Nels (Nils) Häggström Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Häggström, Nels
1981 (inclusive)
2 file folders
1 sound cassette.
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Nels Häggström, a Swedish immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 253-535-7586
Fax: 253-535-7315
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The oral history collection is open to all users.

Additional Reference Guides

Funding for encoding this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Nels (Nils) Häggström was born on August 31, 1905 in Nyland, Sidensjö, Sweden. Nels had six brothers and sisters and lived with an older sister after their mother died when he was five years old. Three of Nels' brothers moved to the United States to find better jobs, and Nels decided to join them in 1923. He immediately found work in the lumber business. Unfortunately, it was a dangerous job, and Nels had a severe accident that left him unconscious for two days and in the hospital for three months. After the accident, Nels worked at Lyle Plywood in Tacoma. He attained his citizenship after five years. Nels married Violet Larson in 1933, and they had one child named Bernice. Nels can still speak Swedish and likes to preserve the traditions, but he does not want to return to Sweden. Nels was confirmed Lutheran and attends a Lutheran church with his family.


Father: Olof Häggström Mother: Margot Westman. Brothers and Sisters: Marta Häggström, Olof Häggström, Margot Häggström, Jonas Häggström, Johan Häggström, Kristina Häggström. Half-brothers and sisters: Bror Häggström, Valborg Häggström. Spouse: Violet Larson Häggström. Children: Bernice Häggström Woodward

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with Nels Häggström on July 20, 1981 in Tacoma, Washington. This interview contains information on personal background, emigration, employment, and Swedish heritage.

Use of the CollectionReturn to Top

Restrictions on Use

There are no restrictions on use.

Administrative InformationReturn to Top

Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top

The partial interview transcription highlights important aspects of the interview. Numbers may be used as guides to important subjects. Two numbers separated by a slash indicate that the first number is for cassette and the second for CD.

