Frederick Christensen Madsen Oral History Interview, 1982  PDF

Overview of the Collection

Madsen, Frederik Christensen
1982 (inclusive)
2 file folders
2 sound cassettes
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Frederik Christensen Madsen, a Danish 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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Biographical NoteReturn to Top

Fred Madsen was born on November 9, 1904 in Brainerd, Minnesota to Peter Christensen Madsen and Agnes Wendelbo Nielsen Madsen. Both of Fred's parents were born in Denmark, and his father owned a dairy and milk route in Brainerd. When Fred's father had earned enough money to return to Denmark to buy a home in 1912, he moved the family to a little place near the town of Hygum. At this time, there were five children in the family, including Fred, and they attended private school for their first three months in Denmark in order to become better acquainted with the Danish language. Fred's youngest sister, Marie, was born in Denmark. Fred's mother never liked living in Denmark, however, and during WWI, the family bought tickets back to America. Fred and his father returned first in 1922 to see how times were in America. Fred wanted to stay in Denmark, where he had become involved with Danish folk high -schools, but if he would have stayed for a half a year longer, he would have had to register for the Danish draft, and his father did not want that to happen. Fred and his father went to Chicago first, where Fred's aunt and uncle lived. There, Fred quickly became employed on the John Deere estate. After one year, the rest of the family moved to America, and Fred's father bought a farm in New York. Fred then quit his job and moved to New York to live with his family. He worked on the farm, at a creamery, and for the highway department, but in the winter, he, his brother, and a friend went to a folk high school in Nysted, Nebraska. The school was closely related to the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church, and they did a lot of singing, listened to Danish and American lectures, and studied the American language. Fred also attended folk schools in Tyler, MN and Solvang, CA. In Solvang, he met his wife, Esther Larsen, and was married in 1938. At this time, Fred had been gold mining for a couple of years, and had bought a bulldozer and land in Nevada. He continued to gold mine until WWII, and then moved to western Washington. In Washington, Fred and Esther became the caretakers of Lutherland for several years, helped different church groups get their camps set up, and then Fred began a heavy equipment business called F.C. Madsen and Son. He and Esther have two sons, Peter and Dana. Peter has a degree in chemistry, and Dana, being interested in his father's equipment, earned a degree in engineering and business administration. Fred has returned to Denmark in 1972 and 1980 and is very proud of his Danish heritage. He still attends folk meetings and is a member of the Danish Brotherhood, the Danish American Heritage Society, the Nordic Heritage Museum, the Rebild National Park Society, and Harmonien and serves on the board of directors of the Northwest Danish Home in Seattle.


Full Name: Frederik Christensen Madsen. Father: Peter Christensen. Madsen Mother: Agnes Wendelbo Nielsen Madsen. Paternal Grandfather: Steffen Madsen. Paternal Grandmother: Thomasine Kristine Grønborg Madsen. Maternal Grandfather: Niels Christian Nielsen. Maternal Grandmother: Katherine Marie Wilhelmine Wendelbo Nielsen. Brothers and Sisters: Christine Wilhelmine Madsen, Harold Christensen Madsen, Alfred Marius Madsen, Marie Katherine Madsen, Clarence Joachim Madsen. Spouse: Esther Larsen Madsen. Children: Peter Frederik Sleiborg Madsen, Mark Christian Sleiborg Madsen, Alfred Dana Sleiborg Madsen.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Fred Madsen on October 21, 1982 in Enumclaw, Washington. It provides information on family background, emigration to Denmark, Danish folk schools, return to America, occupations, marriage and family, community involvement, and Danish heritage. The interview also includes a letter from Fred, explaining the various organizations he is a part of. The interview was conducted in English.

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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
196, side 1 025: PERSONAL BACKGROUND
Full name: Frederik Christensen Madsen. Born November 9, 1904 in Brainerd, Minnesota.
