[ End of article ]

Finnish Migrants (1860-1930) in the Overseas Return Migration Movement

Keijo Virtanen

From the point of view of an overall study of overseas migration, research on return migration must concern itself with four phases: life in the country of origin, emigration, life in the host country, and return. Return may lead to a new departure, and so on, but one day the circle comes to an end, either in the host country or in the country of origin (see Figure 15.1).1 The point of departure for a study of return migration is the statement by the British statistician E. G. Ravenstein in 1885 that every current of migration movement occasions a compensatory counter-current.2 The central aim of the present essay is to analyze the return migration of the Finns, taking into account the dichotomy between emigrants (emigrating between the 1860s and 1930) who returned and those who did not. At the same time the Finnish overseas return migration will be placed in a wider international context.

So far European research into overseas migration has paid very little attention to the counter-current, that is, return migration. The reason is not so much the failure to recognize the relevance of its investigation as the absence of comprehensive statistics and other material corresponding to that available for emigration. The Finns form one of the rare nationalities for which thorough research is possible. The sources, however, are made up of a large number of different pieces that have to be fitted together. While emigration is a mass phenomenon, the collection of evidence has to be carried out at the level of the individual, due to the absence of comprehensive and reliable material. A number of sample areas are therefore needed, but they must be complemented by recourse to other research material, plenty of which is available.3

Finnish migration has to be analyzed in the international context. The division into the "old" and "new" migration originated in the report of the Dillingham Commission's investigation of immigration into the United States, which was published in 1911. The "new" immigrants, who came from Eastern and Southern Europe, began to arrive in the 1880s and mainly worked in the cities. Virtually all of them were men. In addition, they were regarded as temporary labor in the host country, which would subsequently return to its country of origin.4 Indeed, both the background factors and the actual conditions of migration had radically changed by the end of the nineteenth century, when the Finnish migration began to reach its peak. The host country - in the main, the United States - had become a rapidly expanding industrial society, and this affected not only the "new" migration countries, but equally those of the "old" migration, whose migration continued into the twentieth century.

The clear majority of Finnish migrants did in fact consider themselves temporary labor. They left for economic reasons, wishing to earn as much as possible and then return home. One emigrant of 1922, when questioned in Florida in 1968 about his intention to return at the moment of emigration commented: "I should think everyone intends to." Another stated that he had intended to remain abroad until he had a "pocketful of money." Very few - according to the interviews carried out for this research - intended to leave their home country for ever, even though it "pushed" so many people overseas.

After all, the original cause of this mass movement of people was the "push": a radical change in the traditional basis of society. The population increased at an unprecedented rate in Europe during the nineteenth century as industrialization proceeded; with the rising standard of living, and improvements in medicine, the birthrate rose and mortality declined.5 The increase in population became so rapid that the economy could not keep pace with it, leading in Finland as elsewhere in Europe to the emergence of a "relative surplus population," which the economy could not adequately support.

This relative surplus population had become a problem in Finland even in the 1840s. In the transitional period between 1815 and 1875 the main increase in population occurred in rural areas, leading to population pressure, since the range of economic opportunities did not expand accordingly. This was further reinforced by the one-sidedness of the country's economy, for in the 1860s about 85 percent of the Finnish population was still engaged in agriculture.6 An increasing proportion of the rural population was non-self-supporting, since the number of farms did not increase as fast as the potential number of farmers. The proportion of landless population steadily increased toward the end of the nineteenth century, and its opportunities for supporting itself deteriorated.7 As a result of this development, Finnish society in the nineteenth century was not in fact so stable as to rule out migration even at the beginning of the century; internal migration was actually greater at the beginning of the century than at the end. This was mainly due to the fact that emigration abroad was very low; those who wanted to move saw no other alternative than to move inside the country. The increase in emigration partially explains the reduction in internal migration toward the end of the century. Once emigration to North America had gained momentum, self-perpetuating factors came into play: factors such as family ties, with different members of the family emigrating at various times; or the migration tradition in a given area, with emigration gradually becoming a collective forms of behavior or social norm.8

The emigration from Finland to overseas countries took on the nature of a mass movement at a later date (in the 1870s) than that from many central European and Scandinavian countries; but it was in full swing when the "new" immigration began to reach North America.9 The beginnings of the emigration from Finland thus fall somewhere in the middle of the European development.

The analysis of the Finnish return migration and its comparison with the movements from the Scandinavian countries reveals considerable similarities. The Finnish return rate among those emigrating between 1860 and 1930 (about 380,000 emigrants) was about one-fifth, which is on the same scale as in Sweden and Denmark.10 The situation was quite different in countries such as Italy and Greece, which were typical "new" migration countries, where a large proportion of the migrants returned home, perhaps subsequently to commute overseas to work again.11 But return migration to Britain was also very high.12 The division into "old" and "new" migration countries by reference to the return rate or to the impermanent nature of the migration cannot be sustained in the Finnish and British cases.

