Thomas Wilhelm Olsen Breiwick Oral History Interview, 1982

Overview of the Collection

Breiwick, Thomas Wilhelm Olsen
Thomas Wilhelm Olsen Breiwick Oral History Interview
1982 (inclusive)
3 file folders
1 sound cassette
Collection Number
An oral history interview with Thomas Wilhelm Olsen Breiwick, a Norwegian immigrant.
Pacific Lutheran University, Archives and Special Collections
Archives and Special Collections
Pacific Lutheran University
12180 Park Avenue South
Tacoma, Washington
Telephone: 2535357586
Fax: 2535357315
Access Restrictions

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

Thomas Breiwick was born on January 11, 1893 in Breivik, Stokmarknes, Norway to Elling Lorence Olsen, a fisherman and small farmer, and Thea Bergitta Sorensen, a homemaker. There were eleven children in Thomas's family, but the first four died shortly after birth. Thomas's remaining siblings were Sophia, Olga, Emma, Emil, Sigrid, and Thorval. Thomas attended school for seven years and then fished with his father. Feeling that he was lacking in education and opportunities, Thomas decided to emigrate when he was seventeen years old in 1912. He had an aunt and uncle in Tacoma who lent him the money for a ticket. After arriving in Washington, Thomas got a job at a sawmill in Selleck and later did road construction in Tacoma. Thomas's uncle was a mechanic for Northern Pacific Railroad, but when he grew tired of working in the shop, he invited Thomas to start fishing with him. As it turns out, Thomas's uncle did not like it, but Thomas continued fishing for the next thirty-five years. He eventually owned nine boats.

Five years after Thomas emigrated, his girlfriend from Norway, Dagmar Tekle, decided to join him. They were married and had four children: Arnold, Lester, Eleanor, and Ruth. In Tacoma, Thomas was also one of the founders of the Assembly of God Church on Union Street. When the family moved to Seattle, he also served as the deacon at the Assembly of God Church there, as well as being a member of Nordlandslaget. In Seattle, Thomas and his son bought Kolstrand Inc., a fishing supply business that had previously belonged to a friend of Thomas's. The business is still in the family and is now run by Thomas's grandson. Thomas has returned to Norway seven times and continues to keep in touch with his relatives there. He believes in the importance of heritage, and all of his children have been to Norway and can understand the language.


Full Name: Thomas Wilheim Breiwick. Father: Elling Lorence Olsen. Mother: Thea Bergitta Sorensen. Brothers and Sisters: The first four children died at child birth before 1885. Sophia Olsen, Olga Olsen, Emma Olsen, Emil Olsen, Sigrid Olsen, Torvald Olsen. Spouse: Dagmar Tekle Mammies Bohn. Children: Arnold Breiwick, Lester Breiwick, Eleanor Breiwick, Ruth Breiwick.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

This interview was conducted with Thomas Breiwick on September 14, 1982 in Seattle, Washington. It contains information about family background, emigration, work, marriage, church and community activities, and Norwegian heritage. The interview also includes a brief autobiography, a catalog from Kolstrand Supply Company, and an article from the Western Viking concerning Thomas's ninetieth birthday. 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

Custodial History

The Oral History collection project was started during an experimental course on Scandinavian Women in the Pacific Northwest. Students in the course were encouraged to interview women and learn about their experiences as immigrants to the United States. The project was continued and expanded with support from the president's office and by grants from the L.J. Skaggs and Mary C. Skaggs Foundation, from the Joel E. Ferris Foundation and the Norwegian Emigration Fund of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project was directed by Dr. Janet E. Rasmussen. The collection was transferred to the Archives and Special Collections Department.

Acquisition Information

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Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Morrene Nesvig using a cassette recorder. A research copy was also prepared from the original. To further preserve the content of the interview, it is now being transferred to compact disc. We deliberately did not transcribe the entire interview because we want the researchers to listen to the interviewee's own voice. The transcription index highlights important aspects of the interview and the tape counter numbers noted on the Partial Interview Transcription are meant as approximate finding guides and refer to the location of a subject on the cassette/CD. The recording quality is good

The collection was transcribed by Mary Sue Gee, Julie Peterson and Becky Husby.


