Back in Business?- Returning emigrants and entrepreneurship in rural Sweden 1880-1930

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper, not in proceeding


In this paper I study how 1500 returned Swedish-Americans acted after their return to a mainly rural area of southern Sweden. The rural society in which the returnees grew up before immigrating to America was still largely a self-sustaining society albeit with a slowly expanding market economy. Most of the returnees came from a poorer background but quite a few of them experienced upward social mobility after their return to Sweden. The main body of the returnees had farming experience before their emigration to America but almost none of them worked with farming in America. Instead most of them spent their time in America working in the big cities thus giving them intimate knowledge of the most evolved market economy of the time. This knowledge was brought back to a Sweden in transition from a self-sustaining society to a market economy, a process where entrepreneurs played a major role. In this paper I investigate what roles the returnees played in this process between 1880 and 1930.

The area of Sweden that I’m studying were mostly made up of rural farming areas with only a few urban centers, thus farming was the major business there at that time. Most of the returnees bought farms and they also climbed the social ladder after the return to Sweden. The limited research on Swedish return migration that exists has come to the conclusion that since most of the returnees lacked experience of modern American ways of farming this meant that they went back to traditional ways of farming after their return, thus playing no major part in the transition of the Swedish society. It is however my belief that knowledge of how market economies worked might have been enough to encourage the returnees to become entrepreneurs and run their farms accordingly. In order to determine the level of entrepreneurship amongst the returnees who went into farming, it is therefore imperative to find out how the returnees ran their farms after their return. The way the returnees ran their farms also determined their role in the ongoing transformation of the rural Swedish economy at that time. If they applied market based solutions they most likely were successful farmers and their farms most likely made use of more modern equipment and farming techniques than the traditional farms. Thus if they made use of their knowledge of market economies, they most likely instigated a modernization of farming which when proven successful would have inspired non-emigrant farmers to follow the returnees example.

However, no all returnees returned to the farming business, instead some of them ventured into other areas of business such as shops, construction companies, lumberyards, stores and so on. In order to evaluate the returnees entrepreneurship and their role during the Swedish transition from a self-sustaining economy to a market economy it is necessary to determine how many of the returnees that ventured into the non-farming businesses and which areas of business that attracted the most returnees.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • History
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Publication categoryResearch
Event6th European Social Science History Conference, 2006 - Amsterdam, Netherlands
Duration: 2006 Mar 222006 Mar 25


Conference6th European Social Science History Conference, 2006
Abbreviated titleESSHC