196, side 1 044: PARENTS
Father - Peter Christensen Madsen. Mother - Agnes Wendelbo Nielsen Madsen. His father had his own dairy and milk route in Brainerd, Minnesota. He was the first one in the area to use bottles. He was born in Denmark and had to start working for a farmer before he was confirmed. He was born in a house northwest of the town of Vejle, Denmark. He came to America about 1890. His mother was born between Vejle and Horsens Arhus, Denmark.
196, side 1 185: GRANDPARENTS
Maternal grandfather was a weaver. Paternal grandmother passed away while they were in Denmark. Paternal grandfather worked with a type of lathe. He died of cancer.
196, side 1 255: RETURN TO DENMARK
His father sold his dairy business because he had enough money and wanted to go back to Denmark and buy a place. This was his intention from the beginning. His father met his mother in Canada. She had come over to a brother when she was 14 so that there would be one less mouth to feed in her home in Denmark. They returned in 1912 to a little place north of Vejle near the town of Hygum, Denmark.
His mother never did like it in Denmark and wanted to get back to America. They sold the place and bought tickets to get back to America. This was during the war. (See counter I-438).
He knew Danish when he was a child but when he had gone to school in Brainerd, Minnesota he had learned English and they switched to using English in the home to help them. He had forgotten his Danish. They went to a private school where the teacher could speak English for the first three months and then to the regular school.
196, side 1 390: DENMARK
They were in southeastern part of Jutland. It was good fertile land. The land used to belong to an estate and there were estates on either side.
196, side 1 438: RETURN TO AMERICA
They were almost ready to go when all the kids got put into the hospital with Diphtheria. His little sister died.
196, side 1 490: WWI
They couldn't get coal in Denmark so his father bought a peat bog. They dug peat, which was then dried and used instead of coal. His father had a contract with a weaving factory. He hired some to work for him.
196, side 1 517: DIPHTHERIA
His sister caught it from a girl at school. Their home was quarantined. They were taken to the hospital.
196, side 1 550: LIFE IN DENMARK
They had a lot of fun playing with their cousins. They had a lot of chores, milking, picking stones, and other things. They ate pumpernickel bread, and white bread was special. His mother made pancakes and buttermilk soup.
196, side 1 620: CHRISTMAS IN DENMARK
His parents decorated the tree in the parlor. After supper, they sang and danced around the tree and then opened their presents. This was on Christmas Eve.
It was very important. After you were confirmed you got long pants and a suit and the girls got special dresses. Afterwards there was a big feast at the house with all relatives. He was confirmed in Jelling in the church under which the bones of the first king and queen of Denmark are buried.
196, side 1 685: MADSEN NAME
Mads is a man's name and the sen stands for son. It has remained the same.
196, side 1 707: RETURN TO THE U.S.
He would have liked to have stayed in Denmark but his father and mother decided to return to the US. They weren't sure how times were in the US so Fred and his father came to the US first in 1922.
196, side 1 720: WORK
Fred had worked for farmers for two winters.
196, side 1 730: FOLK HIGH SCHOOLS
They were 'schools for life.' There were no grades. The people he worked for used the customs that they had learned in this school. Every morning, before work, they sang. They also sang in the evening and after that the owner would read to them. Since Germany had taken part of Denmark away they had to do something internally to make up for the loss and this is what they did. Grundtvig and another man were the instigators of these schools. There were four Danish American folk high schools in the US and Fred attended three of them. He felt that this led to a good life and he wanted to stay in Denmark and be like the people he worked for.
His father wouldn't let him stay because if he stayed a half a year longer he would have to register for the Danish draft even though he was a US citizen. He would have a year in training then.
196, side 1 810: TRAVEL TO U.S.
This was to be a permanent move. They came over on the Scandinavian American Line's ship Frederick VIII. It sailed from Copenhagen to New York with one stop in Oslo, Norway. Form New York, they went to Chicago where they were met by Fred's aunt and uncle.
