living in the Tornio River Valley doubtlessly also, from Finns living on the Swedish side of the river. In Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia trips seeking work in Sweden were undoubtedly also of significance, in addition to which information about the opportunities offered in America. There was also perhaps some significance in the fact that, in the middle of the XIXth century, America had become in the eyes of the educated classes an ideal land where all things were better than they were in old Europe.

In the 1870's, there were probably about 3.000 emigrants, in the period 1880-93 about 67.000 and in the period 1894-1914, about 261.000. The top year of Finnish overseas emigration before the World War I was 1902, when more than 23.000 Finns emigrated. If Finnish emigration is compared to emigration from other European countries, we can see that from the 1890's Finland was one of those countries where emigration had a very great effect on population trends. In the 1870's and the 1880's, on the other hand, Finnish emigration was rather meagre according to the European yardstick.

Finnish emigration was a particularly Ostrobothnian phenomenon. Beyond the borders of Vaasa and Oulu Provinces, emigration was however quite strong also from the northern part of Turku and Pori Province, from the vicinity of Rauma, from the Åland Islands, and from several communes along Finland Proper coast and archipelago.

Emigration from Finnish towns and the neighbouring communes was generally stronger than from the surrounding countryside. However, an extremely large portion of the emigrants leaving from towns, perhaps as much as 70-80 %, were people who had moved to these towns from the countryside and for whom the town in the homeland was only a temporary stop-over on the trip to America.

Looking at the great migration from the whole of Europe, we may say that an economic situation existed where a labor shortage, caused by America's rapid economic growth, prevailed on the American side of the North Atlantic economic area, while on the European side where economic growth was slower, there existed an over-abundant work force. During the migration, labor reserves in Europe moved to the American side. Finnish emigration was a part of this phenomenon.

Why Finnish emigration was concentrated especially in Ostrobothnia and northern portion of Turku and Pori province? The following factors must especially be stressed

1. It must be noted that an extremely rapid growth in population occurred in these areas at the end of the XIXth century;

2. Not one important industrial center sprang up in these areas at the end of the XIXth century;

3. A sort of division of labor seems to have developed between internal migration and emigration; people from these areas went to America, while those from the rest of Finland went to such industrial centers as Turku, Tampere, Helsinki, Viipuri and St Petersburg.

An important background factor, one which affected the rest of Finland as well as just the emigration areas, is that at the end of the XIXth century and beginning of the XXth century, the mobility of Finnish people was increasing. Thus, emigration was the form that the increased mobility of the people from certain areas took, while in other areas, this increased mobility appeared as acceleration of internal migration. Of the motives for emigrating, it can be said that in the main, they were economic, but that in less ordinary cases, emigrants might base their leaving on almost any cause whatsoever.

Emigration was not evenly distributed between one month and another, one year and another, or decade and another, but fluctuated greatly in its strength. At least three kinds of regular fluctuations can be distinguished

1. Seasonal changes;

2. Changes depending on short-term economic cycles;

3. Changes occurring in longer -cycles of about twenty years.

In the 1870's and 1880's, Finnish emigration was generally at its strongest in the early summer, but later the peak of emigration during each year occurred already in April. In very exceptional cases in the XXth century, the peak of emigration occurred in December. In part conditions of travel determined the monthly distribution of emigration : in the 1870's and 1880's, winter navigation was still in its beginning stages, which forced emigrants to time their departures in the early summer. Later, the development of winter navigation made a more balanced distribution of emigration throughout the year possible. To some extent, seasonal work in America and Finland probably also had an effect on the distribution of emigration.

The movement of short-term cycles discernable in America shows up very clearly in Finnish emigration : when a period of boom occurred in America, Finnish migration to America increased immediately, while during America periods of bust, the Finnish migration became weaker.

Before the World War I, two long-term cycles can be distinguished in Finnish emigration : one extended from the beginning of the 1870's to 1893 and the other, from 1894 to 1914. Contrary to that of other Nordic countries, Finnish emigration was appreciably more extensive in the latter than in the former of these cycles. This doubtlessly resulted in part from the rather late start of emigration from Finland, but its most important cause was probably the stagnation of population growth in Finland in the 1860's. Because of this, there were comparatively few people in Finland suitable for emigration in the 1880's; the greatest decade of emigration from Scandinavia.