Rasmussen, Janet Elaine. New Land New Lives: Scandinavian Immigrants to the Pacific Northwest Tacoma, Washington University of Washington Press 1993

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
184, side 1 026: PERSONAL BACKGROUND
Name, Thomas Wilhelm Breiwick. Born January 11, 1893 in Breivik which is in Northern Norway between Bodø and Tromsø. The area was called Stokmarknes. He lived on an island where the only transportation was either to walk or go by boat.
184, side 1 070: PARENTS
Father was Elling Lorence Olsen and his mother was Thea Sorensen. His father was a fisherman and small farmer. His mother was a housewife.
184, side 1 125: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Eleven children, but only seven survived past infancy. Thorval came over to the U.S. in 1923.
184, side 1 180: GRANDPARENTS
He doesn't remember them.
184, side 1 200: NAME
He took the village name. "Breivik" means wide bay. He took the village name because his cousin that came before him took the name Breiwick. His middle name is Wilhelm, is the same as the German Kaiser Wilhelm that used to travel in his boat in their area.
184, side 1 260: SCHOOL
In Norway at that time there wasn't much schooling. They went for twelve weeks a year for seven years and then they were confirmed.
He felt he was lacking in education. He wrote to his aunt and uncle to send him a ticket. He heard about the Titanic sinking when he was on his way to leave Norway. He had heard of Tacoma and he knew as the many other immigrants of this time that it was easier to make it in the U.S. After he left Norway, things changed and young people in Norway got more education.
184, side 1 370: TRIP TO U.S.
Left alone. Stopped to visit his sister in Trondheim, Norway (continues on I-455).
184, side 1 383: WORK IN NORWAY
He was fishing with his father. The earnings went to head of the house.
He needed $100 to go through the screenings process on Ellis Island.
Had no thoughts of going back. Remembers saying goodbye to his mother whom he never saw again.
184, side 1 438: LUGGAGE
Had only one suitcase that a cousin made out of wood.
184, side 1 455: TRIP TO U.S.
Went from Trondheim to Bergen and then to London by ship. From there he crossed the Atlantic. Arrived in Halifax, Canada. He took a train to the west coast of the U.S. and ended up in Tacoma, Washington. The ship was the "Baltic." It was a nice trip. They had entertainment. A girl fell in love with him on the ship, but Thomas had a girl in Norway.
184, side 1 510: SPOUSE
It took her five years to make up her mind to come to America. Her name was Dagmar and she was from the south side of the island.
184, side 1 552: SHIP
There were four people in a room. He wasn't seasick. Most of the people on the ship were from Norway. It took seven days to cross the Atlantic. They landed in New York and then the ship went up to Halifax, Canada and there he got on the train.
184, side 1 600: TRAIN TRAVEL
Traveled across Canada and came into the U.S. at Sumas, Washington. He's not sure why he had to take that route, but they were like "sheep being herded like a shepherd."
184, side 1 615: ELLIS ISLAND
(1912) Had to show your $100.
184, side 1 640: TRAIN TRAVEL
When they were traveling through Winnipeg, Canada, a man from a road crew threw a clump of dirt into Thomas' open window and he got a black eye. That was his welcome to Canada.
184, side 1 665: LANGUAGE
It took a year before he was comfortable with the language. Otherwise there was always someone that could help.
184, side 1 686:
They discuss a picture that was taken of Thomas just before he left Norway. It was taken in Stormarknes, Norway. This was on the island that he was born. The other town on the island is Melbu. The island has a circumference of 36 miles. He was 17 when he came in May of 1912.
184, side 1 705: TACOMA
Uncle met him at the Union depot which was built in 1910. Uncle was a mechanic in the shop for the Northern Pacific RR.
184, side 1 735: SAWMILL WORK
Got a job at the sawmill in Selleck, Washington. He ran some of the big machines. There were many Scandinavians there.
184, side 1 760: ROAD WORK
Got a job wheeling sand and gravel for a section of the road that goes through south Tacoma.
184, side 1 788:
Didn't have time or money for school. He had to pay the $100 he borrowed from his sister back. The bank had taken her bankbook as collateral.
184, side 1 800: WORK
He worked ten-hour days and made $2.25 a day.
184, side 1 816: FISHING
