The History of Finnish Americans in the USA Presented to Political Party Delegates from Finland

On November 4, 2019, the Consul General, Ambassador Mika Koskinen, hosted a sit down luncheon at his official residence in New York City for the purpose of a presentation by Robert Alan Saasto, Esq., President and founder of the Finnish American Lawyers Association, of the history of the Finns who came to the United States, with an emphasize on those settling in New York City.

Every year the Consulate hosts a program for political delegates to come to New York City to learn about political business cultural or UN affairs. The topics vary from year to year. One delegate is chosen by each of the political parties to make the trip, as well as one delegate from the UN Association. An interest was expressed in learning about the Finns who came to the USA and particularly to New York City.

Robert Alan Saasto gave an overview of the different immigration periods to the USA and the reasons. The first immigrations were part of the Swedish settlement along the Delaware River in 1637. These Finns introduced the log cabins and the sauna to the area. In 1809 after Finland became a grand duchy of Russia, many Finns were part of the Russian fur trading expeditions in Alaska which was then owned by Russia. After 1867 when Alaska was sold to the USA, many of those Finnish fur traders migrated south into Anchorage and Seattle. A major immigration of Finns commenced in the 1860s due to crop failures and famine, and extended into the 1920s, ending with restrictions placed on immigration due to the depression. Many went to work in the cooper and iron ore mines in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as the coal mines in Pennsylvania, Montana, Wyoming and Washington. They became fishermen in Oregon, and worked in logging camps from Maine to Washington, Oregon, California and Michigan. Many obtained land when the US government passed the Homestead Act and gave acreage to farmers willing to work the land for at least 5 years. The Finns were late in the land grab, and ended up with less desirable land, much like the land they had in Finland, requiring hard toil to survive. Finns settled in major cities including New York, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. Life was very difficult, there was no gold on the streets of America. Approximately one third returned, and were generally looked down upon in Finland as the losers who left and could not make it.

Robert Saasto gave an overall presentation of the Finnish communities in Harlem and in Finntown Sunset Park Brooklyn New York.

He personalized the history of these Finns by using his grandparents, all of whom came in the early 1900s, as examples. His grandfather on his father’s side, Onni Saastamoinen from Pihtipudas, came because he was the youngest of 5, and therefor unlikely to receive the family farm because the custom then was that the eldest got the farm, and the others had to fend for themselves. He settled in Cleveland and ran a chicken farm with his wife he met in Cleveland, Jennie Pulkkinen, who left Riitosaari, an island south of Savonlinna, when she 19 years old. She worked as a cook in a rich person’s home. Onni became a speaker for the IWW, the International Workers of the World. The Finns were educated and refused to submit to the harsh conditions in the logging camps and mines. They organized and led strikes. Jennie insisted on making her own way, divorced, and moved to Harlem to open a restaurant. She would later open a bar in the 1940s in Brooklyn by the piers and cater to the Scandinavian seamen. She made all the money in the family, sending her grandchildren to private schools to ensure a good education, and become successful.

Robert Saasto’s grandfather on his mother’s side, Walter Aunio from Isokyro, came with his wife Hilda Latvala from Lappajarvi, with their 4 year daughter Irene Aunio, and settled in Finntown Sunset Park area in Brooklyn New York. Walter worked as a carpenter and as the bartender at the Finnish Imatra Hall. Hilda was the cook.

The event was a perfect opportunity for the Finnish political delegates and Finnish American community, business and financial groups to meet and greet the new Consul General from Finland to New York in an informal and festive gathering.

Robert Alan Saasto, Esq.
President Finnish American Lawyers Association FALA








The History of Finnish Americans in the USA
Presented to Political Party Delegates from Finland

Amerikan Uutiset (English) PDF