On May 23, 1939, the streets of Tacoma were lined with the flags of Norway and the United States. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of Crown Prince Olav and his wife, Crown Princess Märtha. Most of the people who flocked to see them were Scandinavian immigrants. Over two million Scandinavians settled in the United States at the turn of the 20th century.
Norway became independent from Sweden in 1905. Prince Carl of Denmark was crowned King Haakon VII of Norway, a constitutional monarch with a ceremonial role. His only child and heir Olav was born in 1903. The prince’s mother was Princess Maud, the youngest daughter of King Edward VII of Great Britain and Queen Alexandra. Olav married the princess Martha
from Sweden in 1929. The couple had three children: Ragnhild (1930-2012), Astrid (1932-) and Harald (1937-).
In 1939, the Crown Prince and his wife made a ten-week 15,000 mile tour of the United States, hoping to strengthen ties between Norway and the United States. They arrived in New York on April 27. Tacoma Newspapers had almost daily updates on the tour and planning for their local visit.
On May 23, the Tacoma Times reported issues with the menu at the royal couple’s welcome banquet. Axel Oxholm, a local businessman responsible for planning the reception, had ordered around 100 ptarmigan (a delicacy in Norway) for the meal. But as soon as the frozen birds arrived, the delivery ran up against import regulations. After inspectors demanded that the birds be plucked and some examined, Oxholm was forced to abandon the idea and order salmon. While he believed the fish better represented the city, he regretted telling the newspaper that “ [ptarmigans] would have been a real treat for them, however, after eating chicken for 50 or 60 consecutive nights.
The royal couple and their group have arrived at Fort Lewis (now JBLM) by train. They were greeted by a twenty-one gun salute from the Tenth Field Artillery. Olav and Märtha attended a review of 8,000 soldiers, watched artillery maneuvers and had lunch with officers.
The royal party was taken to Tacoma by car. They had a banquet at 7 p.m. at Winthrop Hotel organized by the City of Tacoma and the Chamber of Commerce. Olav, who was educated at Oxford and is fluent in English, gave a short speech.
At 8:15 am, Olav and Märtha went to a reception at the Tacoma Armory. Local Scandinavian societies gave musical performances, including songs in Norwegian and Icelandic. Olav gave another speech. The reception ended at 10:30 a.m., and the royal couple retired to their suite on the ninth floor of the Winthrop Hotel, which had been specially decorated with rhododendrons, the state flower, for the occasion.
After stopping at Lutheran University of the Pacific (founded by Norwegians-Americans), the royal family set out to ski Mount Rainier and then toured Seattle before heading east to see the Grand Coulee Dam and Spokane. They continue their tour and leave the United States in July.
For their part in the tour, King Haakon then sent the Mayor of Tacoma JJ Kaufman, Mrs. Henry Berglund (Daughters of Norway) and Axel Oxholm medals of the Order of St. Olav. Footage of the prince and his wife reviewing troops at Fort Lewis was shown as part of a newsreel (now available on YouTube) at the Roxy Theater (now Pantages Theater) in June 1939.
A disaster struck Norway during World War II. Germany invaded in April 1940. Norwegian and Allied forces were quickly overwhelmed. The royal family fled to the UK, forming a government in exile.
Olav returned to the United States to gain support for Norway. Accompanied by Märtha, Olav spoke at the auditorium of Jason Lee Junior High School in Tacoma (now Hilltop Heritage College) after a dinner on April 24, 1942. “Our spirit is not broken,” he said, “although the Germans tried to break our solidarity and our unity.” He also thanked the United States and the Allies for their continued support to Norway.
Olav returned to a newly liberated Norway in 1945. Princess Märtha died of cancer in 1954 and Olav never remarried. After his father’s death, Olav was crowned Olav V in 1958. He was a popular king, known to be down-to-earth and kind, which earned him the nickname “Folkekongen” (or King of the People). ). Olav has returned to the Pacific Northwest twice, although he never returned to Tacoma.
In 1968, Olav spoke at the University of Washington in Seattle and skied at Crystal mountain. Many tacomans went to see him disembark at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. The Tacoma Times even published a recipe for sardine potato salad in its May 1, 1968 issue in honor of the King’s visit.
Olav returned to Washington in 1975 as part of a tour honoring the 150th anniversary of Norwegian immigration to America. He visited Poulsbo, nicknamed “Little Norway” for its large Norwegian-American population. King Olav also spoke at the launch of the PLU, praising the school’s attention to its Scandinavian heritage and reminding students, many of whom were of Norwegian descent, to ‘Never forget the roots and the background. where do you come from “. The school made him an honorary student.
In 1991, Olav passed away and his son Harald succeeded him. Harald V visited Poulsbo in 1995. His daughter, Princess Märtha Louise, stopped by Poulsbo in 2005, promoting his new children’s book “Why Kings and Queens Don’t Wear Crowns”, which related a funny story about his grandfather Olav as a child. His father revisited PLU in 2015, speaking early.
Prince Olav’s visit to Tacoma in 1939 shows the importance of American Scandinavians to Washington’s history and culture. His return visits to the region in 1942, 1968, 1975 and by his son and granddaughter show how these ties endure.