John Edwin Nelson Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Nelson, John Edwin
1981 (inclusive)
3 file folders
2 photographs
1 sound cassette
2 compact discs.
Collection Number
An oral history interview with John Edwin Nelson, 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

John Edwin Nelson was born Johan Nilsson on July 15, 1893 in Knäred, Halland, Sweden. John began working immediately after completing school and receiving his confirmation at the age of 14. He worked for his cousin and then his uncle tending cattle and gardening. On an impulse, John decided to move to America; he traveled aboard the Hellig Olav, although he had the option of going on the Titanic. John left Sweden on April 4, 1912 and arrived in Tacoma, Washington on April 25. After initially working as a gardener, John found jobs at a fuel company, in a sawmill, and on a streetcar. He attended night school for English, but he struggled to learn the language. Even now, he admits, he occasionally has problems. John moved to Alaska to mine for a short time, but he returned to Tacoma and soon met his wife at a party. They both attained their citizenship and had one daughter. John finally got into the real estate business after working again in a sawmill. John has been a member of First Lutheran Church and has been very active in Scandinavian groups like Vasa and Valhalla, in which he is the longest member (70 years). John played the alto French horn for the Vasa Svea Band and is a member of their male chorus. He values his involvement with these groups a great deal. Occasionally, he and his wife prepare traditional Swedish food, and they can still speak the language. He has returned to Sweden four times to visit family and has been tempted to stay permanently. America slightly disappointed John, but he wanted to stay for the sake of his wife and his daughter.


Full Name: John Edwin Nelson. Original Spelling: Johan Nilsson. Father: Nils Johansson. Mother: Johanna Svensson Johansson. Brothers and Sisters: Hildor Nilsson, Ellen Nilsson, Johan Nilsson, Henning Nilsson, Einar Nilsson. Spouse: Rut Otilla Lindberg. Children: Nancy Nelson Stolz.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with John Nelson on July 1, 1981 in Tacoma, Washington. This interview includes information on personal background, emigration, work, community life, and Swedish heritage. It also contains a photograph of John Nelson in the Svea Band of Valhalla Lodge in Tacoma, Washington and a publicity shot in the Tacoma Armory, which includes John. Also see Ruth Nelson. The interview was conducted in English.

