John Johanneson Johnson Oral History Interview, 1981  PDF  XML

Overview of the Collection

Johnson, John Johanneson
John Johanneson Johnson Oral History Interview
1981 (inclusive)
2 file folders
2 sound cassettes
Collection Number
An oral history interview with John Johanneson Johnson, a Norwegian 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
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

John Johnson was born in Bergen, Norway on June 13, 1901, and his parents were Johan Johanneson Tøsse and Helena Johanneson; his mother's married name was the same as her maiden name. John had six brothers and two sisters. As a child, he lived in Bergen and went to school from age 7 to 14; he finished school and was confirmed in Norway. After school, he worked in a bakery delivering bread, as a gardener, and for one of the biggest tanneries in Norway. He also fulfilled his compulsory military service in the army. He left Norway aboard the "Bergensfjord" on July 22, 1923 and took the train from New York straight to Tacoma, where a cousin met him.

He changed his name from Johanneson to Johnson after arriving in the U.S. John worked at a lumber company in Tacoma digging ditches for a number of years and on the green chain at a sawmill for a while as well. He met his wife, Gudrun Blutcher, at a mixed choir of the Sons and Daughters of Norway, and they married on June 29, 1929 in a Lutheran church on 38th Avenue in Tacoma. Gudrun had come to the U.S. with her family in 1920, and her grandfather was German. They had two sons, Norman and Clarence. Norman, the older son, belonged to the Marines and was killed in the Korean War shortly after he arrived; he was 19 years old. Clarence is married and has four children; he has been a teacher and counselor and now works as a building contractor. John is active in Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Tacoma and has taken trips back to Norway in 1953 and 1968. He received his citizenship in 1937. He is a life member of Sons of Norway, joining in 1924 and again in 1943, and sang in the Norwegian Male Chorus for 54 years. He had a stroke during Thanksgiving 1979, and his wife died of cancer.


Full Name: John Johannesen Johnson. Father: Johan Johanneson. Tøsse Mother: Helena Johanneson. Brothers and Sisters: Six brothers and two sisters, Jenny Larsen. Spouse: Gudrun Blutcher. Children: Norman Johnson, Clarence Johnson.

Content DescriptionReturn to Top

The interview was conducted with John Johnson on September 30, 1981 in Tacoma, Washington. Mr. Johnson was recovering from a stroke at the time of the interview. Also his wife had died in June 1981 so it was difficult for him to remain composed. This interview contains information on family history, childhood, school, Christmas traditions in Norway, emigration, military service, church in the U.S. and Norway, confirmation, voyage to America, Ellis Island, train trip to Tacoma, work in the U.S., life in Tacoma, learning English and language difficulties, citizenship, changes in Bergen (Norway), marriage, children and grandchildren, involvement in Scandinavian organizations, trips to Norway, his stroke, and wife's cancer and death. On the tape there is a bit of wandering, as Mr. Johnson goes from topic to topic. 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

Processing Note

The interview was conducted by Nygaard Carr 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 NorthwestTacoma, WashingtonUniversity of Washington Press1993