Figure 15.2 presents a typology of the central factors that influence the dichotomy between the settlement overseas or permanent return to Finland. First, the analysis of the factors connected strictly with the area of origin shows that only just over 10 percent of the Finnish emigrants originated from towns; and they were even less strongly represented in the return migration, since the urban return rate was only around 5 to 10 percent of those emigrating. This is partly due to emigrants who first moved from the surrounding countryside to a town before moving on overseas. In many cases these migrants would return to the countryside directly. The return rate to Swedish towns was also lower than to the country as a whole.13

Second, regional variations were strikingly visible in the Finnish return migration, as was also the case in other countries. The return to areas of high emigration in southern Ostrobothnia and northern Satakunta was somewhat higher than average, while that to the areas of extremely high emigration in central Ostrobothnia, was approximately the same as the national level, that is, around one-fifth of the emigrants. It was also around 20 percent of those emigrating in the tenant farming areas of southern Finland. In eastern and northern Finland, however, the return rate was distinctly lower than for the country as a whole. These variations in the return rate are due to considerable differences in the socio-economic and demographic structure both of the emigration and of the population in general between one part of the country and another. Farmers and tenant farmers returned relatively more frequently than their children, and the latter in turn more frequently than members of the landless population. Farmers and tenant farmers usually returned permanently, whereas their children often migrated more than once, due to their lack of a sure livelihood in Finland.

Third, a general finding is that the older the migrant was at emigration, the more likely he or she was subsequently to return to Finland, with the exception of those over fifty at emigration, whose return rate was low. Their motives were connected with economic factors to a lesser degree than those of the younger groups. Fourth, the return rate for men was relatively much higher than that for the women: 75 to 85 percent of the migrants permanently returning to Finland were men. Fifth, married male emigrants normally returned after a few years to rejoin their families. Others sent tickets to their families in Finland and started a new life abroad. This family emigration reduced the probability of return considerably. As a whole, however, the permanent return rate for married emigrants was much higher than that for the unmarried. Nearly half of those returning permanently to Finland were married, while this had only been the case with a quarter of the emigrants.

Turning the focus onto the receiving areas, the first point to make is that - in relative numbers - the later the person emigrated, the more probable was his return. Although the Finnish emigration began later than that from the Scandinavian countries, the peaks in the return migration occurred in approximately the same periods, if the following three phases, detectable in both the emigration and the return, are kept in mind: the period before 1893, 1893-1914, and the period from the First World War up to 1930.

The first phase lasted from the beginnings of the emigration until approximately 1893. It is impossible to identify the year precisely, but 1893 has been picked out in Sweden, for example, as an important turning point in the history of the return migration. Similarly, in Norway and Denmark the return began to rise steeply from the 1890s.14 In Finland statistics on returning emigrants were initiated in 1894, which also indicates the increasing significance of the return migration factor. The early 1890s also marked a turning point in the emigration. By this decade the conquest and settlement of North America was, broadly speaking, completed. The availability of good and cheap farmland was decreasing. Transport facilities also significantly improved in the early 1890s. At the same time, return migration began to occur on a larger scale then, since emigration from Finland as a mass movement only began in the 1880s. The natural end of the second cycle is the First World War, which virtually cut off both the emigration and the return migration for many years. The third phase in the emigration ended in 1930, when emigration to overseas countries stopped almost completely. The reason for this was the international depression, together with the actual curtailment of immigration to Canada. Prior to this, the United States had started to impose mild restrictions on immigration in the 1890s and the early years of the twentieth century. Quotas were adopted in the 1920s. First, in 1921, the quota for each nationality was fixed at 3 percent of the population of that nationality recorded in the 1910 United States Census. In 1924 the reference year was changed to 1890, in order to further limit the immigration of "new" immigrants, and the quota was cut to 2 percent.

Return migration only achieved real significance in the second of these phases, in which it passed its peak in absolute numbers in all the Nordic countries. These trends can be explained to a large extent by the rapid industrial expansion in the United States and the technological development of transport and communications. It should also be noted that the immigration quotas of the 1920s deterred immigration, but not return migration.

The main flow of the Finnish overseas emigration (98-99 percent) was directed to the continent of North America, that is, to the United States (83 percent) and Canada (16 percent). It was not until the 1920s that other countries and continents began to attract more attention from emigrants, but this migration remained exceptional.15 The return rate from Australia, for example, was extremely high. Approximately 50 percent returned permanently. The main reason for this was that Australia was a second-choice country of destination; secondly, there emerged hardly any of the supportive Finnish communities that emigrants could turn to in many parts of North America. The Australian immigrants also took up work that was not binding in nature. They worked in mining, as farm laborers, and on the docks. For the same reasons, even higher return rates occurred among the Finnish emigrants to South America and South Africa. The countries and continents of small immigration were thus unable to attract or retain immigrants to the same extent as North America. The hypothesis that increasing distance had a diminishing effect on the return migration rate is not borne out when the Finnish emigrations to North America and other countries are compared.16

With reference to the United States and Canada alone, periods of economic depression increased the return migration. A letter from a Finn in Bessemer, Michigan, to his brother in Finland, written in 1907 when the Finnish return migration was at its height and when the United States economy was undergoing a financial crisis, illustrates the hardships of migrant life:17

Hello Brother Kusti from Bessemer and many greetings.

