A wave of immigrants came to California starting in 1849. The lure of the gold discovery drew many people to this shore and Swedes was no exception. The Swedish population in California was only 162 in 1850, but rapidly rose to 1,405 by 1860.
Getting there was not an easy trip. There was no transcontinental railroad until 1869. The trip by sailing vessel from Sweden and from New York had to go around Cape Horn, South America and then north to San Francisco—a trip of four to six months.
Carl Wilhelm Lübeck, a Swede from Göteborg, arrived in California in 1850. He had a hardware store, and lots of Swedes, Norwegians and Danes would stop in during the lunch hour for a chance to speak their native tongues. Lübeck placed an ad in a local paper to announce a meeting for all Scandinavians on February 28, 1859. Fifty people showed up, delighted for the chance to form an organization, the Scandinavian Society.
At this first meeting they elected George C. Johnson as the president of their group. He was the Consul General of Sweden in San Francisco and generously gave $500 to get them off to a good start. The charter members, all men, included 46 Swedes, 19 Norwegians, 12 Danes and one Swedish-speaking Finn. They rented a hall and maintained a library with books and magazines from their homelands in all three languages. They also provided financial assistance to members, especially in times of need, illness or bereavement.
The minutes of the meetings were kept in Swedish, though all three languages were spoken. Members seemed to take pride in using words from the other languages in a spirit of camaraderie. Whenever a ship arrived from Scandinavia, the captains offered the ship for picnic excursions around the Bay to Marin County, Alcatraz and Angel Island.
The picture of Swede’s Hill in Golden Gate Park shows how formal their gatherings were, with ladies in long white dresses and children sporting hats.

First theatrical production
The group put on the first theatrical production in Swedish in San Francisco in 1863. Noah Sykes was the superintendant of their building and seemed to be in charge of scheduling the events. They had an annual Christmas party for the children, celebrated Valborgmässoafton and put on a Midsummer program annually, starting in 1873.
August Wetterman was a very important member of the society. He had served in the Swedish army before immigrating and was a member of their band. After a brief try at the gold fields, Wetterman soon returned to a music career and formed the Jenny Lind Band. He eventually became the musical director of Woodward’s Gardens.
The Scandinavian Society bought land at the local cemetery, to provide space for members. They entertained visiting dignitaries with children dressed in flag costumes, and they serenaded such famous personages as opera stars Christina Nilsson and Enrico Caruso. Hugo Nisbeth, a newsman from Sweden, reported during an 1874 visit that the society had 400 members and a bountiful treasury. Soon they formed a ladies auxiliary and created a relief society. They built a home for the elderly in 1878 and received a generous donation from Mrs. Charles Crocker (Crocker was the builder of the transcontinental railroad). A new structure was soon built and named in her honor. It survived the 1906 earthquake and fire, and Wetterman and his wife Edela remained at this facility until their deaths.
In March 1909, the Scandinavian Society held a large banquet to celebrate its 50th anniversary. The main speaker was Swedish Consul General Knud Henry Lund. He praised the organization for all its work to help its members in trouble. Wetterman was quite disappointed that nothing was said about all the other admirable activities, so he wrote in great detail an account of its achievements of the previous 50 years. He had a prodigious memory and listed names, places, times and numerous anecdotes of life in San Francisco.
The Scandinavian Society was a social force to bring the Scandinavian people together and retain their cultural heritage in their new homeland. This precious document is now a typewritten account of early California and is held at the State of California Sacramento Library. If you want to be remembered, leaving a paper trail is very important.
I am a devoted fan of Mr. Wetterman and others from early Swedish organizations who provided a written record of their achievements and activities.
By Muriel Nelson Beroza


Carl Wilhelm Lübeck
Swede’s Hill
Noach Sykes
May Day Festival 1873
August Wetterman