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
: Discussion about his name. He was born in Bergen, Norway on June 13, 1901.
94, side 1 016: PARENTS
Father was Johan Johanneson Tøsse. Tøsse is the name of the place his father came from.
94, side 1 020:
Changed his name to Johnson when he came to the U.S. because people called him Johnson.
94, side 1 025: MOTHER
Helen Johanneson. Her maiden name was the same as her married name.
94, side 1 030: PARENT'S WORK
His father was a machinist in the shipyard. His mother was a housewife.
94, side 1 032: BROTHERS AND SISTERS
Six brothers and two sisters. One died when John was two years old. He describes what his brothers did. They all stayed in Norway and lived in Bergen.
94, side 1 058:
One brother was a chief engineer on boats for the Norwegian government during the war.
94, side 1 061: CHILDHOOD
: Lived in Bergen. Had a nice home. Good parents.
94, side 1 070: SCHOOL
: Had seven years of school. After school he worked in a bakery delivering bread. Worked as a gardener and learned this as his trade.
94, side 1 088: CHRISTMAS
Ate lutefisk. Good Christmas. Didn't go to church on Christmas Eve because it was too far away. Had trees and presents.
94, side 1 110: CHRISTMAS
Had lots of entertainment. Went visiting friends.
94, side 1 112: FAMILY HOME
Lots of room for all the children. Father owned two houses. Used the attic when the house was crowded.
94, side 1 138: JULENISSEN
In a way they believed in it. Doesn't believe in trolls. Doesn't know where all these stories came from.
94, side 1 148: LEIF ERIKSON
Never heard of him until he came to the U.S.
94, side 1 157: SCHOOL
Finished school in Norway. Was confirmed. Started school when 7 and quite when 14.
94, side 1 164: WORK
: Had to make some money for himself so he went to work. He did errand work and gardening. Made good money gardening in Norway.
94, side 1 174: REASONS FOR COMING TO THE U.S.
Was 22 years old."Greener grass on the other side of the fence."
94, side 1 183: PARENTS'S RESPONSE
They thought it was all right. He was old enough to do what he wanted. He left July 22, 1923 on the Bergensfjord.
94, side 1 187: BOAT TRIP
: 9-10 days. Cost over $1000 (he thinks). Borrowed money from a cousin in Norway.
94, side 1 197:
John was planning to become a seaman, but decided that it wasn't the life for him. A dirty life, didn't like it.
94, side 1 209: WORK
Worked for a tannery in Norway, which was one of the biggest, named Danielson. A dirty job, wet, couldn't wear shoes. Wore wooden shoes.
94, side 1 218: ARMY
For 72 days, was a recruit for 24 days. Had to go every year. Military was compulsory.
94, side 1 229:
This was when John went to sea. Dumbest thing he ever did. Liked to be in Norway but wanted to see the other side of the ocean.
94, side 1 239: MILITARY
Learned discipline. To behave yourself.
94, side 1 247: CHRISTIANITY
On both sides of the family he learned this. Didn't go to church much because of the distance. He mentions a minister named Jorgenson.
94, side 1 266: CONFIRMED
Had to know your stuff. Talks about confirmation day. Answering question in the front of the church. 200-300 people in the congregation. Monday they paraded around in confirmation clothes.
94, side 1 287: CHILDREN
His only son died in the Korean War when he was 19 years old.
94, side 1 293: BOAT TRIP
No seasickness. Good food on the boat, homemade breads, cookies, and cakes. Had menus to order from. Had a big cake for those with birthdays.
94, side 1 320: BOAT TRIP
Lots of entertainment, dancing. Had a good time on the trip over. Didn't know anybody when he left. Met a guy from Skien, Norway. He worked for a floor company in Tacoma and married a friend of John's wife.
94, side 1 342: ELLIS ISLAND
: Like a bunch of sheep. People stealing things. John had a sack of food stolen. People there took care of you. Asked how much money you had.
94, side 1 354: TRAIN TRAVEL
Took the train straight to Tacoma. Couldn't speak English. Made out on the train because someone could always translate, a Swedish conductor. Took four days from New York to Tacoma. Changed trains in Chicago.
94, side 1 378:
John got off first in Seattle thinking at first that it was Tacoma. His cousin picked him up in Tacoma. Cousin lived on 23rd and K Street.
94, side 1 390: NATIONALITIES
Norwegians, Danes, Swedes, and Russians mostly in the area. Not many blacks.
94, side 1 396: COUSIN
Was married to a Swedish fellow named Johnson Elefson. He worked for the Weyerhaeuser Lumber Company.
94, side 1 404: COUSIN'S FARM
Small raised tomatoes, vegetables and berries. John wasn't a farmer. He didn't like it. He went to the city looking for work.
94, side 1 419: WORK
: Worked at St. Paul Tacoma Lumber Co., digging ditches. Dirty work. Boss was a Norwegian. Worked here quite a few years.
94, side 1 421: HOUSING
Lived in K Street. Rented a room from a Norwegian lady and her daughter. Paid very little, $2 a week.
94, side 1 437: MEALS
Went to Mr. Bakke from Ringerike in Norway. He was an old timer. He had a boarding house on 15th and L. He made very good meals. Mr. Bakke used to be a clerk at McCormicks store down by where Sears is today. During the epidemic Bakke had to stay home and care for those at the boarding house. John paid $6 a week for food.
94, side 1 469: LAY OFFS
Happened once or twice a year when taking inventory. Factories closed down. Quit eating at Bakke's but then returned because meals were all-you-can eat for 35 cents.
94, side 1 489: BAKKE'S
Had to be there by 8:30am on Sunday because Bakke went to church. He cooked Norwegian dinner. Every Saturday he had rømmegrøt. He cooked for 25 people.
94, side 1 512: BAKKE