I have been all right and I hope the same to you. The Flambo camp stopped running in the middle of November. I spent one week going from camp to camp but could not find work. All the camps were full of men. There were not enough beds and 1 had to sleep on the floor. I went to one camp on Saturday evening and I was planning to stay there over the weekend. But next morning I had to start walking to another camp again to get there before dark. And when I could not find work, I drove to Bessemer. So now I lie here at Lehtonen's. I am not sure whether I can find work before Christmas. I was planning to come to see you for Christmas but it is so cold that I will leave it until next summer....

Jussi Mikola left for Finland on November 26. I am going to stay here until Christmas. After Christmas - if the camps start running again - I have to work for two or three months to get money for boarding. Because at the moment I just lie in bed and spend.18

On the other hand, the Finnish return migration was not as closely connected with economic cycles as emigration, since personal motives played a more important role in the decision to return than in the original decision to emigrate. The return did not constitute to the same extent a mass phenomenon as emigration.

The first jobs obtained by the men were typically in mining, forestry, or in a factory, while women mainly worked in service occupations. The motivation of the women to return was reduced by this work, which provided more favorable conditions for learning the new customs and language than did the men's occupations. The men's employment was relatively more sensitive to economic fluctuations in the host country. This further explains the relatively lower return rate for women than for men. However, the Finnish return was not as dependent on economic cycles as that of the countries in southern Europe; unlike the typical "new" migrants, Finnish immigrants did not usually work in large gangs in the cities as the Italians19 and the Greeks did.20

Apart from mining and forest labor, the occupation most followed by the Finns was agriculture, the "right" form of livelihood for the "old" migrants, according to the Dillingham Commission. With the passage of time, many men began to establish farms, though often on very infertile land; the best land had already been taken by other ethnic groups by the end of the nineteenth century. In any case, farming had the effect of binding the immigrant to his adopted country. The general tendency of Finnish immigrants to settle in the countryside or small towns and their eagerness to set up farms of their own must have been a particularly strong factor reducing the probability of their return. However, we are not able to give any exact figures for the number of Finnish immigrant farmers in relation to workers. For example, many immigrants worked in the mines and had farms at the same time.

The Finnish immigrants in the United States spread over the States along the northern border from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific coast. In Canada they were concentrated in Ontario and British Columbia. The return rate appears to have been highest in the eastern States and Provinces. It declined the further west Finns worked and settled. One reason for this was a form of stage migration. When an immigrant began to search for a new place to live farther west, this usually meant the gradual abandonment of the idea of returning. Thus the hypothesis that the return migration rate falls with increasing distance is relevant in North America.21 It represents a more significant geographical factor in the return than does the distribution of migrants between the United States and Canada. Thus the horizontal (east-west) factor was more important than the vertical (United States-Canada) factor in determining the probability of return.

Finally, we need to analyze the strictly personal factors influencing the decision of migrants to return or not (see Figure 15.2); these take on greater significance in the return since this did not have the same mass features as the emigration. The predominant motive for emigration, both in Finland and in many other countries, was the search for better earnings leading to an improved standard of living and a subsequent return home. Consequently, over half of the Finnish migrants who returned did so within five years of emigration. Studies of migrants from other countries, both of the "old" and "new" migrations, have revealed similar patterns.22 A counterweight to the idea of returning was the overall situation in the country of origin, that is, economic conditions at emigration and critical attitudes toward emigration in the home country.23

The achievement of their objectives, however, was not the only motive for migrants to return, since adversities might also send them back. The most common cause mentioned by the migrants themselves was homesickness, arising from a failure to adapt to the host country, and this was at its strongest soon after arrival. These are typical expressions: "Longing for the old country brought me back to where I was born" (a returnee of 1938), or "I felt homesick the whole time" (a returnee of 1933). The following description by an immigrant of her arrival in Canada in 1922 illustrates difficulties of adjustment due to the structure of the ethnic community itself rather than the host society:

Let me tell you a bit what sort of impression you got when you arrived in Canada as an immigrant from Finland. We lived for six months in Niegara Falls [sic]. And my husband, he was working for the Hydro, for the Electricity. And for the Public Works in Kapperliff (Copper Cliff). The Finnish-Canadians, those who'd gone there earlier, were nasty to newcomers, that much sometimes, that people sometimes got done in. Sort of by accident. They hated Finns, because they suspected they were what they called Butchers [a reference to the reprisals in the Finnish Civil War in 1918]. It was only the Communists who went on like that. So we decided to get out of there, and we went to Vindsor [sic], and then on to Detroit. There were lots of communists in Detroit too, but they didn't insist on a party card, like they did in Niegara. There was a Finnish parish in Detroit, with a church and everything. But you know, the life that the Finns led there, it was pretty boring. Work, that was what they talked about all the time ... whenever the men got together, the first question was always, what shift're you on? And conversation was mostly, just about work...24

The longer the lapse of time since the migrant's arrival in the new country, the less likely became his or her return to the home country. With the passage of the years came increasing familiarity with the life in the new country. The following extract describes this aspect:

Well at that time [in the 1920s] life in Canata [sic] was very difficult for the Finns cause the Finns who'd emigrated didn't know any English so they couldn't complain to the Canadian authorities ... Well in the end the Canadian authorities did something about it and life changed for the better. There was a Finnish Society set up and everyone supposed to belong to it. It wasn't anything to do with parties but you weren't allowed to be a communist...25

Not only did the culture of the host country cause difficulties of adaptation for the immigrants, but, as these extracts indicate, there were also tensions operating within the ethnic groups that aroused controversy. The Finnish immigrants were very active in political radicalism. In the 1920s about 40 percent of the members of the American Communist Party consisted of Finns. It also has been estimated that about 25 percent of the Finnish immigrants were socialists or communists in the United States and Canada.26

But these tensions were probably not of great significance in relation to the return; on the contrary, with the growth of the numbers of Finns in a particular area, conditions were likely to become more pleasant. It is a well-known fact that different groups tended to settle in the same areas: Finns in the little towns and in the countryside of northern Michigan and Minnesota; Italians in the big cities of the eastern parts of the United States; and so on. In these communities immigrants founded all kinds of organizations and joined in other group activities. For adaptation and assimilation these had a double meaning. On the one hand, these group activities eased the cultural shock that the immigrant faced after arrival. The immigrant roots were in completely different living conditions. The Finn, for example, came from the rural communities and from rural occupations; he was generally uneducated; his greatest asset was his physical strength. Immigrant communities helped him to get used to the new surroundings and to the new situation. But on the other hand, these communities were an obstacle to complete assimilation. The immigrant was isolated, and his ability to create new contacts was severely limited because of language difficulties. But over the years and decades as the immigrants became used to their new home, the desire to return to the old country faded; thus most Finns in America remained immigrants for the rest of their lives.

However, differing political ideologies and the resulting tensions between immigrants did cause a movement from North America to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. The first phase of this migration took place in the early 1920s, when a certain number of Finnish-Americans set out to join in building the "Republic of Work." The main activities of the Finns were aimed at strengthening the economy of Soviet Karelia by the establishment of cooperatives. This project was started in 1922, and about one hundred Finnish-Americans took part, but it did not last for very long, since in December 1922 the Soviet government began to impose restrictions on foreign labor entering the country; and within a few years of the Finns' arrival most of them had returned to America, or, in a few cases, to Finland.27 In the early 1920s there was also recruitment of Americans to work in other parts of Soviet Russia. For six years, starting in 1922, a number of them moved to the Kuzbas colony in Siberia, and Finns made up the largest ethnic grouping there. The majority of the members ultimately returned to the United States, though others moved to Karelia, the Urals, or the Caucasus.28 There was also an entirely Finnish-American venture, the Sower's Commune, a farming cooperative established in southern Russia in 1922. There was rapid turnover among its members, but it continued with a strength of about one hundred members up to 1927; subsequently it began to change, for in 1932 it was reported to comprise as many as sixteen different nationalities. There is no further information about it after the middle of that decade, and it has been suggested that it may have been the victim of a purge.29

Emigration of Finns from North America to the Soviet Union only began on a large scale in the 1930s. During the depression it emerged as a serious alternative to return to Finland among members of the Finnish-American labor movement.30 Difficulties of employment on the one hand, and expectations regarding conditions in the Soviet Union on the other, are given as the main reasons for this migration by one former migrant, for example, who returned from the Soviet Union to settle in Kauhajoki, Finland, as late as 1956. She had emigrated from Finland to Canada in 1928 and in 1933 moved with her husband to the Soviet Union. Estimates of the overall numbers involved in this migration vary, but it seems certain that about six to eight thousand took part.31

Only some of those who did not settle permanently in the Soviet Union returned to Finland; others returned to America. It has been calculated that of those Finnish-Canadians who moved there from the area around Sudbury, Ontario, about one-fifth returned to Canada (mainly to the Sudbury area). Since this figure is based on a total of only seventy-eight departures, the findings cannot be considered as more than illustrative.32 Another estimate, on the basis of the questionnaires, is that about half came back, either to the United States, Canada, or Finland.33