Almost 90 % of Finnish emigration left from rural districts. A large portion of those leaving from towns were probably etape emigrants, who had first moved from the countryside to the towns, and then continued their journey to countries overseas. Over half of the emigrants in the 1870's were farmers and their children. As the phenomenon of emigration developed the proportions especially of farmers, but also clearly of their children, declined. Correspondingly, the proportions of cottagers and of workers increased.

Almost 65 % of the emigrants leaving Finland before the World War I were men. Compared to that of other Nordic countries, Finnish emigration was quite male-dominated. When emigration from the rural areas was heavily male-dominated, there were almost as many women as men on the other hand among emigrants from towns. The sex composition of a given area's emigration was affected by that area's population structure, by its job opportunities, by attitudes toward emigration, by internal migration, and possibly also by the opportunities for work in the locality toward which the area's migration was directed. On the other hand, the composition of emigration leaving a given area might have determined the locality in America to which these people migrated.

Finnish emigrants, as emigrants in general came from relatively young age groups from the beginning of emigration up to the First World War. However, it can be observed that, as the phenomenon of emigration developed, the average age of those leaving became lower. In particular, the proportions of 0-4-year olds and 15-19-year olds among all emigrants grew as emigration became older. Emigration itself fundamentally affected the distribution of emigrants' age : in an area where emigration had been occurring for some time, emigrants would in time be composed principally of those just arriving at working age.

When studying how great a proportion of emigration from Finland was at different times composed of the movement of entire families, and how great a proportion was composed of the movement of individuals, one can discover that as the phenomenon of emigration developed a definite shift occurred from family emigration to individual emigration. The same shift happened in the other Nordic countries.

The opening phase of Finnish emigration, from the beginning of the 1870's to the middle of the 1880's, can be called the golden age of Swedish emigration agents. At this time, Finnish emigrants travelled almost exclusively by way of Sweden and they bought their tickets in either Stockholm or Gothenburg. From 1886, Finnish emigrants were however able to buy their tickets in Finland, for in that year and shortly thereafter, emigration agencies that were subordinate to agents in Sweden emerged. In 1889, the, situation again changed fundamentally. In that year Norddeutscher Lloyd of Germany began a collaboration with The Scandinavian & Finlanders Emigrant Co. of New York in a conquest of the market in transporting Finnish emigrants.

Norddeutscher Lloyd and the Scandinavian & Finlanders Emigrant Co. succeeded so well in their conquest of the trade of Finnish emigrants that, in 1890, Norddeutscher Lloyd carried more Finnish emigrants than any other company and a year later, perhaps more than all other companies combined. Already in 1891, however, the Scandinavian & Finlanders Emigrant Co. and Norddeutscher Lloyd began to run into difficulties. In 1894, their story in Finland ended, when the Scandinavian & Finlanders Emigrant Co. went bankrupt. After this the trade of Finnish emigrants was practically speaking completely in the hands of the Finland Steamship Company and the English and American shipping lines it represented. The most important companies carrying Finnish emigrants during the period of Finland Steamship Company's monopoly were the Allan, White Star, Cunard, American, Canadian Pacific Railroad, and Scandinavian-American Lines.

The recruiting of immigrants is discussed in, for example, XIXth century newspapers as if it played an important role in the migration process. When one examines the attempts that are claimed to be recruiting, however, it appears that the number of those actually recruited was very small.

The trip from the home village to America was an overwhelming experience for the emigrants : frequently, there may have been persons along on the trip who had not even visited a city before. During the opening phases in particular travelling was anything but pleasant.

About 95 % of Finnish emigrants to North America before the World War I went to the USA. Here, the most important states for Finnish emigrants were Minnesota and Michigan, which had according to the census of 1920 about 30.000 immigrants born in Finland. New York, Massachusetts and Washington also had more than 10.000 immigrants born in Finland, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon and California had more than 5.000. In Canada, the most important provinces were Ontario and British Columbia.