He bought all his meat on K Street. They kept the meat at the store for him. He didn't have a freezer at the boarding house.
94, side 1 531:
John didn't starve.
Worked with many Norwegians. 1924-1925 worked in shipping, loading lumber onto cars. John didn't understand a fellow he was working with who was an American from Kansas. Learned English from his fellow workers. They worked together for 17 years. John went to Central School for a while at night and learned to write, read, and speak.
94, side 1 569: CITIZENSHIP
1937 he went to Lincoln and studied for this. Had to know 25 questions. Had two witnesses, Hagen, a barber in town. They had to know John for five years. Judge Smith from Seattle gave him his papers. Judge asked 4-6 questions.
94, side 2 002: BERGEN
Used to be known as Bjørgvin years ago when the Germans were there. The Germans built up every building down on the docks.
94, side 2 014: BERGEN
Built by the Germans. Has changed a lot since the war. As a boy, he walked on the Solensgaten (Solensvei), now known as Danmarks Torget.
94, side 2 034:
Childhood home still standing. Have torn down many old houses and built condominiums and apartments. Outside of town in Fyllingsdalen, they have built a lot of block homes.
94, side 2 055:
Discusses problems with rodents. No good sewer system. They tore these houses down because the rodents lived there.
94, side 2 062: TRIPS BACK
In 1953 he took a boat and went to where his wife was from. A textile town called Dale i Brudvik which is now Dale i Kvam.
94, side 2 072: WIFE
Met at a mixed choir of the Sons and Daughters of Norway. Wife came to the U.S. in 1920 with her family. Her name was Gudrun Blutcher. She was a German because her grandfather was German. She had a brother and sister in the states.
94, side 2 087: WIFE
Didn't want to go back to Norway in 1953 with John. She worked for Day's Tailor. She didn't like her work.
94, side 2 114: WIFE'S WORK
Didn't make much. Did piece work on an assembly line making coats. Highest she made was $10 a day. She always did sewing.
94, side 2 120: WEDDING
In 1929, June 29th in Tacoma at the Lutheran church on 35th Avenue. Quite a few people attended. She had quite a dress and he had a blue suit. When he was married he had $3.80 in his pocket. He didn't have any more money than this.
94, side 2 134:
Took a honeymoon later on to the Songefest in Astoria, Oregon.
94, side 2 141: HOUSING
Lived in a rented house for $20 a month when first married. He describes the experience of renting a house. No real owner of the house.
94, side 2 167:
Lived on K Street for a while. Son was born on 36th and L, Norman Johnson. He was in school. Belonged to the Marines. He went to Korea and was killed shortly after his arrival there.
94, side 2 178:
John and his wife received some money when their son died because he had insurance. They went to Norway on this money. Did them a lot of good.
94, side 2 189: BOAT TRIP
They took the boat to Norway. Took nine days. Got seasick because there wasn't enough air. Took the Stavangerfjord.
94, side 2 196: CHILDREN
Clarence Johnson was their second son. He was a schoolteacher for 6-8- years at Wilson High School (Tacoma, Wash.). He was a counselor. Went to the University of Puget Sound and studied education. He was a hard worker.
94, side 2 235: CHILDREN
Clarence also built houses. He's now a building contractor. He's married and has four kids: Norman, Kerry Marie, Matthew, and Andrew. One goes to high school, another to junior high. Kerry is married.
94, side 2 257: GRANDCHILDREN
Norman is in South Africa with the Peace Corps. He went to school for two years in California. He's showing people how to build houses. Isn't much pay, but he enjoys it. He speaks French in South Africa.
94, side 2 307: CHURCH
Active in Bethlehem Lutheran on 38th Street. Children went here too. Was a Norwegian church out in Federal Way.
94, side 2 331: SONS OF NORWAY
Sang in the Norwegian Male Chorus for 54 years. Life member at the Sons of Norway.
94, side 2 340: LANGUAGE
Talks about his English speaking and writing being poor. He didn't take time to go to school. He had to work for his living, couldn't go on welfare.
94, side 2 350:
Talks about a fellow who had difficulty fitting in over here.
94, side 2 382: LANGUAGE
Didn't teach the children Norwegian. One son learned "Hellige Jul" in school from the teacher.
94, side 2 408: TRIP TO NORWAY IN 1968
Changes: people were more independent; have more money, one dollar is worth seven pounds. Good jobs, but little pay.
94, side 2 449: FIRST IMPRESSION
Hard to first break into living in the U.S. when he came in the 1920s.
94, side 2 470: SONS OF NORWAY
Member twice, joined in 1924 and 1943. Sang in the male chorus for many years. Was the librarian in the choir. Can't sing now since his stroke.
94, side 2 505: STROKE
Talks about when he had his stroke, Thanksgiving 1979.
94, side 2 565: WIFE
Wasn't real sick before she died. He talks about her some.
95, side 1 002: WIFE'S ILLNESS
She was taking treatment for it. She had a brain scan. She had cancer. She was at home for a while. John cared for her. She was in Tacoma General two weeks before she died. He goes on in some detail about his wife's death.
95, side 1 041:
They were married for 52 years. "Can't just forget about it."
95, side 1 069: SPOKEN NORWEGIAN
Doesn't speak much anymore. Wife and friends are gone. John speaks a little Norwegian and English.
95, side 1 094:
Norwegian has more or less gone out of him. Proud to be Norwegian.
95, side 1 100:
Norwegian has more or less gone out of him. Proud to be Norwegian.
95, side 1 120: TRIPS
John would like to go to Norway but his stroke has slowed him down.