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
67, side 1 009/03: PERSONAL BACKGROUND
Born July 15, 1893 in Knäred, Halland, Sweden which is north of Skåne.
Have to go to work the minute you are confirmed. Hired as a farm boy at age 14. (see counter I-096).
67, side 1 041: PARENTS
Nils Johansson, farmer and Johanna Svensson. Tomatoes are recently new to Sweden. Father worked on the railroad and clearing land at home.
67, side 1 067: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
See attached.
Farmer, lived with them until he died in 1911.
67, side 1 084: NAME
ppreviously Johan Nilsson. Talks about how it changed.
67, side 1 096: AGE 14
Through with school. Took care of the cattle. Worked for a cousin. (see counter I-034). Uncle from Tacoma sent for him, he was a gardener.
67, side 1 150/05: FEELINGS LEAVING SWEDEN
When young you don't think. Went to Helsingborg, Skåne, Sweden and then to Copenhagen, Denmark. Stories of gold in America.
67, side 1 159: BOAT TRIP
Spoke no English. Would have gone on the Titanic. Rough voyage (seasick). Went on Hellig Olav (Scandinavian American Line). Mostly Scandinavians. Went from Copenhagen to Kristiania (Oslo), Norway to Kristiansand, Norway.
67, side 1 217/06: ELLIS ISLAND
Couldn't get lost. Similar to a coat house.
67, side 1 233: TRAIN TRIP
Went to Winnipeg, Canada (cheaper than U.S.). Wondered what kind of country he was getting into. Left Sweden April 4, 1912.
Nearly missed his boat to Seattle.
67, side 1 300/07: BOAT TRIP FROM VANCOUVER
Old tug. Ticket agent took advantage of him.
67, side 1 323: COMING TO SEATTLE
Saw a policeman. Train to Tacoma and getting to his aunt's place. Language difficulties.
67, side 1 396/08: ARRIVED IN TACOMA ON APRIL 25, 1912
Lovely little town, kind of loved it right away.
67, side 1 409: EMPLOYED AS A GARDENER
Cutting grass. Fixing the plants for the rich. Bought out by a fellow employee.
67, side 1 443: DRIVING TEAM
Employed at West End Fuel. Hauled wood. Mr. Rasmussen owned it. Getting wood from Day Island.
67, side 1 457/09: STREET CAR STRIKE
How it affected people. Later drove truck, became ill and got out of the business, his appendix broke.
67, side 1 506: MILL WORK
17 1/2 cents an hour. Tacoma, lumber capital of the world. Employed at Fines Mill and the Swedish Sawmill.
67, side 1 542/10: LEARNING ENGLISH
Went to three different night schools, but still has problems. One was at Stadium High School.
67, side 1 572: CITIZENSHIP
Night school again. Mixed up with another John Nelson. Had to know the judiciary.
67, side 2 006/11: CITIZENSHIP
Asked if he wanted his name changed. Wife received her papers before him.
67, side 2 021: EMPLOYED IN ALASKA
Mining for the Goodrich Rubber Co to make money to return to Sweden. Conditions were bad and he was fired after talking to the boss about it. This was north of Porcupine and Haines, Alaska. All the rest quit too as a result of him being fired.
67, side 2 109/12: BACK TO TACOMA
Met his wife at a party.
Vasa Lodge and Valhalla (lodge with sick benefits). Church, Luther League, hard to get acquainted
67, side 2 136: MILL WORK 1930
Pay cut in half. Friend was blacklisted because he wouldn't go for this. (See counter I-506). Friend had to join the WPA.
67, side 2 160: VASA SVEA BAND
Played the alto french horn. Member of the male chorus. Sang in Seattle for Sangerfest and another time in Everett. Talks about the importance of these groups.
67, side 2 213/13: FOUR TRIPS TO SWEDEN
Family had it good in Sweden. Got money from brothers to travel. Einar, his brother, owned a factory. Called communists when they went on strike here (US)
67, side 2 244: VALHALLA
Longest member (70 years). First Lutheran Church, still a member. Talks about church in Sweden (see counter II-113)
67, side 2 273: CHILDREN
See attached.
67, side 2 281/14: REAL ESTATE BUSINESS
Buys and sells houses. Bought first house for $2,200.
writes to nephew.
Never bothered him.
67, side 2 318:
Found out what America is. Thought it was the perfect land, discovered that it was far from it.
67, side 2 339: SWEDISH TRADITIONS
Special dishes now and then.
67, side 2 349: SPEAKING SWEDISH
Still speaks it. His daughter is able to read it.
67, side 2 362: VISITING SWEDEN
Brought peanut butter with him for the grandchildren.
67, side 2 377/02: SWEDISH WORDS
Didn't pray when you went to bed, you were tired.
67, side 2 401: CLOSING REMARKS
Had a good life. Have a very good daughter. Brothers offered to buy him a lot and give him the timber to build a house in Sweden, but he chose to return to his family in the U.S.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family -- Sweden
  • Naturalization
  • Railroad travel
  • Swedish-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Swedish-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Personal Names :
  • Lindberg, Rut Otilla
  • Nelson, John Edwin --Interviews
  • Svensson, Johanna
  • Johansson, Nils
  • Nilsson, Johan
  • Stolz (Nelson), Nancy
  • Corporate Names :
  • First Lutheran Church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Hellig Olav (Steamship)
  • Luther League of America
  • Sangerfest of Norwegian Singers Association of America
  • Swedish Order of Valhalla (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Vasa Order of America. Lodge Number 233 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Family Names :
  • Johansson family
  • Lindberg family
  • Nelson family
  • Nilsson family
  • Svensson family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Alaska
  • Höganäs (Sweden)
  • Knäred (Sweden)
  • Röfors (Sweden)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Gardeners
  • Miners
  • Sawmill workers