By Richard L. Jensen
The first Swedish-American resident of Utah was John Erik Forsgren, native of Gävle and a veteran of the Mormon Battalion, who reached Salt Lake City in 1847. Three years later, in July 1850, Forsgren baptized the first Latter-day Saint converts in his native land, thus initiating the process by which about 9,000 Swedish Mormons emigrated from Sweden to Utah in the nineteenth century. Forsgren escorted the first large company of Scandinavian Latter-day Saint immigrants, including a few Swedes, to Utah in 1852-53, sailing with 297 on the Forest Monarch, which William Mulder dubbed "the Mayflower of Mormon emigration from Scandinavia." Some of the group followed Forsgren to Box Elder County as settlers.

Although hampered by the lack of constitutional protection for freedom of religion in Sweden--Forsgren had been banished from the country within three months of his arrival--Mormon proselytizing in Sweden accelerated during the 1850s, finding its greatest success in the southern province of Skåne. Beginning in the 1870s, Stockholm and environs provided most of the converts. Many of the Swedish Mormons--44 percent in the nineteenth century--responded to urgings to gather nearer church headquarters, with more than two thousand emigrating each decade from the 1860s through the 1880s. The early arrivals in Utah came largely from agricultural settings, while later immigrants were primarily city dwellers. Some received help to emigrate from the Latter-day Saints' Perpetual Emigrating Fund; more were assisted by friends and relatives. As a rule, the Swedes crossed the Öresund at Malmö to join other Mormon emigrants at Copenhagen, and then took a steamer from there to Kiel or Lübeck in north Germany, a train to Altona or Glückstadt, sailed across the North Sea to either Hull or Grimsby in England, and traveled by rail to Liverpool, where they sailed for America.

While most Swedish immigrants to Utah were Latter-day Saints who generally settled in Utah soon after arrival in the United States, non-Mormons also filtered into the state, particularly in the 1880s, responding to employment opportunities in Utah mines, mills, and smelters. Swedish Mormon emigration declined gradually every decade from the 1890s until after World War II, revived modestly for a half dozen years after that war, and remained minimal thereafter.

The federal census of 1910 showed Utah's Swedish-born population at its peak, with 7,227. In that year, Swedish-Americans and their children in Utah numbered 17,063, or 4.6 percent of the state's population. With the Swedish-born population of the United States also at its all-time high, Utah was fifth in the percentage of its residents who were of Swedish stock--far behind Minnesota but closely following Washington, Nebraska, and North Dakota. Swedes and native-born Americans with two Swedish parents were 5.9 percent of Tooele County's population and 5.2 percent of the inhabitants of Salt Lake and Cache counties.

While Utah had no exclusively Swedish settlements, historian Andrew Jenson wrote that in 1930 the majority of residents of Grantsville, Tooele County, were of Swedish descent. A neighborhood in North Salt Lake, developed in the 1880s and settled by many Swedes, was known thereafter as Swede Town.

The Latter-day Saint Church encouraged immigrant Swedes to participate in English-speaking wards. LDS "Scandinavian meeting" organizations with their own social and religious activities supplemented the activities of the English-speaking congregations. In addition to local activities, there were annual Scandinavian LDS reunions and midsummer festivals, often attended by thousands. Some Swedes, including newspaper editor Otto Rydman, chafed at the numerical predominance of Danes in conjoint Scandinavian activities, and advocated separate Swedish Latter-day Saint organizations which might more effectively foster Swedish language, culture, and heritage. A "Swedish rebellion" from 1901 to 1903 sought unsuccessfully to promote that goal. After denouncing leaders of the Mormon Scandinavian organization, Rydman was excommunicated from the LDS Church. Nevertheless, several indigenous Swedish organizations supplemented the offering of the LDS Scandinavian meetings, including the drama society Thalia, Svenska Gleeklubben in the 1890s, the Norden literary society, and the Svea choir. Additionally, non-Mormons and disaffected Mormons joined social and insurance societies like the Vasa Order of America and the Swedish Brotherhood of America.

