Olson Surname Meaning, History & Origin
always been a popular Scandinavian name, in part due to the fame of
St.Olaf, King of
Norway, who brought Christianity to the country in the 11th century. The Norse root of the name is anleifr
meaning “ancestor and heir.”
resulting surnames have been Olsen in Norway
and Denmark and Olsson in Sweden, meaning the son of Olaf or Ole.
Olsen shipping line. and O.T. Olsen, the promoter of the 730 kilometer
Nordland railway line running down Norway from Trondheim. The spelling
has tended to become Olson in America.
Olson Resources on
The Scandinavian population of
Olssons and Olsens in Sweden, Norway and Denmark is approximately
340,000 today. It is estimated that some 23,000 made the journey
to America, with the peak years of migration being in the late
1800’s. On arrival most anglicized their name to Olson.
Some remained Olsen. The Olson population in America,
including Olsen, is close to 90,000 today.
England and Scotland. The
Olsen name has been found in England and Scotland, although in small
numbers, as a result of the earlier Viking invasions in the 10th and
11th centuries. It has cropped up in NE Scotland, in Caithness
and Sutherland, and in NE England, in Northumberland and Durham.
America. Olsons headed in
the 19th century to the Midwest, primarily to Minnesota, Wisconsin and
made it west, to Utah and California.
There were also Olsons on the East Coast in Maine.
Midwest. One early
arrival was Jonas Olson from Westergötland
in Sweden who came to America in 1861, married, and was homesteading in
Alfsborg township in Sibley county, Minnesota three years later.
farmed there, planting, cultivating, and
harvesting with hand tools, usually homemade. The
only fuel available was wood. They raised
nine children on the farm. All the nine
children were raised as devout
Christians and abstained from alcohol.”
Olsons farmed there until Jonas’s retirement in 1908 at the age of 77.
Olson families from Norway have also had long
Olson family settled in Jackson
county. Their Olson-Staabakken cabin, the
oldest structure in the county, was donated by Emmet Olson in 1927 and
is to be
found in Ashley Park.
Halvor Olson arrived
in Minnesota in 1889 and later homesteaded in rural Madison. He lost his farm during the Great Depression but
then managed to buy it back. His
celebrated the Halvor and Mary farm centennial in 2003.
Floyd B. Olson
was a second generation American who grew up on Minneapolis’s North
Side. His immigrant father from Trondheim in Norway had eked out
a living there as a railroad checker. But Floyd trained to be a
lawyer, became the leader of Minnesota’s Farmer-Labor Party, and was
the much-loved Governor of the state at the time of the Great
West. Some like Hans
Olson from Norway had been drawn west by gold fever. He arrived in California in 1853 and spent most of his
life wandering from one
mining camp to another before finally settling in the Los Angeles area
A few were Mormons. Jorgen and Kirsten
Olsen had heard the word by Mormon
preachers in Odense, Denmark in 1865 and departed for Salt Lake, Utah
departed Denmark on the sailing
ship Emerald Isle which
carried 876 emigrants to New York. Thirty seven
deaths occurred on the ocean, their
grandson being one of the victims. The
sank on the way back. Jorgen,
Kirsten and their children walked most
of the way across the plains,
Jorgen being sick with stomach trouble. They
Salt Lake City with only $1.50 to their name.“
Mormon convert from Denmark was George Olson who made his home with
his wife Delilah in
Fillmore, Utah. One son Edmond was a noted pioneer and writer in
Fillmore. Another son Culbert renounced the Mormon faith and
moved to Los Angeles in 1920. He became Governor of California in
and Anna Olson left Sweden
in 1888 and headed directly for California. They
bought 22 acres of land near Kingsburg in California’s Central Valley
and started a legacy in stone fruit farming, Olson Fruit Farms, that has
continued until today.
Stuart Olson Farms is a fourth generation family
farm located outside Salem, Oregon in the Willamette Valley. Bill
Olson, Stuart’s father, began farming with his uncles in the West Salem
in the 1930’s. Another Olsen family in the Willamette
Valley, descended from farmers who had moved west from South Dakota,
operate the Olsen Family Vineyards.
John Olson was an early settler in
the New Sweden community in Maine, arriving there in 1871. He was
farmer and violin maker whose poem of his voyage from Sweden to America
A better-known John Olson was the sailor from Sweden who
landed ashore one cold winter’s day in 1892 and met and married a young
in Cushing. Their home, Olson House, and family was made
famous by the
painter Andrew Wyeth.
rural community of Gimli in southern Manitoba
was once known as New Iceland as it was home to the largest
concentration of people
of Icelandic ancestry outside Iceland. Included
in their number had been one family who arrived in 1876 and adopted the
of Olson. Carl Olson, also Icelandic, had
been born in Minnesota and came to Gimli in 1913 as a Lutheran
minister. He later moved onto Saskatchewan.
Africa. Ole Olsen from
Stavanger was among those
recruited in Norway by Captain Ludvig Larsen to sail on the Agnes
in 1872 to Madagascar and set up a
trading post there. His
family later joined him and they stayed at
Tulear until 1882 when they relocated to Durban. Another
Olsen line at Tulear began with John Achille
Olsen from Trondheim who had married the daughter of a local chieftain
and died there
in 1903. His
nephew George moved to New Zealand and made
a name for himself as a boxer.
Olsons in Scandinavia. Olsson is the main spelling in Sweden, Olsen in Norway and Denmark. The following are the approximate numbers there today.