The analysis of the return migration does not include answering the question as to how many migrants would have returned if they had had the opportunity. However, from the point of view of the processes involved in deciding whether to return or not, this is of interest. While it is impossible to obtain any exact information, some indications are available. Migrants who were unable to afford the journey home were entitled to receive a repatriation grant from the United States government during the early 1930s. The conditions were that the migrant must have arrived in the country legally and that he or she must not have been in the country for longer than three years.34 There are no data available on how many actually applied for this assistance. We do know - on the basis of the estimate made by the shipping companies - that about 10 percent of those returning had been so unsuccessful abroad that their families in Finland had to send them the money for the return ticket.35 In the early 1970s there were still old Finnish lumberjacks living in the "hotels" in Duluth, Minnesota. They had stayed in these dilapidated farmer boarding houses for decades with no real contacts with the world outside, not even the Finnish community. We may presume that many of them would have returned to Finland during the depression years of the 1930s if they had had money for the return ticket.

While homesickness or similar reasons drove many of the migrants back to Finland, their intention in the majority of cases was, clearly, to settle permanently there. But return did not necessarily mean that the migrants would be happy back in Finland either. During their years of absence, changes had taken place in their home area, as also in the migrants themselves, sometimes creating insuperable tensions. About 10 percent of all the Finnish migrants made two or more journeys overseas in the period up to 1930; but relatively more of those who made at least two trips returned permanently to Finland than of those who had emigrated only once. An emigrant who revisited Finland and attempted to readjust to Finnish conditions without succeeding and therefore decided to re-emigrate was, nevertheless, more drawn to his or her old home area even at a later stage than those emigrants who only made a single journey. Similarly, those who had already moved at least once inside Finland before emigrating overseas were more likely to return than those who had lived all their lives in one place before emigrating. The former group were more used to moving, so that the return was also easier for them. On the other hand, the differences in the return rate between these groups are not large.

The immigrants in North America were, however, aware of the possible problems that might await them in the old country. Concrete evidence of this is to be found in plans for return in large groups, which envisaged settlement in an area entirely occupied by return migrants. One of the central figures in this project was an immigrant named Antero Havela who wrote a longish article on this topic in 1932 in the newspaper Lännen Suometar (Western Finn), published in Astoria, Oregon. Referring to the current depression in the United States, he concluded with the question, "What is our future in this country?" His solution was a mass movement back to Finland, to establish a lakeside community settlement somewhere near the cities of Helsinki, Turku, or Tampere. He believed that virtually all emigrants suffered to a considerable degree from homesickness and that organized return should therefore be pursued. A community of only Finnish-Americans would help the returning migrants to readapt to Finnish society more successfully.36 Plans for common settlements of returnees were still being discussed in several places at the time of the Second World War, but they were never realized.37

These examples illustrate that many different problems had to be faced in connection with return and that efforts were made to solve these in advance. One such effort was the foundation in 1933 in Helsinki of the Amerikan Suomalainen Seura (Society of American Finns), whose aims included "to be a point of contact for Finns in America, and to provide assistance to members in difficulties; to provide guidance and support in the achievement of goals of material and intellectual progress ...." This society ceased its activities very soon, however, as did the Suomen Ulkomaankävijäin Seura (Finnish Overseas Travellers' Association), founded in 1934, which had only thirty-eight members two years later.

After all, the returning migrants had a relatively good chance of readjusting to life back home, primarily due to the fact that in most cases they had only been abroad for a few years. The majority also tended to be fairly well off when they returned; and since they often invested their savings either in farming or some other form of real estate, this too was likely to strengthen their ties with the area they had settled in and to lead to the abandonment of any ideas of re-emigration overseas.

The returning migrants brought new influences back with them, which they tried to put into practice in Finland. But since the numbers returning to Finland were so small, this impact is not as clearly indentifiable as, for instance, in southern Europe, where the economic significance of the return migration was considerable.38 One Finnish returnee of 1928 stated:

In a town [urban] society there wasn't much chance for unskilled emigrants to have much effect on the life of the town. I'm sure that returning emigrants - despite their hard-workingness and the bit of money they had - were on the receiving end.39

In Finland, too, the most easily recognizable impact of the returning migrants was in the economy, and in rural areas in the regions of high emigration this could even be quite striking. The following comment was made by a return migrant to Alahärmä, a rural commune in Ostrobothnia, in 1928:

When the emigrants had come back home to Alahärmä, and probably in other places as well, they enriched the economy, because there had been especially many men from this district who emigrated, and when they came back they repaired their buildings and farms in general. Some of them bought themselves a farm, and others bought extra land.40

This then was the situation in areas (particularly in Ostrobothnia) where the emigration had been so great that the return was locally significant even in absolute terms.