Container(s) Description
71, side 1 038:
NELS HÄGGSTRÖM: Born August 31, 1905 in Nyland, Sidensjö, Sweden. Sidensjö is close to the coast near Ornskoldsvik in Ångermanland.
71, side 1 103:
Central Sweden near coast. Nyland was a farming community. Nels worked only one summer in Nyland. Rest of the time he worked for a farmer, Johan Bystroem, in a community called Skaalevad. Skaalevad was called Nyland, just as Sidensjö was.
71, side 1 141:
WORK: Did farm work. Even shoed horses. 13 when he started working.
71, side 1 154:
CHILDHOOD: Wasn't raised at home. Mother died when he was 5 years old. Lived with older sister.
71, side 1 168
71, side 1 193:
BROTHERS AND SISTERS: Seventeen children. Marta, Olof, Margot, Jonas, Johan, Kristina (still living in Sweden), from father's first marriage. Nels was the youngest of kids from this marriage. Second marriage: Bror.
71, side 1 193:
PARENTS: Mother, Margot Westman. Father, Olof Haggstrom. He had a farm but wasn't very active.
71, side 1 240:
GRANDPARENTS: Never saw them. They were born in the same area Nels grew up in. Nels remembers meeting one of his father's brothers and his mother's sister.
71, side 1 264:
FAMILY NAME: Hägg is Swedish for chokecherry tree. One of these trees was growing near a stream, which is ström in Swedish. Many of these trees grew in the area Nels grew up in.
71, side 1 361:
His brothers came to Tacoma, Washington. Some friends from their area came to Tacoma, Washington too. Nels came in July 1923. Almost 18 years old. Borrowed a total of 1000 Swedish crowns from farmers in the area. Bystroem put out the money.
71, side 1 407:
One the farmers who'd loaned Nels the money died. Byström wrote that he needed at least 100 crowns. Nels sent it. Wages were low in America to. 35 cent per hour. Worked in the logging camp. Had to spend three months in the hospital. Got $300 settlement from the state. Used it to pay off the rest of his debt.
71, side 1 429:
TRIP TO AMERICA: Took the train to Gothenburg (Göteborg) on the west coast of Sweden. Took a small boat from Gothenburg, Sweden to Southampton, England. Took a big ship to America. Got seasick. Bad trip. Mostly young boys and girls on the ship. Left home on July 15, 1923. Got to Tacoma, Washington in August. Entire trip took about 30 days. Trip across the Atlantic was 10 or 11 days. Landed in Halifax, Canada. Met a Norwegian boy who worked on the railroad. Went to Vancouver, B.C. with him. Train wreck on the way. Train tripped over in swampy area.
71, side 1 525:
IMPRESSION OF CANADA: Thought it was beautiful. Saw a lot of Indians. Enjoyed the trip through the mountains.
71, side 1 536:
LANGUAGE: Has never had language problems. Can't get rid of his accent.
71, side 1 550:
Stayed the night in Vancouver with the Norwegian boy. He paid for Nels' breakfast and dinner. Came to Tacoma. Had brother's address. A Norwegian at the station on Pacific Avenue paid his taxi fare to his brother's house. There were a lot of immigrants in the neighborhood. German, Polish, Italian, etc. Over 70% of the workers in the sawmill were immigrants.
71, side 1 595:
No problem getting work. Came on a Sunday. Started work in a sawmill the next day. Starting wage was 40 cent per hour. Stayed at the mill for three months. Worked in the woods because he could make more money.
71, side 1 627:
Worked for Cascade Timber Co, in Alder, Washington. Started out as a "flunkee" in the boarding house. He liked waiting on tables in the dining room but the pay was bad. Asked the foreman if he could make more money doing something else. Loaded huge logs onto railroad cars.
71, side 1 650:
Logs at that time were 7-10 feet in diameter. Big tongs were used to lift the logs on to the railroad car. Nels' job was to put the tongs on the logs. A machine called the duplex would lift the logs. Nels' accident happened on December 14. The man operating the duplex lifted the tongs too soon. They hit Nels in the head. Knocked out. Taken to the hospital in Eatonville, Washington. Unconscious for two days. In hospital for three months. Pail $300 settlement. Injury or death common out in the woods. One or two deaths per month. Left the woods. (See also I-407)
71, side 1 736:
WENT BACK TO TACOMA. Worked at Lyle Plywood. Pretty high up. Got good pay.
71, side 1 750:
LEARNING ENGLISH: Brother told him to speak English.
71, side 1 761:
CITIZENSHIP: Brother took him to the Immigration Office to apply for citizenship. Filled out the first papers. Citizen after five years. Had one Swedish born and one English born witness.
71, side 1 781:
Had both American and Swedish friends while living in Tacoma.
71, side 1 795:
SWEDISH ORGANIZATIONS: Swedish Order of Valhalla and Swedish Order of Vasa. Doesn't go to meetings anymore. Goes to their breakfast once a year with his grandson, Ken.
71, side 1 818:
GETTING HIS FIRST CAR WAS EXCITING. Bought a 1926 Ford Roadster. Had a girlfriend in Olympia. Rented a neighbor's garage for $3.00 per month. Tells about learning to drive. Left at 4:00am to drive to Olympia once. The car cost $350.
71, side 1 886:
Stayed with the plywood company for 37 years. His position was just short of a foreman.
71, side 1 894:
MEETING WIFE: Met at a house-warming party. She was only 13 years old. Her father let him take her home. She was 16 when they started dating.
71, side 1 909:
MARRIED IN 1933: Bought a little house across the street from her parents. This was on 25th and Cushman. A lot of Scandinavian people in the neighborhood. They had a lot of friends who didn't understand Swedish so when Scandinavian friends came to visit, they had to speak English. His wife's name is Violet Larson. Her father was Swedish. Her mother was Norwegian.
71, side 1 935:
CHILDREN: One daughter, Bernice. She has a boy, Kenneth, and a girl, Cathy. Bernice is a secretary for the nursing department at Pacific Lutheran University. Bernice became interested in Sweden when her son Kenneth went. Nels paid for him to go. He visited relatives. Went to school in Uppsala.
71, side 1 978:
SWEDISH TRADITIONS: Big Christmas Eve dinner. Open presents on Christmas Eve. Sing Swedish Christmas songs. Kalvsylta (ground veal), klenäter, spritz.
71, side 1 1007:
CHURCH: Belong to the Assembly of God. Minister from this church married them. Nels was confirmed in the Lutheran church. Bernice, Cathy, and Ken go to Good Shepherd Lutheran.
71, side 1 1018:
PROBLEM GETTING A BIRTH CERTIFICATE: Found name of minister of the church he was confirmed in in Sweden. Wrote back to him and sent $10 for four copies. Got the copies and the $10 back. He had to give copies to Social Security, his union, etc. Sent $10 back to the minister. He gave it to the church.
71, side 1 SIDE II 004:
Talks about a cream bowl made of birch that their grandson brought back.
71, side 1 035:
Still have contact with family in Sweden. Talks about a half-sister, Valborg, who came to visit. She told them what Sweden was like today.
71, side 1 134:
71, side 1 151:
Nels name was spelled "Nils" in Sweden. He shows his Swedish passport.
71, side 1 217:
Sings "Hälsa dem där hemma." This is a Swedish immigrant song.
71, side 1 274:
Nels feels that the United States is his home. He feels his father was wrong to marry a woman 30 years younger than himself when he already had ten children he wasn't able to take care of. He was lazy. He could have given more of himself to his kids.
71, side 1 338:
Nels doesn't want to go back to Sweden. It's hard for both he and his wife to walk. Traveling difficult.
71, side 1 356:
As a boy, he never had time to go fishing or swimming. He was busy working on the farm. He loved it. He loved the horses.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Christmas
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family -- Sweden
  • Naturalization
  • Ocean travel
  • Swedish-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Swedish-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Personal Names :
  • Häggström, Violet Larson
  • Westman, Margot
  • Häggström, Bernice
  • Häggström, Nels (Nils)
  • Häggström, Nels (Nils)--Interviews (creator)
  • Häggström, Olof
  • Woodward, Bernice
  • Corporate Names :
  • Assemblies of God
  • Cascade Timber Company
  • Lyle Plywood Company (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Swedish Order of Valhalla (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Vasa Order of America. Lodge Number 233 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Family Names :
  • Häggström family
  • Westman family
  • Woodward family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Ångermanland (Sweden)
  • Örnsköldsvik (Sweden)
  • Sidensjö (Sweden)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Farmers
  • Loggers
  • Sawmill workers