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Notable Norwegian Americans

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Norwegian Americans comprise Americans 1) with ancestral roots from Norway or 2) Norwegian people who emigrated to and reside in the United States. The Norwegian American population numbers more than 4.5 million people.

Norwegian immigrants went to the United States primarily in the later half of the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th century. Most settled in the Upper Midwest, with Minnesota still having the largest population by far. An additional population center developed in the Pacific Northwest, centered around Seattle.

Notable Highlights

In entertainment, Sigrid Gurie, "the siren of the fjords," starred in numerous motion pictures in the 1930s and 1940s. Other Hollywood actors and personalities with one Norwegian parent or grandparent include James Arness, Paris Hilton, James Cagney, Peter Graves, Tippi Hedren, Lance Henriksen, Celeste Holm, Kristanna Loken, Robert Mitchum, Piper Perabo, Priscilla Presley, Michelle Williams and Renée Zellweger. Seminal protopunk musicians Iggy Pop of The Stooges and David Johansen of the New York Dolls and Don Dokken of the heavy metal band Dokken have Norwegian ancestry. Paul Waaktaar-Savoy of the synth pop band a-ha is Norwegian, having been born and raised in Oslo. He is a naturalized American citizen and has homes in both Oslo and New York City.

In journalism, Eric Sevareid, was a well-known a CBS reporter and commentator. In literature, Ole Edvart Rølvaag wrote about the immigrant experience, especially the Norwegian-American experience in The Dakotas. Rølvaag's home is a National Historic Landmark.

In labor unions, Andrew Furuseth was largely responsible for the passage of four reforms that changed the lives of American mariners. Two of them, the Maguire Act of 1895 and the White Act of 1898, ended corporal punishment and abolished imprisonment for deserting a vessel. The Seamen's Act of 1915 included all these and was his main project.

Minnesota Democratic Senators Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale served as the 38th and 42nd Vice Presidents of the United States, respectively, and were nominees for President in 1968 and 1984, respectively. Earl Warren of California was the 14th Chief Justice of the United States.

In science, Ernest Lawrence won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1939. Lars Onsager won the 1968 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. Christian B. Anfinsen won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1972. Ivar Giaever won the Nobel Prize in Physics 1973. Carl Richard Hagen is noted for his work in physics.

In engineering, Clayton Jacobson II is credited with the invention of the modern personal watercraft. Ole Singstad was a pioneer of underwater tunnels. Ole Evinrude invented the first outboard motor with practical commercial application, recognizable today on modern motorboats.

In religion, Olaf M. Norlie created the Simplified New Testament. Herman Amberg Preus was a key leader in the development of the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Bernt Julius Muus was the principal founder and Thorbjorn N. Mohn was the first president of St. Olaf College. Peter Laurentius Larsen and Ulrik Vilhelm Koren both helped found Luther College (Iowa).

In business, Ole Bardahl founded the Bardahl company, Conrad Nicholson Hilton was the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain, Kenneth Harry Olsen co-founded Digital Equipment Corporation, James Trane and Reuben Trane founded Trane Inc., N. O. Nelson was the founder of the N. O. Nelson Manufacturing Co. and Alfred M. Moen founded Moen, Inc.

In sports, Knute Rockne became one of the greatest coaches in college football history, while Babe Zaharias was named by the Guinness Book of Records as the most versatile female athlete of all time. Zaharias achieved outstanding success in golf, basketball and track and field athletics. Additionally, Stein Eriksen won the gold medal in the Giant Slalom event at the 1952 Winter Olympics, which were held in Oslo, Norway. He also won a silver medal in the slalom race. Eriksen was the first skier from outside the Alps to win an Olympic men's alpine gold medal. He also won three gold medals at the 1954 World Championships in Åre, Sweden, and a bronze medal at the 1950 World Championships in Aspen, Colorado. Shortly after his success in the 1952 Olympics, Eriksen moved to America where he continues to live. He worked as a ski-instructor and ski school-director at various ski schools such as Sugarbush in Vermont, and Aspen in Colorado. He is currently director of skiing at the Deer Valley Resort in Utah, and also serves as host of the Stein Eriksen Lodge, a ski lodge in Deer Valley, Utah.

In medicine, Earl Bakken developed the first wearable transistorized pacemaker and founded the Fortune 500 medical technology company Medtronic as well as the Bakken Museum. John H. Lawrence, is known as the father of nuclear medicine. As many historians claim, the genesis of this medical specialty in the United States took place in 1936, when John Lawrence took a leave of absence from his faculty position at Yale Medical School, to visit his brother Ernest Lawrence at his new radiation laboratory (now known as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) in Berkeley, California.

In humanitarian work, Greg Mortenson, born in Minnesota, whose ancestors came from Tromsø in 1876, has worked since 1993 to build over 150 schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is the author of best-seller Three Cups of Tea, which has sold over 4 million copies in 49 countries, including Norway.