The returning migrants also wished to use the "mental capital" they had acquired abroad. Table 15.1 collates the answers of returned migrants to the questionnaire about what benefits other than economic ones they themselves considered they had acquired from emigrating:41

Table 15.1
Benefits, Other than Economic, Acquired from Migrating


No. of

Percent of

Broadening one's view of the world, new experience, seeing the world, etc.



Acquiring language skills



Learning a trade



Appreciating life in Finland



Meeting a spouse





0.8 %




The majority of those returning migrants who answered this question thus referred to the broadening of their view of the world. A typical opinion was this: "Views broadened, practical experience, learned to live." The time spent abroad was "the best high school you could hope for."

Their access to local influence depended on the attitude in their home area to the various kinds of new ideas they held. Intellectual, political and moral ideas were more likely to encounter an emotional reception than economic influence, depending on the attitudes and value judgments of the people involved. For example, the local population's own views on political matters determined whether the influences brought with them by the migrants were seen positively or negatively. But, as one respondent commented, the returnees tended to be quite active in high emigration regions:

You see, the men who'd come back from America usually got elected to various kinds of jobs in local government and politics. Many of them ... were active in the Agrarian Party. Some supported socialist ideas. I suppose it was only the most adventurous and active people who went off and emigrated in the first place.42

This impression is accurate, for the Finnish-Americans have been shown to have brought about an increase in rural radicalism in Finland; in the towns, on the other hand, socialist ideas were mainly home-grown. In Munsala, Otto Anderson and some other migrants who had returned from the United States founded the local Social Democratic Association as early as 1911, and in the 1919 elections following the Finnish Civil War, he was elected to the Finnish parliament (Eduskunta) as a Swedish-speaking Social Democrat.43 Between the achievement of Finnish independent in 1917 and 1933, there were at least fifteen members of the Eduskunta who had been migrants in North America. Several of the socialists had studied at the Finnish-American institution, the Work People's College, in Duluth, Minnesota.44

The radicalizing influence of the returning migrants is particularly visible in rural Ostrobothnia. This is not difficult to explain, since the Finnish-American labor movement was exceptionally active in the first two decades of this century, and the return migration included people who had become radicalized abroad and who actively attempted to spread their ideas in their native area. Parliamentary activity in the Eduskunta increased the possibilities of influence considerably.

A comment by another returning migrant stressed the problems of readjustment to social life:

At that time [in the 1920s] moral life in Ganada [sic] was much cruder than in Finland, and the kind of language used about morality, too. Emigrants who came back had to be careful not to talk too crudely. People used to talk very soberly in those days round Härmä.45

It has been shown that the returning migrants had an impact on religious life and the Church in Finland. The spread of the Free Churches, in particular, and the introduction of legislation ensuring liberty of religion, has been attributed partly to the migration. This led the official Lutheran Church to adopt a critical attitude toward the emigration as a whole.46 A concrete example of the religious impact of the returning migrants was the foundation in Kristinestad in 1882 of the first Methodist congregation in Finland.47

In general, however, the returning migrants do not appear to have caused much irritation in the surrounding community; with the exception of the high emigration areas, there were simply too few returning migrants for their impact to be identifiable. One writer, in 1910, recognized both good influences (e.g., broadening the view of the world and becoming familiar with voluntary activities) and bad ones (e.g., contempt for Finnish conditions and the women "dressing up").48 Another returnee of 1932 stressed the limitations of the new experience:

Those American or Canadian emigrants who were working in the forests, or other kinds of casual work, had very limited opportunities to participate in social, political, or cultural activities, so I don't think they had anything to offer in these fields. They might have new ideas to do with the economy, though. I don't think there were any big differences in morality.49

This comment, somewhat pointedly stated, underlines the results derived from our analysis of return migration. Only in high emigration areas in Ostrobothnia did the returning migrants succeed in creating a recognizable impression on society in other fields as well as in that of the economy. There the rural economy received a stimulus, and the returning migrants were active in local affairs. Outside the high emigration areas the intellectual impact of the migrants in most fields remained insignificant, and the same also appears to apply to nations where the return migration occurred on a much larger scale than in Finland. Those who had never been away were not willing to modify their thinking, with the result that the ex-migrants had to adjust and in the course of time abandon many of their ideas.

In terms of the return migration in a wider context, the balance of Finnish overseas migration was definitely negative, for Finland only regained 75,000 of the 380,000 persons who had emigrated overseas prior to 1930. The final balance in a "new" migration country such as Italy was quite different, where the economy visibly prospered from the busy movement back and forth between Italy and the overseas countries and from the capital brought back by those returning.