Names and SubjectsReturn to Top

Subject Terms

  • Ocean travel
  • Christmas
  • Confirmation
  • Education--Norway
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Family--Norway
  • Naturalization
  • Norway--Social conditions--1945-
  • Norwegian-Americans--Ethnic identity
  • Norwegian-Americans--Northwest, Pacific--Interviews
  • Norwegian-Americans--Social life and customs
  • Railroad travel

Personal Names

  • Elefson, Johnson
  • Johanneson, Helena
  • Johnson, Clarence
  • Blutcher, Gudrun
  • Johanneson, John
  • Johnson, Gudrun
  • Johnson, John --Interviews (creator)
  • Larsen, Jenny
  • Tøsse, Johan Johanneson

Corporate Names

  • Bakke's Boarding House (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Bergensfjord (Steamship)
  • Bethlehem Lutheran church (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Ellis Island (N.J. and N.Y.)
  • Normanna Male Chorus (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Norwegian Male Chorus (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • Sons of Norway (U.S.) Norden Lodge No. 2 (Tacoma, Wash.)
  • St. Paul Lumber Co. (Tacoma, Wash.

Family Names

  • Blutcher family
  • Johanneson family
  • Johnson family
  • Tøsse family

Geographical Names

  • Bergen (Norway)
  • Tacoma (Wash.)
  • Tøsse (Norway)

Form or Genre Terms

  • Oral histories


  • Engineers
  • Gardeners
  • Machinists
  • Teachers