10 fun facts Finns probably don’t know about Finnish Americans

Finnish Americans are a tiny portion of the American population, and yet they have made a big impact on American culture. Read on for 10 fun facts about Finnish Americans that Finns probably don’t know.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / mestos

Finns first arrived in the US in 1638 as part of a Swedish colony

Map in Finnish of New Sweden colony

New Sweden was founded along the Delaware River in the Mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The colony was populated by Finns and other Nordic immigrants until the Dutch took over the colony in 1655.

John Morton, who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a descendant of a New Sweden colonist. Martti Marttinen (anglicized to Morton) was originally from Rautalampi, Finland.


The Finns of New Sweden helped popularize the log cabin

The log cabin is one of the most well-known icons of the pioneer spirit, and it’s all thanks to Finns. The forestry expertise and building techniques of the Finnish colonists of New Sweden helped make the log cabin the must-have home of the time. Even Abraham Lincoln grew up in one!

The log cabin in the photo is the Schorn log cabin, built by John Morton’s grandfather.

During the 1860s through to the 1930s, Finns flocked to the American Midwest

A Finnish immigrant family in front of their first shelter, c. 1910. Photo: University of Minnesota.

Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan had a massive influx of Finnish immigrants. Sometimes called the “Great Migration”, it was the largest wave of Finnish immigrants in American history. The Midwest’s healthy mining industry, crop failures in Finland, and Russification were all common factors behind immigration.

Today, most Americans with Finnish ancestry still live in the Midwest

Finnish Salvation army in Finntown of Brooklyn, New York. October 1942.

But that doesn’t mean that Finns only stuck to one place — Finnish immigrants put down roots all over the country. Many so-called “Finntowns” could be found in places like Brooklyn, New York, where 20,000 Finns lived and worked.

Stanton Township, Michigan has the highest percentage of Finnish Americans

47% of Stanton Township’s population have Finnish ancestry, in comparison to the nation-wide percentage of a mere 0.2%.

In the 2011 census, there were 649,107 Finnish Americans

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Stefan

There are a surprising number of recognizable names included on the list. Matt Damon and Vanessa Williams are among the many celebrities who have Finnish ancestry.


Both sauna and the concept of sisu are popular with Finnish Americans

Da Yoopers Tourist Trap in Ishpeming, Michigan. Photo: Flickr / larrysphatpage

Naturally, certain parts of Finnish culture have been passed down through the generations. Sauna and sisu have not only survived, but thrived. Although most Finnish Americans don’t speak Finnish anymore, quite a few words have made it into common usage.

Finnish foods are also popular

Midwestern food has been heavily influenced by the many Nordic immigrants that settled in the area, including the Finns. Many of the foods that Finnish immigrants ate are still being enjoyed today. You can find Karelian pies, pulla, pancakes, pea soup, blueberry pies, and more. Sometimes you can even find lutefisk – the tradition of the “it’s only once a year, I might as well” Christmas dish continues to live on in some communities.

There’s even a Finlandia University

Founded as Suomi College in 1896 by Finnish immigrants, the university was created as a means to help preserve Finnish culture in the United States – which it still does today.


Finnish Americans invented St. Urho’s Day

Statue of St. Urho in Menahga, Minnesota. Photo: Flickr / Josh

Originating in the 1950s, St. Urho’s Day (March 16th) was created as a tongue-in-cheek counterpart to St. Patrick’s Day. According to legend, the fictional St. Urho (whose name was influenced by Finland’s president at the time Urho Kekkonen) drove the grasshoppers out of ancient Finland, saving the grape crops. The holiday has caught on in many Finnish-American communities, and there are even statues commemorating the brave St. Urho.

Finnish Americans, what would you add to list our list? Let us know in the comments below!




35 replies
  1. JessG
    JessG says:

    Sunset Park, a neighborhood in Brooklyn and even Harlem had a Finntown.

    Bay Ridge/Sunset Park was an enclave of Scandinavian and Nordic immigrants. My maternal grandfather’s family lived there for years after emigrating from Norway.

    Reply
  2. Mikko
    Mikko says:

    I highly recommend anyone (especially Finns) travelling in the States to visit the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Just amazing how much Finnish and Finnish American heritage lies there. Simply brilliant how menus in coffee shops are in Finnish, alongside with street names etc. and of course Finlandia University (could you guess their team name is Lions). I was lucky as an exchange student to get to experience it all thanks to my host parents

    Reply
  3. Diane Jacobson Speaker
    Diane Jacobson Speaker says:

    I’m a Swed-Finn Yooper. Born and raised in the U.P. of Michigan now in NC. A couple things I’d add to the list are home made woven rugs . A lot of Finnish women had looms and made the nicest and most durable rugs out of scraps, rags, old coats, etc. I still have a couple. And the yummy thing of dunking hard cinnamon toast in coffee. The toast is still made in some of the U.P. bakeries. I do miss those Scandinavian things.

    Reply
  4. Curt Benttinen
    Curt Benttinen says:

    My Home town West Barnstable ,Mass, Was all Finnish at one time and still a few left .Its still called Finn Town or Shark City ! I beautiful place to see .