The analysis also demonstrates that the Finnish migrants cannot be classified as part of the "new" migration; rather, in its main features the Finnish migration showed extensive similarities to that from the Nordic countries and differed radically from the overseas migration movement in southern European countries, which was essentially a temporary phenomenon, a form of intercontinental commuting to work. The application of the terms "old" and "new" migration as such in this context is thus rendered rather questionable, since the "countercurrent" shows the division to be inadequate. This investigation of the settlement or return of the Finnish overseas migrants may offer comparative material when recent migrations are studied.50 These migrations are caused by similar factors and pass through similar stages, even though the chronological and geographical context is different.


1. The present chapter is based on the extensive research material I collected for my monograph entitled Settlement or Return: Finnish Emigrants (1860-1930) in the International Overseas Return Migration Movement (Forssa, 1979). The quantitative analysis derives mainly from the Finnish passport lists, passenger lists of the shipping companies, church records, and district court registrars' records. The qualitative aspect consists of interview questionnaires, personal recollections, memoirs, and so forth. The central research findings and typologies of this article are based on this book and this material unless otherwise stated. It should also be mentioned that the core of the study is taken from six sample areas in Finland (Lohtaja, Elimäki, Jokioinen, Leppävirta, Polvijärvi, and Kristinestad); all the emigrants and all the returns of each emigrant from these areas have been researched and analyzed.

2. E. G. Ravenstein, "The Laws of Migration", Journal of the Royal Statistical Society 48, Part 2 (June 1885), p. 199.

3. See note 1. Material used for this study includes records of the district court registrars, passport lists, national statistics, records of shipping companies, and local parish records. In 1969 questionnaires were sent to return migrants (7,000 sent, 1,200 returned). In 1968 questionnaires had been sent to 20,000 Finnish emigrants living abroad, of which more than 2,500 were completed. Furthermore the Report of the Migration Committee published in 1924 yields valuable information.

4. See Maldwyn Allen Jones, American Immigration (Chicago, 1960), pp. 177-80, 323.

5. Eino Jutikkala, Uudenajan taloushistoria [The economic history of the modern period] (Turku, 1953), pp. 403-8.

6. Pekka Haatanen, "Suhteellisen liikaväestön ongelma Suomen maataloudessa" (The problem of the surplus population in Finnish agriculture) (Master's thesis, University of Helsinki, 1965), pp. 1, 6, 13-16, 29.

7. Ibid., pp. 17, 20-21.

8. Holger Wester, Innovationer i befolkningsrörligheten. En studie av, spridningsförlopp i befolkningsrörligheten utgående från Petalax socken i Österbotten [Innovations in population mobility] (Stockholm, 1977), pp. 73-78, 177-78, 186, 189-91.

9. Cf. Theodore Saloutos, They Remember America: The Story of the Repatriated Greek-Americans (Berkeley, 1956), pp. 1-2; Arnold Schrier, Ireland and the American Emigration 1850-1900 (Minneapolis, 1958), pp. 9, 158-59.

10. Cf. Kristian Hvidt, Flugten til Amerika. Eller drivkraefter i masseudvandringen fra Danmark 1868-1914 (Odense, 1971), pp. 327-28; Lars-Göran Tedebrand, Västernorrland och Nordamerika 1875-1913. Utvandring och återinvandring (Uppsala, 1972), p. 223.

11. Robert F. Foerster, The Italian Emigration of Our Times (Cambridge, Mass., 1924), p. 23; John S. Lindberg, The Background of Swedish Emigration to the United States. An Economic and Sociological Study in the Dynamics of Migration (Minneapolis, 1930), p. 252 footnote 2; Saloutos, They Remember America, pp. 29-30; Betty Boyd Caroli, Italian Repatriation from the United States, 1900-1914 (New York, 1973). pp. 49-50.

12. International Migrations. Volume I. Statistics, ed. Walter F. Willcox (St. Albans, 1929), pp. 204-5; see also Caroli, Italian Repatriation, pp. 6-8.

13. Lars-Göran Tedebrand, "Remigration from America to Sweden," in Harald Runblom and Hans Norman, eds., From Sweden to America. A History of the Migration (Uppsala, 1976). pp. 215-16.

14. Lindberg, The Background of Swedish Emigration, p. 247 (Sweden); Ingrid Semmingsen, Veien mot vest. Annen del. Utvandringen fra Norge 1865-1915 (Oslo, 1950), p. 460 (Norway); Hvidt, Flugfen til Amerika, p. 326 (Denmark).

15. It is justified to estimate that of about 380,000 Finnish overseas emigrants before 1930 approximately 315,000 went to the United States, 60,000 to Canada, 2,000 to Australia, 1,000 to South America, and 1,000 to South Africa.

16. Sune Åkerman, "Theories and Methods of Migration Research," in Runblom and Norman, eds., From Sweden to America, p. 21.

17. The heaviest return migration years for the Finns were 1907 and 1908, partly because of the depression and partly because emigration to America had been very high since 1899.

18. The America letter collection at the University of Turku, signum (archival call number): TYYH/S/m/Satakunta/13/LAP/XI.