Olsons in America. The numbers below show the emigrants to America according to shipping records and the rough numbers in America today.
|In America Today|
These numbers suggest a few things. A greater share of
the Norwegians emigrated, followed closely by the Swedes, with the
Danes lagging behind. If all the Olssons became Olsons, either at
the arrival at the immigration desk in America or afterwards, then we
would estimate that 60% of the Olsens became Olsons and 40% stayed
The Olson Who Wandered. Hans Olson from Kristiansund
in Norway came to America around
1850. He probably first settled
with family members in Minnesota, but attracted by the discovery of
California, he crossed the plains in a covered wagon in 1853. Family sources said that Hans was probably
prospecting or panning for gold near Gold Beach in Oregon, at the mouth
Rogue river, for the next few years, at the time of the Rogue Indian
The 1860 U.S. census listed a Hans Olson,
probably him, living by himself as a farm laborer in Redwood township
Clara, California. As his grandson
Donald has said, Hans could never stay in one place for any length of
time. He traveled the West and the mining camps in Nevada,
Oregon. In 1872 he was camped
alongside Owens Lake in California when the high magnitude 8.0
struck the valley. Hans said that the lake just disappeared into
ground, refilling itself shortly.
married Swiss-born Mary Staheli in 1875. Although the place of
marriage was not given, Utah was their residence at the time. Mary had been the daughter of a Mormon
family, but Hans did not like the Mormons. According to Donald,
wife’s sister sent a Mormon Bible, he threw it into the fire. On
visits from the Mormon side of the family, he would leave the house.
By the 1880 U.S. census Hans and his family
were living in Spring Valley in Nevada, near where there had been a
mining boom. The family then traveled by
wagon west to Oregon where Hans was either mining or farming, and
In the 1900 U.S. census, the family was living in the San Gabriel
Los Angeles county. He died there
in 1921 at the age of 89.
The Olsons That Stayed Put. The year
was 1888 when the Olson family left Sweden and immigrated to the
of California. The family then consisted
of grandparents, John and Anna, their two sons and their families. In 1889 they bought 22 acres of land near
Kingsburg and started a legacy in stone fruit farming that has
113 years, into the third century.
days of refrigeration and rapid transportation, peaches were cut in
dried in the sun for preservation. This task involved the entire
children to grandparents, working with the fruit from sun up to sun
the long hot days of summer.
World War I
interrupted the routine farm life as the two oldest grandsons of John
Carl and Joel, were called to serve our country on the battlefront in
This left the youngest grandson, Paul, and his father to
Family Farms has
endured and experienced many changes through the years in the small
of Kingsburg from farming with mules and horses to the advent of the
Fordson tractor in 1917, through the hard years of the depression, to
The Olson House in Maine. In 1892 an early freeze on the St. George river on the Maine shoreline forced ashore Johan Olauson, a young sailor from
Sweden. There he
met 34-year-old Katie Hathorn and her recently widowed mother,
women lived at Cushing and were the last surviving members of the
and Katie soon married and Johan, who assumed the name of John
Olson, took over the family farm which had been in the Hathorn family
since the 1750’s. In 1929 two of their four children, Christina
inherited the property and lived there throughout their lives.
years later Betsy James, who would later
marry the artist Andrew Wyeth, introduced him to the Olsons. She described the house “looming up like
a weathered ship stranded on a hilltop.” Wyeth documented life on
isolated, saltwater farm in many of his works, most famously in his
painting Christina’s World. For
him, Christina and the Olson House were
symbols of New England and Maine. Olson House is now part of the
Museum and displays many of Wyeth’s works.
Wyeth fans flock to the family
homestead, many may catch a glimpse of John, Christina’s nephew.
seasons of the year, octogenarian John Olson hauls traps and lifts
of lobsters weighing well over 100 pounds.
He knows his way around the islands and waterways the way most
know the streets of their hometowns.
His daughter Virginia depicted his life in her 2008 book John Olson: My Story.
The Floyd B. Olson House. The preservation of the Floyd B. Olson House, built
in 1924 and located at 1914 West 49th Street in Minneapolis,
career of one of Minnesota’s most influential political leaders.
was revered in Minnesota as “the
crusader for social justice” during the Depression Era.
Before his early death in 1936 from stomach cancer
at the age of 44, he had served ten years as the Hennepin County
three terms as Governor. His leadership was crucial in the development
Farmer-Labor party in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Olson was a fierce
“for the abolition of private monopolistic privilege and its
by a system of public ownership “in order to “increase the total
wealth of society and abolish unemployment.”
B. Olson remains one of the single most
significant Minnesota leaders for both his local and national public
service. Over 200,000 visitors viewed
his body when it lay in state in the State Capitol.
- Floyd B. Olson was Governor of Minnesota from 1931 to 1936. As leader of the Farmer-Labor Party, he pursued an activist agenda to ease
the impact of the Great Depression.
- Charles Olson was an American poet of the first half of the 20th century, a link between older modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and the Beat generation.
- Johnny Olson was a well-known American radio and TV
personality from the early 1960’s to the mid-1980’s.
- Merlin Olsen was an American NFL football player and commentator.
Olson Numbers Today
- 3,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 89,000 in America (most numerous in Minnesota)
- 36,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)
Select Olson and Like Surnames.
These were originally Scandinavian patronymic surnames, with conversion usually from the Scandinavian “-sen” and “-sson” to the American “-son” on arrival or soon afterwards. Here are some of the Scandinavian surnames that you can check out.
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