196, side 1 842: WORK
He went to the Scandinavian American Employment Agency and got a job right away. People knew that Danes were good workers. He was working on the estate of the millionaire (John) Deere who is connected with farm machinery by the same name.
196, side 1 855: LANGUAGE
He could speak enough English to get along. He brushed up by reading Jack London's "The Call of the Wild."
It was different and he longed for Denmark to begin with.
196, side 1 885: WORK
In Denmark it was an honor to be able to keep up with the #1 man on the farm. You strove to work hard to keep up with him.
196, side 1 900: LAKE VILLA, ILLINOIS
There weren't many Scandinavians in the area. Once a month he got a day off to go to Chicago and visit his uncle.
196, side 1 919: FATHER'S WORK
He was working at Boeman's (?) Dairy where he took care of the horses in the barn. He did that for a year and then he sent for the rest of the family to come over. When they came, he bought a farm in New York where there were quite a few Danes.
196, side 1 945: PREJUDICES
Didn't feel any.
196, side 1 955:
Soon after the family came over, Fred quit his job so that he could be with the family. He worked on the farm some, at the cemetery, and for the highway department.
There was one in Tyler, Minnesota and one in Nysted (?), Nebraska. Fred, his brother, and another boy went and spent the winter in Nebraska at that Folk High School. This was a Danish community. These schools were closely linked to the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church or the Dansk Kirke I Amerika. At school they did a lot of singing. They all lived at the school. They listened to Danish and American lectures. They also studied American language. They were mostly young people. They were there for three months.
196, side 1 1020: WORK
Got a job as a taxi driver in Chicago, Illinois for about a half a year, but he didn't like it.
196, side 1 1027: TYLER, MINNESOTA
All of the four brothers went to the folk high school there. Their father had said that their mother could help with the milking. He wanted all four boys to go. They don't have the school anymore but there is a Danish folk meeting every fall that they go to.
196, side 1 1045: FARM WORK
They were paid by the month. He thinks that he was making about $185-200 per month. They worked about 10 hours a day. He would milk cows and drive the team to do the harrowing, plowing, and seeding. He would also cut wood. In Denmark, the farms were smaller and every bit of land was utilized and in America things were bigger and it wasn't such a science to be able to be a farmer. In Denmark they went to school to learn to be good farmers. There were many farm cooperatives in Denmark while in New York, big companies would try to break up the American cooperatives they tried to farm.
196, side 1 1105: COOPERATIVES
There were in Delaware county in New York. This was dairy farm community and there were three creameries.
196, side 2 025: COOPERATIVE
There was a cooperative creamery and two other creameries. The other creameries raised the price they were paying for milk until the cooperative was out of business and then they lowered it again. In a cooperative the farmers have more control. There's no middle man.
196, side 2 170: NEW YORK
Worked for the creamery and the highway department. He was interested in machinery and wanted to be a bulldozer operator.
196, side 2 190: SOLVANG, CALIFORNIA
Came here after he had been in the Folk High School. This was during the depression. This was a Danish town. There was a Danish folk high school and church there. He had a lot of fun in this town. They would play for folk dances. Fred played the accordion, his brother played the violin, and their friend played the piano. He taught himself to play.
196, side 2 268: MEETING SPOUSE
They met in Solvang. Many farm girls from the Midwest came to Santa Barbara to work as maids or cooks then they would come up to Solvang for the monthly young people's society meeting. They would have lecturers and folk dancing afterward.
196, side 2 295: WORK IN SOLVANG
He got a job on highway construction and he got to run a bulldozer.
196, side 2 310: GOLD MINING
He went with some friends to Nevada. There were a lot of snow. They found animals trapped in the snow and dead. They packed their things up on horses and made camp. There were some buildings there, but he used his tent. He learned how to wash gold. He worked with a man who used to be a trapper.
196, side 2 434:
While working north of Chicago, Fred was a teamster on a construction job. He drove the team with a dump wagon. This was before they had bulldozers. They built a cemetery and a golf course.