A very great portion of Finns just arrived in America worked at first in mines. The most important of these mines were the copper and iron mines of Upper Michigan and later especially the iron mines on the Vermillion and Mesaba Ranges of Minnesota. Besides the iron and copper mines, Finns were also found employed in the coal mines of Pennsylvania, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Illinois. In winter thousands of Finnish miners in Minnesota and Michigan went to the woods and worked in logging.

A great portion of Finns moved from mines and American industrial centers to farms. Usually, the farms owned by Finns have been small and difficult to cultivate. In 1920, there were altogether about 15.000 farms in the USA owned by Finns. About 90 % of the farms in St Louis County, Minnesota, and in Houghton, Baraga, and Alger counties, Michigan, have been owned once by Finnish immigrants. Finns have been found as farmers also in Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Wisconsin, Maine, New York and Massachusetts. The farms owned by Finnish immigrants in eastern states have been on the so-called rundown lands.

In addition to the mining, logging and farming, a great number of Finns has worked in textile mills and different kinds of factories of New England, in the steel mills of Ohio and later in the car industry of Michigan. -In Canada, most Finns have succeeded in getting work in lumbering, mining or farming.

It has been very typical to Finnish immigrants in North America that left movements have had a great number of voters, supporters and sympathizers among them. At first, the socialist movement was very strong and most Finnish leftists belonged to it. In about 1914 thousands of Finns joined to the syndicalistic I.W.W. movement. And some years later, also, the communist parties of America found many members among the Finnish immigrant group. Each of the political groups has had its own newspapers, clubs and halls.

In addition to political groups, there has been many religious groups among Finnish immigrants. The most important of these have been the Finnish Lutheran Church of America or Suomi Synod, the Finnish Evangelical National Lutheran Church in America, and Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church of America. The Finnish Lutheran Church of America has had more members than the other two.

Compared with many other immigrant groups, one can say that Finns have been slow in their assimilation. They were not eager to take citizen papers. The first generation of Finnish immigrants spoke Finnish their whole life, they had up to the 1950's their own temperance societies, churches, political organizations, the members of which were almost only Finns. The second and third generations, however, went to American schools, learned to speak English, and were not eager to belong to Finnish-American temperance societies or left parties. The Finnish-American churches have on the other hand succeeded in getting members among the second and third generations.

About 20-25 % of the emigrants returned back to Finland. Most of the returned emigrants stayed in America only for 1-5 years. When one compares the strength of returning in various groups, one learns that farmers, for example, returned proportionally more than cottagers or workers, that 30-50 years old returned more often than the younger emigrants, that married returned more than the single, and men more often than women. Behind the decision to return there could equally well be success or failure. Some individual emigrant might have decided to return because he had succeeded in reaching his economic aim in America or because the visit to America had gradually become an economic disappointment. In the same way, very many people probably stayed in America for a number of reasons, but especially because it offered them a better standard of living than Finland could, or because selfesteem - or in the worst case, a lack of travelling money - did not permit a return home.

Finnish immigrants have usually been included to the group of new immigrants and it is said that these new immigrants were birds of passage. When about 80 % of Finnish immigrants did not however return to Finland, it is not justified to use the term bird of passage about them.

In 1919-39, about 70.000 persons left Finland2. Instead of the USA, now Canada was the most important destination country. Also Australia was now more important than earlier. Vaasa Province's portion of total emigration was not any more as great as it had been earlier. In 1923, Vaasa Province's portion of total emigration was 36.3 % and in 1933, only 17.5 %, when in 1893, it had been 62.7 % in 1903, 41.1 % and in 1913, 36.3 %. In 1919-30, 41.7 % of emigrants were female, thus women's portion of emigration had grown if compared with the earlier emigration. In 1931-39, women's portion was already 62.0 %. On the other hand, emigration in the 1930's was very minor. The portion of urban emigration was greater than earlier : in 1919-30, about 22 %, and in 1931-39, about 43.0 % of all emigrants came from towns. The role of the 1919-39 emigrants for the economic and social development of the immigration countries was small because of the small number of migrants. Also from the standpoint of Finland, the loss of these migrants was small when compared with the earlier emigration.