After a short-lived attempt by the liberal Utah Skandinav ("Utah Scandinavian") to produce a newspaper in Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian (1874-78?), other newspapers responded to the needs of Swedish-American readers for literature in their own language. Svenska Härolden ("Swedish Herald," 1885-92), and Rydman's Utah Korrespondenten ("Utah Correspondent," 1890-1915) both addressed a largely Mormon audience. Utah Posten ("Utah Post," 1900-35), with an initial political and literary emphasis, was soon sold to the Mormon Church, and Posten eventually purchased Korrespondenten.

Several years after the Swedish "rebellion," Latter-day Saint leaders provided the option of separate Swedish LDS organizations, and Mormon resistance softened to the observation of the traditional Swedish Christmas morning service, Julottan. On the whole, however, assimilation into the larger LDS community was relatively rapid and so thorough that little significant Swedish influence was felt beyond that experienced by the immigrants' children.

Salt Lake City was also briefly the home of radical Swedish-American political and labor agitation. The Berghem (Mountain Home) Lodge of the Swedish Verdandi Temperance Order published an "occasional agitation paper," Facklan ("The Torch"), in 1915. That same year, Swedish-born Joe Hill (born Joel Hägglund), composer of many favorite songs of the radical Industrial Workers of the World, was executed by a Utah firing squad after being convicted of the murder of a Salt Lake City grocer and his son. The question of Hill's guilt has been debated ever since, but as a martyr for the cause of oppressed workers in the eyes of fellow "Wobblies" and many others, he joined the ranks of radical American folk heroes.

No other Swede in Utah attained such notoriety as Hill. Swedes were among the early laborers in the mines at Bingham Canyon and its associated mills and smelters. They also were farmers, midwives, craftsmen, builders. Hilda Erickson (1859-1968), who crossed the plains by foot and ox cart in 1866, became midwife, doctor, and dentist among the Indians of Utah and Nevada, and before her death was noted as the oldest Swede in the world. Ola Nilsson Liljenqvist (1826-1906), as Mormon bishop of Hyrum, supervised a remarkably successful United Order agricultural cooperative in Cache Valley. Janne Mattson Sjödahl (1853-1939), a prominent Baptist in Scandinavia, converted to Mormonism after emigrating to Utah. He served as general editor of the Deseret News from 1906 to 1914, and as editor of the LDS Church's German, Danish-Norwegian, Dutch, and Swedish newspapers in Salt Lake City. He also was an important commentator on Latter-day Saint scripture.

Nils C. Flygare (1841-1908), a prominent Ogden building contractor, supervised the construction of the initial buildings of the Utah Agricultural College (later Utah State University). He served on Ogden's city council and was that city's building inspector and fire and police commissioner. Flygare, a member of boards of many businesses, was also a local ecclesiastical leader. He served for a dozen years as a missionary for the LDS Church in Scandinavia, including three terms as president of its Scandinavian Mission. Many of his fellow immigrants also contributed yeoman service to their church by returning as missionaries to their native land, helping swell the ranks of Swedes in Utah in the process.

Other Swedish immigrants, less happy with Mormonism in Utah, made their own contributions elsewhere. Johan August Åhmanson (1827-91), prominent missionary in Scandinavia and leader of Scandinavians in the ill-fated 1856 Willie Handcart Company of LDS immigrants, became a homeopathic physician and state legislator in Nebraska. He successfully sued Brigham Young for the loss of family luggage left along the immigrant trail under Mormon supervision during the handcart experience. He became a central figure in the community of former Scandinavian Mormons in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, whose ranks grew as they dissuaded new immigrants from continuing the trek to Utah. An English translation of his 1876 exposé of Mormonism, Vor Tids Muhamed ("Muhammed of Our Time"), was published in 1984.

A limited number of Swedish LDS immigrants joined other Swedes in the Presbyterian Church at Mount Pleasant, the Swedish Free Christian Church, the Swedish Baptist Church, or the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Among the most significant contributions of Utah's Swedish-Americans have been their descendants. They include Thomas S. Monson, counselor in the First Presidency of the Latter-day Saint Church; poet May Swenson; sociologist Kimball Young; and California's Ahmanson family, founders of successful savings and loan and insurance companies, and benefactors of the arts, education, and medical research.

Disclaimer: Information on this site was converted from a hard cover book published by University of Utah Press in 1994. Any errors should be directed towards the University of Utah Press.