196, side 2 450: GOLD MINING
The gold was mostly on bedrock. They sold the gold to the US Mint in San Francisco. They made good wages at it.
196, side 2 480: GOLD MINING (2ND PLACE)
A Dane, Knud Nielsen (?) had leased some gold bearing property to some men who didn't know what they were doing. He wanted him to go down there with him and take possession of the land. In Nevada, in those days, possession was 90 points of the law. The other prospectors didn't want to leave and put up a fight, punches were thrown, rifles were drawn, and the sheriff settled it. Knud sold this land to Fred. This was about 1935-37. He bought himself a bulldozer and paid for it out of the upper soil. In the winter when it got too wet to dry wash he was down to the bedrock and he made out real well on that. Every winter he would go to Solvang, California.
196, side 2 648: WIFE
Esther Larsen (?). She is of Danish descent. (See counter II-268). She had three other sisters working in Santa Barbara, California. She lived with him in the tent in Nevada for a while after they were married. They were married in Viborg, South Dakota in 1938. Viborg was a Danish town. His parents came from New York to the wedding.
196, side 2 715: HONEYMOON
Went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota and bought a Chrysler Coupe which was used. They drove to New York and down through the southern states and back up to Nevada.
196, side 2 723: NEWLYWEDS
When they got to Nevada, the bed that he had ordered from Sears and Roebuck hadn't come so they made a mattress out of sage brush which they slept on for a few nights. They were living in his tent. They had to carry their water. They slept outside that summer. The first winter they slept in a shack which was down the mountain a ways. The next summer they had a cabin built.
196, side 2 772: GOLD NUGGET
He was cleaning bedrock when he found a big nugget. They took it to the post office in town. Soon there was a crowd about. It was the biggest nugget found in that mining town. It weighed 19oz. By gold value it was worth $550 and he sold it for about $1000 as a specialty item.
196, side 2 810: WWII
The administration didn't want gold. They wanted copper and lead for the war movement. He couldn't get supplies for his mining so he quit. He had had one man working with him. He had a brother living in Renton, Washington. He said that there was a shortage of bulldozers up here so he loaded his bulldozer and took off for Washington.
196, side 2 835: LUTHERLAND
They couldn't find a place to live. They went to the Danish Church and Pastor Sorenson who was on the board directors at Lutherland told them that they needed caretakers at the camp. They were the caretakers there for a couple of years. It was between Auburn and Federal Way and near Lake Kalarny (?). They would help the different church groups get their camps set up.
196, side 2 870: BULLDOZING
He liked equipment and wanted to be good at it. He did turn out to be a successful contractor. When he sold out in 1975 he had all kinds of equipment. He started a heavy equipment business called F.C. Madsen & Son.
196, side 2 890: FAMILY
They have two boys. The oldest, Pete went to college and got a degree in Chemistry last year. He is now a chemist at Bremerton Navy Yard. The youngest son was very interested in the equipment. He went to Pullman and got a degree in engineering and business administration. He has a good job in Fairbanks, Alaska with an earth moving contracting firm. This is Dana Sleiborg Madsen. They have three grandchildren.
Pete was at the Grandview College in Des Moines, Iowa and that is a Danish Church School and Seminary. Dana's wife is interested in anything Danish.
196, side 2 985: FOLK MEETING
It is like a week at the folk high school. They do singing, listen to lectures, folk dancing, and learn to realize what is worthwhile in life. The folk meetings take place in Menucha, Oregon which is 20 miles east of Portland and in Tyler, Minnesota. The one in Tyler is only four days but he wouldn't miss it. Some of the lectures are in Danish and most of the songs are in Danish.
196, side 2 1050: SPOKEN DANISH
He reads from the Danish American paper he gets from Osco, Minnesota (?). It is a short poem in official Danish. Then he gives a short summary of this interview in his own dialect which is Jysk.