It is probable that the emigrants of the 1920's and 1930's did not differ essentially in their assimilation from the earlier immigrants to North America. It is however possible that the return among the emigrants of the late 1920's would have been more general than earlier. Generally, one may say of the emigration of the 1920's and 1930's that it was only an echoing of the great emigration of the late 1800's and the beginning of the 1900's.

The most important stream of emigration from Finland after the Second World War has gone to Sweden3. It has been estimated that in the years 1951-60, about 70.000 persons left from Finland. In 1961-70, the number of Finnish emigrants has probably been about 180.000. Most of them emigrated to Sweden. This huge emigration has meant that the growth of population in Finland has become especially in the 1960's very small. In 1951-60, the population of Finland still grew 10.3 % but in 1961-70, the growth was only 3.4 %. In some years of the 1960's, the population of Finland was even diminishing. In 1970, more than 200.000 citizens of Finland were living in Sweden. In addition to this, there was a number of Finns who had already become citizens of Sweden.

Thus the loss of population because of emigration to Sweden has been huge in Finland. The loss has been very heavy to Finland also because about 80 % of emigrants have been skilled workers, who have come from different branches of industry. Only about 20 % has come from farming and lumbering. Thus emigration from Finland after the Second World War has not been migration of unskilled rural workers like the first great wave of emigration at the end of the XIXth and beginning of the XXth centuries was. -Like in the old Finnish emigration, the percentage of the returned emigrants has been in the 1950's and 1960's, 20-30 % of total emigration.

In addition to emigration to Sweden, Canada especially in the 1950's has been an important destination country of Finnish emigrants. Australia has also received many Finns, especially in the late 1950's and in the late 1960's. The streams of emigration from Finland to Canada and Australia have however been minor when compared with the stream to Sweden.

As has been shown above the USA, Canada and Sweden have been the most important destination countries of Finnish migration. Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa have however received a number of Finns, too.

Emigration from Finland to Australia4 began during the great Victorian goldrushes in the 1850's, some being adventurers, some seaman and some early settlers. The following period can best be characterized as seamen migration as Finnish seamen were common in Australian ports and coastal waters. At the turn of the century, a group of Finnish socialists arrived in Queensland to establish an utopian society. The adventure failed and the leader, Matti Kurikka and many of his followers left for Canada, for a more successful attempt (Harmony Island). Mainly due to the USA quota laws of 1921 and 1924, Australia became a destination of many Finns, until the 1929 depression practically stopped the arrival of Finns to remain low until 1957 when the Australian assisted passage scheme combined with a period of unemployment in Finland gave rise to the newest migration. At the moment, there are over 10.000 persons in Australia born in Finland.

The number of Finns in New Zealand has never been more than a couple of hundreds.

Most Finns arriving in Australia have been young adults and they had a very uneven sex distribution (one female to ten males before World War II). Consequently, a large proportion of Finnish male population remained unmarried, and those married had, in most cases, wives of British origin.

Finns were scattered all over the country and their settlement can best be called infiltration settlement, where migrants arriving individually found a niche for themselves, as distinct from organized group settlement. Often resulting from chain-migration, Finns had some substantial group settlements notably in the sugar-cane areas of coastal Queensland and in the mining town of Mount Isa, where Germans and Finns are two largest non-British minorities.

In occupational adjustment a low status background affected absorption into the Australian economic system. The maritime occupations, general labouring, farming and skilled craftmanship covered almost three-quarters of all the listed occupations of male settlers naturalized before 1947. At the moment, the most popular occupations of Finns in Australia are carpentering, mining and skilled craftmanship, though at the beginning they often had to start as labourer or semi-skilled workers.

Generally speaking, the Finns in Australia were well absorbed in the Australian labour market but their social and cultural adjustment may not have been as quick. Partly because of language differences and partly because of core substantial group settlements with the longevity of ethnic institutions, Finns lagged somewhat behind other Nordic settlers.

