Vínland (Minneota, Minn.) 1902-1908 Browse the title

Thought to be the only Icelandic-language newspaper published in the United States, the monthly Vínland from Minneota, in southwestern Minnesota was first published by G. B. (Gunnar) Björnson in March 1902 and ceased publication in February 1908. The title Vínland references the name given to North America by Icelander Leif Erikson during the Vikings’ explorations. Vínland was an eight-page newspaper written for Icelanders in the United States, offering local, national, and international news and news from Iceland. It also had a literary focus, providing reviews of Icelandic books and retaining the strong tradition of Icelandic reading and writing. Some issues featured portraits and brief information on notable Minneota residents. There was also a section of advertisements in many issues. The initial issue of Vínland recognized the strong connection to the native Iceland as it speaks of “Vestur-Íslendinga” (Western Icelanders) – a term for the Icelandic immigrants in North America.

Born in Iceland on August 17, 1872, G. B. Björnson had immigrated with his mother to the United States in 1877, where he lived on farms in Lyon County and later moved into the town of Minneota. He was well respected in the community, holding a variety of jobs in addition to serving as postmaster and as a newspaper editor and publisher, and eventually serving in as a Minnesota state representative from Lyon County in 1913. Björnson published Vínland as well as an English-language newspaper, The Minneota Mascot and an Icelandic-language periodical Kennarinn (“The Teacher”) used in Icelandic Lutheran Sunday schools. As an editor, Björnson was recognized for his editorials and views on politics, economics, and social issues of the day. He published Vínland until some point between January and April 1904 when the publisher changed to the Vínland Publishing Company, with B. B. (Björn B.) Jónsson as manager and Th. (Theodore) Thordarson as editor.

Economic hardships in agriculture and the fishing industry, frustrations with Denmark’s political hold on Iceland, and an eruption of the volcano Askja in 1875 led to the initial waves of Icelandic immigration to North America in the 1870s and 1880s. In the United States, early settlements were made in Wisconsin and later into Minnesota and North Dakota. Canada was also a primary destination for Icelanders who settled in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and an area known as “New Iceland” around Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. In Minnesota, the first wave of Icelandic settlers from Wisconsin came to southwestern Minnesota in 1875, initially in Lyon County and then into Lincoln and Yellow Medicine counties. Later immigrants came directly from Iceland and joined the existing settlements. Roseau County in Minnesota also saw some Icelandic immigration, but many of those settlers moved to Canada. Minneapolis and St. Paul also had Icelandic settlers and attracted later generations of immigrant families.

Icelandic immigration to Minnesota continued to grow into the 1890s, after which it began to decline, in part as conditions improved in Iceland. Icelandic immigrants in Minnesota were active members of the towns of Minneota and Marshall and smaller townships in Lyon, Lincoln, and Yellow Medicine counties. They had strong religious and social connections through the Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran church. The Icelandic language was used by first- and second-generation immigrants and was the language of their Icelandic Evangelical Lutheran church, but as time went on, the use of Icelandic declined, as shown by the first English-language service at St. Paul’s church in Minneota in 1912. Vínland itself ceased in 1908 after six years of publication, it is said because there was no one to take over as editor.