196, side 2 1120: VISITS TO DENMARK
When he spoke Danish it was in a dialect that they hadn't heard for years. They were there in 1972. They were also there two years ago. When they were in Denmark for 3-4 weeks everyday was a banquet. They also went on a tour of Europe. His wife and her sister were also on the trip.
197, side 1 010: DANISH FOOD
They were invited to all their relatives. Everything tastes good.
197, side 1 042: DANISH WEDDING
They have a big "blow out." There is a fancy dinner, they rent a hotel, usually someone has composed a song, they sing and afterwards there is singing and dancing. They always have a Danish Beer and Akvavit with the Danish open faced sandwiches (Smørrebrød).
197, side 1 128: SECOND TRIP
(1980) They were treated the same.
197, side 1 144: 1972 TRIP
Everything was different from when he was there. Everything was mechanized and very few people used horse for farm work. They used horses for everything when he was working on the Danish farms.
197, side 1 183: DANISH PEOPLE
They are a happy people. They are much more mature in their feelings on how the world should be. They are concerned for the third world countries. It all goes back to what the Danes learned in their folk high schools.
197, side 1 275: BOOKS
He has a song book for the Danish people in America. It has some English songs in the back too. One of his favorites was written by Grundtvig. This year is about 100 years since Grundtvig died.
197, side 1 375: CHURCH LIFE
He has usually been on the church council. This is for the Lutheran church. They were caretakers at Lutherland too. He feels that the folk schools also prepared him for life in the church. They were church affiliated.
197, side 1 415: ORGANIZATIONS
Helped to start a community club down by Lake Kalarny (?). He also served as water commission and fire commissioner. He was active and interested in the community he was living in.
197, side 1 438: DANISH BROTHERHOOD
It is a different group than the folk high school group. He belongs.
197, side 1 463: HE DESCRIBES HIS LIFE
It has been very satisfactory. He is happy that he has been able to contribute a little to the world. He has been active lately in the Peace Initiatives.
197, side 1 490: NUCLEAR FREEZE GROUP
He will be a member of one which is starting in Enumclaw. He attends all the groups that work for peace. "It is insanity, really, the way America is doing now." Europeans in general are not very happy with American politics.
Just the singing part of his Danish heritage means a lot to him. They cover everything in life. It has helped him to learn to be aware of the whole world and not just the country he is living in. He thinks that because he is a Dane and has gone to folk schools, he is a better American for it.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

  • Subject Terms :
  • Christmas
  • Confirmation
  • Danish-Americans--Interviews
  • Danish-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Social life and customs
  • Denmark -- Social conditions -- 1945-
  • Education
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Folk high schools -- Denmark
  • Peace movements
  • Rebild Nationalpark
  • World War, 1914-1918
  • Personal Names :
  • Grønborg Madsen, Thomasine Kristine
  • Larsen Madsen, Esther
  • Madsen, Mark Christian Sleiborg
  • Madsen, Frederik Christensen--Interviews (creator)
  • Wendelbo Nielsen Madsen, Agnes
  • Madsen, Alfred Dana Sleiborg
  • Madsen, Peter Christensen
  • Madsen, Peter Frederik Sleiborg
  • Madsen, Steffen
  • Nielsen, Niels Christian
  • Corporate Names :
  • Danish Brotherhood in America. Lodge 29 (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
  • Danish-American Heritage Society (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Frederick VIII (Steamship)
  • Harmonien (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Nordic Heritage Museum
  • Family Names :
  • Grønborg family
  • Larsen family
  • Madsen family
  • Nielsen family
  • Wendelbo family
  • Geographical Names :
  • Brainerd (Minn.)
  • Enumclaw (Wash.)
  • Hygum (Denmark)
  • Nysted (Neb.)
  • Solvang (Calif.)
  • Tyler (Minn.)
  • Vejle (Denmark)
  • Form or Genre Terms :
  • Oral histories
  • Occupations :
  • Contractors
  • Farmers
  • Miners