His uncle was tired of working in the shop and wanted Thomas to start fishing with him. Uncle took a leave from work. Uncle didn't like it. Thomas bought a tent so that he would have a place to sleep when fishing in Neah Bay, Washington. He set up his tent on Waadah Island, Washington. He kept fishing for 35 years. He had nine boats over the years. He got bigger boats that he could live on. They made port sometimes in Grays Harbor, Washington, Astoria, Oregon, or Cape Flattery, Washington. There were no restrictions on the fishing season then.
184, side 1 920: SPOUSE
When she came, Abelsen, Thomas' uncle met her at the station and it was a week before she saw Thomas. He had a small home for her in Tacoma. It was in the Norwegian area.
184, side 1 945: CHILDREN
They had four children, two boys and two girls. One girl died when seven after she had an operation. The family now owns Kolstrand, Inc. in Seattle. The boys' names are Arnold and Lester. Thomas' grandson runs the business now.
184, side 1 988: FISHING LIFE
Sometimes the earnings are meager. He tells about fishing off of Tatoosh Island, Washington and catching fish which he thought were worth $1 a piece and only getting 10 cents for them in Neah Bay, Washington. There were times when he got 4 cents a pound and today's fishermen will get $3. He enjoyed fishing when the weather was nice and there were fish biting.
184, side 1 1050:
They lived in Seattle, Washington for 27 years and prior to that in Tacoma.
184, side 1 1060: CHURCH LIFE
He was one of the founders of the Assembly of God Church on Union Street in Tacoma. This was in about 1918. In Norway, there was only the Lutheran Church. This church started out as a Pentecostal church. The original church burned down. When they lived in Seattle they went to the Assembly of God church there. He has been a deacon and active in what went on.
184, side 2 016: KOLSTRAND
Mr. Kolstrand started the company by making trolling gurdies. They were friends and he had stood up for them at their wedding. He was suffering from asthma and decided to sell the business. This was a fishing supply business. Thomas and his son went to run it after they had paid for it in full the day after they got the call. The business was in Seattle and he worked there for 27 years until his son retired him with a pension.
184, side 2 245: VISITS TO NORWAY
Went back for the first time in 1927. They went by ship and visited his sister. He took his wife Dagmar and daughter, Eleanor.
184, side 2 310:
He talks about fishing and eating fresh fish in Norway. They would have it boiled in a soup and have potatoes. In herring season in Norway they salted 2-3 barrels of fish.
184, side 2 368: CONTACT WITH NORWAY
He keeps in touch with his sisters and he has a lot of cousins too.
184, side 2 377: VISITS TO NORWAY
Has made six other trips. They like to go in the summer time. It has been eleven years since they have been to Norway. They returned because they have relatives there. They live higher and are cared for in Norway. They are on the same standard as we are. He says that he heard that Norway is the richest land in the world.
The children have all been there. The children can understand Norwegian. He doesn't use Norwegian anymore.
184, side 2 475: SPOKEN NORWEGIAN
He says a Norwegian table prayer and I Jesu navn.
184, side 2 535: HOLIDAYS IN NORWAY
At Christmas they have at least three days of vacation from work and the same at New Years.
He likes lutefisk and has attended the dinners at Peninsula Lutheran. He tells how to eat it. He likes lefse too.
184, side 2 607: NORDLANDSLAGET
He is a member. This is a group which is supposed to be for people from Northern Norway but they will accept anyone now.
He is satisfied with how things have turned out.
184, side 2 645: JOKE
He tells a joke about a lady who claimed she was injured in a car wreck.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Fishing
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Ocean travel
  • Railroad travel

Personal Names

  • Bohn, Mammies
  • Breiwick, Lester
  • Breiwick, Ruth
  • Breiwick, Thomas--Interviews (creator)
  • Tekle,Dagmar
  • Breiwick, Arnold
  • Breiwick, Eleanor
  • Olsen, Elling Lorence
  • Sorensen, Thea Bergitta

Corporate Names

  • Assemblies of God
  • Baltic (Steamship)
  • Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.)
  • Nordlandslaget Nordlyset (Tacoma, Wash.)

Family Names

  • Bohn family
  • Breiwick family
  • Olsen family
  • Sorensen family
  • Tekle family

Geographical Names

  • Seattle (Wash.)
  • Stokmarknes (Norway)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Sawmill workers