19. Foerster, Italian Emigration, p. 41; see also Caroli, Italian Repatriation, pp. 56-57.

20. Saloutos, They Remember America, p. 11.

21. Åkerman, "Theories and Methods", p. 21.

22. See Foerster, Italian Emigration, p. 35; Semmingsen, Veien mot vest, p. 460; Saloutos, They Remember America, p. 51; Anthony H. Richmond, Post-War Immigrants in Canada (Toronto, 1967), p. 231; Caroli, Italian Repatriation, p. 50; Tedebrand, "Remigration," pp. 225-27.

23. See, for example, Matti Tarkkanen, Siirtolaisuudesta [On migration] (Mikkeli, 1902), pp. 25-26; Teo Snellman, Ulkokansalaistoiminta ja siirtolaisten huolto [Activities on behalf of the Finnish Migrants] Vol. l (Helsinki, 1929), p. 10.

24. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/ S/1/7061.

25. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/ S/1/7104.

26. See Auvo Kostiainen, The Forging of Finnish-American Communism, 1917-1924. A Study in Ethnic Radicalism (Turku, 1978), pp. 32, 138.

27. Ritva-Liisa Hovi, "Amerikansuomalaiset osuuskunnat Neuvosto-Karjalassa 1920luvun alkupuolella amerikansuomalaisten ja neuvostokarjalaisten sanomalehtien valossa" ["American-Finnish Cooperative Societies in the Soviet Karelia at the Beginning of the 1920s"], in Turun Historiallinen Arkisto XXIV (Turku, 1971).

28. Bill McNitt, "Americans in Soviet Russia: The Kuzbas Experiment" (Seminar paper, University of Michigan, 1971), pp. 1, 9, 17-18.

29. Ritva-Liisa Hovi, "Amerikansuomalaisten maanviljelyskommuuni Etelä-Venäjällä" ["An Agricultural Co-operation of American Finns in South Russia"], in Turun Historiallinen Arkisto XXV (Vammala, 1971).

30. See, for example, manuscript memoirs of Frank Sainio, migrant returning to Finland (Dept. of History, University of Turku).

31. Yrjö Raivio, Kanadan suomalaisten historia 1 [History of the Finns in Canada 1], (Vancouver, 1975), p. 487.

32. Interview with Yrjö Raivio (1974, author's notes).

33. Reino Kero, "Emigration of Finns from North America to Soviet Karelia in the Early 1930s," in Michael G. Karni, Matti E. Kaups, and Douglas J. Ollila, Jr., eds., The Finnish Experience in the Western Great Lakes Region: New Perspectives (Vammala, 1975), p. 220.

34. See Industrialisti [industrialist] (newspaper), Duluth, 27 June 1931.

35. See Rafael Engelberg, Suomi ja Amerikan suomalaiset. Keskinäinen yhteys ja sen rakentaminen [Finland and the American Finns] (Helsinki, 1944), p. 382.

36. Lännen Suometar [Western Finn] (newspaper), Astoria, 19 July 1932.

37. Engelberg, Suomi ja Amerikan suomalaiset, pp. 381, 384-85, 388-90.

38. See Saloutos, They Remember America, pp. 117-21, 123-24, 130-31; Caroli, Italian Repatriation, pp.57-61, 93, 98-99.

39. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/S/1/7149.

40. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/ S/1/7161.

41. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/S/ 1 /5001-6268.

42. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/S/1/7313.

43. Georg Backlund, "De politiska återverkningarna," in Emigrationen och dess bakgrund ["The Political Influence of Migration," in Emigration and Its Background] (Ekenäs. 1971), pp. 91, 94-95.

44. Yrjö Leiwo, "Hakemisto", in Politiikkaa ja rnerkkimiehiä ["Index," in Important Politicians] (Helsinki, 1935).

45. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/S/1/7161.

46. Bill Widén, "De religiösa återverkningarna ["The Religious Influence of Migration"] in Emigrationen och dess bakgrund (Ekenäs, 1971), pp. 87-89.

47. Walter Sjöblom, Kristinestads historia [History of Kristinestad Town] (Kristinestad, 1915), p. 286.

48. Yrjö Alanen, Siirtolaisemme ja kotimaa. Siirtolaisuuden vaikutuksesta kansamme oloihin ja luonteeseen [Our Emigrants and the Home Country] (Helsinki, 1910), pp. 54-60.

49. The interview questionnaire collection at the University of Turku, signum: TYYH/S/I/7234.

50. Since the Second World War, there has been a large amount of emigration from Finland to Sweden, to a lesser extent also to Canada and Australia.

Published in Labor Migration in the Atlantic Economies. The European and North American Working Classes During the Period of Industrialization. Ed. by Dirk Hoerder. Westport, Connecticut 1985, p. 381-398.

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