    Reply
  5. Quest
    Quest says:

    This totally left out the fact of finnish immigrants actually going there as “renki” and “piika”, practically working in swedish families for food-salary. Also the fact many many many finns married american natives, mainly Ojibwas has been left out. There are still thousands of “findians” livung in the Peninsula area.

    Reply
  6. Clifford Koivisto
    Clifford Koivisto says:

    Very interesting I originally was from Ironwood Michigan and am very proud of my Finnish heritage 100 percent Finn. Saunas and Finnish foods were part of growing up and still have them.

    Reply
  7. Ron Tervo
    Ron Tervo says:

    Another noteworthy celebration of Finnish heritage would be Finnfest USA held annually in cities nationwide where Finns have left their mark, also a couple times in Ontario, Canada. This year it is being held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I have attended it a couple of times, once in Hancock, Michigan, the area where I grew up, and once in Marquette, Michigan, where I presently live.

    Reply
    • pikku lintu
      pikku lintu says:

      I love FinnFest! Been attending since I was a little girl. My family is from from Marquette, and were so happy when it was held there. We helped paint some of the chairs displayed along Fair Ave.

      Reply
  8. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    I just attended a family reunion in Michigan and Wisconsin to meet all of my Finnish cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. We had a fish fry from Lake Superior. Being from Los Angeles, it was such a welcome change of scenery and traditions. I got to see where my mom and grandparents grew up. Susi is very big in my family. I have all of my grandma’s handwritten Finnish recipes in little metal boxes and my daughter and I have a great time making them.

    Reply
    • Petri
      Petri says:

      Ah, i hope that sisu is big in your family. “Susi” means a wolf. But I also hope that there is some susi left.

      Reply
  9. Heli Hunter
    Heli Hunter says:

    Cokato, MN has the oldest continuous Finnish settlement in the US (150 years in 2014). You will find a couple Finnish churches there, and an active community and historical society. The Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul) with nearby Wisconsin area has the largest number of Finns and their descendants at over 44,000 in 2011 census.

    Reply
  10. John Ranta
    John Ranta says:

    Fitchburg, MA has been a center of Finnish American culture for more than 100 years. Urho Kekkonen gave a speech there in 1970. Until recently, the Finnish newspaper Raivaaja was published there. There are many second generation Finns (including myself) still living in the general area.

    Reply
  11. Bruce Matson
    Bruce Matson says:

    John Koskinen, Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service – the highest non-elected office in the United States.

    Reply
  12. Russell Johnson
    Russell Johnson says:

    My only granddaughters live in Joensuu. I have been there a couple of times. My son married a very nice Finn and I love to see them and the granddaughters.

    Reply
  13. Drew Pelto
    Drew Pelto says:

    Combining two of the above comments, a couple of rugs that my grandmother wove are in Fairport Harbor’s Finnish Heritage Museum. I live in Texas now and due to Nokia’s presence, there’s a decent-sized Finnish population near Dallas.

    Reply
  14. SalsaLaLa
    SalsaLaLa says:

    Why on earth did they go a place that looks exactly like the place they live? Id head south to sun, sea and surf 🙂

    Reply
    • Kay
      Kay says:

      Florida has a big showing of Ffinns. The street names are in Finnish. I think it’s Miami. I used to tease my parents “What didn’t Grandpa and Grandma settle there where it’s warm.”.

      Reply
  15. Sandy Leinonen
    Sandy Leinonen says:

    Finnish flat bread, pasties and rag rugs. My grandmother’s flat bread recipe was taught to me by my Aunt (the bread lady). Remember watching Grandma and my Aunts rip old clothing into strips and roll into a ball to take the neighbor’s loom to make rag rugs. Proud 3rd generation Suomalainen from Annandale, MN.

    Reply
  16. Steve Hayward
    Steve Hayward says:

    Double Vowel Day.
    Being a keen code-worder a rule of the English languages is NO double A,I or U. Then I met Niina Kaariinimi (now a great friend). keeping an eye out I have discovered Finns also double U’s, and also some double consenants not usually used.

    Reply
  17. Anita
    Anita says:

    My Gramma was Finn/Swede from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She was born in Toivola near Misery Bay. I heard her speak Finnish from birth. I still vaguely remember my Great-Gramma, who we called Aiti. She spoke little to no English. I also remember my Great-Great Aunt who would make the best coffee cakes and braided breads! I hear someone speak Finnish and it brings back so many great memories.

    Reply
  18. Annalouise
    Annalouise says:

    Live in southwest Washington (state) in a small town named Woodland. Family on my mother’s side moved here from Finland in 1903. Numerous Finns lived in the area and surrounding towns. Had a Finn Hall (no longer there, many roads named after Finnish families including mine (Niemi), and almost everyone had a sauna on their place. I grew up in the log house my grandfather built. Lots of Finns still in area but not together like in the past.

    Reply
  19. Helvi
    Helvi says:

    Salolampi is a Finnish Language Immersion Camp established by tenacious and big-dreaming Finnish-Americans in 1978 in Northern Minnesota and since 1992, has resided in Bemidji, MN. Every year hundreds of participants come from around the world to take part in Finnish language and culture immersion programming. Finnish food is served at every meal and learning is done through singing, crafts, sports, and fun. Even many of the buildings (including one of two saunas) were imported from Finland! More information here: http://www.concordialanguagevillages.org/youth-languages/finnish-language-village

    Reply

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