As late as up to the year 1906, emigration from Finland to Latin America5 was minimal and scattered. The first Finnish emigrants seem to have been sailors who went ashore especially in the ports of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires. From the close of the XIXth century onwards, we also hear about Finnish engineers and technicians who worked in constructing railways in Latin America.

By the beginning of the XXth century, Finnish interest in Argentina had grown to the extent that Argentina was regarded as the promised land for Finnish emigrants, The intention was to find a new home for Finns who must flee Russian oppression. This plan, in a greatly modified form, was made reality in 1906. In that year, a group of Finns, mostly Swedish-speaking, founded a colony in the Argentine Misiones. This colonia Finlandesa is the first Finnish colony in Latin America. In the years previous to World War I, about 200 persons, mostly unmarried young men from various parts of Finland, came to join this highly singular colony. The colony was, however, beset by great difficulties, and many of its members returned to Finland or re-emigrated to the USA.

Also in Cuba, Finns had been searching a new home. In 1908, a small Finnish colony was founded, comprising about 20 families. Then in 1909-10, a group of Finns from northern Sweden and northern Finland emigrated to the southern part of Brazil (Rio Grande do Sul). Also both of these experiments were unsuccessful.

In the inter-war years, somewhere around one thousand Finns emigrated to Latin America, mainly to Brazil and Argentina, but also to Paraguay and Haiti. Especially from the year 1924, Colonia Finlandesa in Argentina received new emigrants from eastern Finland. In Brazil, an utopian social experiment, Penedo, was started in 1929. At about the same time, a similar one, Viljavakka, was begun in Haiti. Also in these utopias, the return percentage of emigrants was high. Seen in relation to their high objectives, these experiments must be said to have failed.

After World War II, emigration from Finland to Latin America continued, but to a smaller degree than before. According to Finnish official statistics, about 500 imigrants left for Latin American countries. Venezuela became then a new country to Finnish emigration.

In the course of time small Finnish colonies have sprung up within some of South America's major cities, especially in Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Caracas. Here, however, we must distinguish between true emigrants and the occasional Finns resident in Latin American countries for diplomatic service or business.

Viewed against the background of total emigration from Finland, emigration to Latin America has some peculiarities. First, it was a very small brook running alongside the main stream of those who left for North America. Second, its character is quite different from that of spontaneous mass emigration : we can see this clearly from the special background of the founding of Colonia Finlandesa, Penedo, and the other more or less utopian experimental colonies. It is possible in fact to characterize this type of emigration as paradise emigration. Third, the problems of the assimilation have been notably greater for the Finns in Latin America than for example for the Finnish emigrants in the USA.

Very little is known about Finnish emigration to South Africa. It is probable, however, that it began in the 1880's. At least two waves of emigration can be seen : one in the middle of the 1890's and another in about 1905. The total number of emigrants to South Africa has been between 1.000 and 2.000. Most of them were from Swedish-speaking Ostrobothnia. Almost all of these were men, most of whom worked as carpenters in South African mines. Nothing is known about their assimilation. It is possible that most of the emigrants did not succeed economically, and one can suppose that the percentage of the returned emigrants was very high.

1 The part of the report concerning Finnish migration to North America has been written on the basis of the author's manuscript of dissertation Finnish migration to North America in the years between the United States Civil War and the First World War. The dissertation will be published in 1974.

2 Information on the 1919-39 immigrants has been taken from the official emigration statistics of Finland.

3 Information concerning emigration from Finland to Sweden has been taken from Kimmo Mikkola's article Muuttoliike väestökehityksen jarruna, Helsingin Sanomat, May 13, 1973.

4 Ref. Olavi Koivukangas Scandinavian Immigration and Settlement in Australia before World War II, Ph. D. Thesis, Australian National University, Canberra, 1972.

5 In this article, the part concerning emigration to Latin America has been writen by Olavi Lähteenmäki.

Published in Les Migrations Internationales de la Fin Du XVIIIe Siècle a Nos Jours. 1980, p. 392-400.

© Reino Kero

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