Westward MovementThe Railroads
The Canal Era did not last long because the railroad followed close behind.The two first railroads in the U.S. started in operation in 1826, only one year after the Erie Canal was opened. By 1840 the total trackage in America was nearly 3000 miles, almost twice the miles of tracks that could be found in all of Europe. By 1860 railroads in America were still concentrated east of the Mississippi River, where more than 30,000 miles of tracks had been laid.
Railroads made land travel over North America easier and faster. In 1880 the Northern Pacific crossed border into Montana from the southern part of North Dakota. Ten years later the Great Northern built a line across the northern part of the state. The completion of the transcontinental railroads also opened the Pacific Northwest for newcomers.
In 1869 the Central Pacific reached San Francisco, in 1882 the Southern Route connected New Orleans to Los Angeles and in 1883 Northern Pacific had its line completed both to Puget Sound and to Portland. Between 1885 and 1915 three transcontinental lines connected the East coast of Canada to the West.
The canals, the steamboats and the railroad system made mass immigration possible.
The Most Rural Population
Since the mid 1800s, most Norwegian-Americans settled in the mid western states, especially in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.
The Homestead Act of 1862 , which gave every American citizen 160 acres of government land, and the ending of the Civil War in 1865 , increased the interest of new land and opened up most of Minnesota for Scandinavian settlement. In 1870 the Scandinavians had overtaken the Germans to become the largest foreign-born element in Minnesota´s population. The Norwegians were definitely the most numerous group among the Scandinavians in 1870, and in 1875 84,000 first and second generation Norwegians lived in that state. In 1990 757,212 people in Minnesota claimed Norwegian ancestry.
Norwegians in America were deeply attached to the soil and farming. They were the most rural of all the major immigrant groups. In 1900 close to half of all Norwegian-born breadwinners worked in farming, either as owners of farms or farm workers. Farming in America was totally unlike farming in Norway, but the Norwegian farmers did well and often out produced the "Yankees". Some set up plow repair shops and factories for farm machinery and implements. Tobacco growing became a Norwegian-American specially in Wisconsin.
The West Coast
Many Norwegians also settled on the West Coast, particularly in the state of Washington. Fishermen, particularly those from Rogaland and Sunnmøre, took part in cod, herring and salmon fishing off the West Coast and Alaska. Around 1900 they controlled the halibut fishing fleets, which were 95 percent Norwegian at that time. Many Norwegians also worked in the forestry industry, as lumberjacks, in sawmills or as loggers, in the big forests in the state of Oregon and Washington.