Charles A. Lindbergh: The Swedish Connection

By Larson, Bruce L. | Scandinavian Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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Charles A. Lindbergh: The Swedish Connection

Larson, Bruce L., Scandinavian Review

When the Lone Eagle thrilled the world with the first solo transatlantic flight he instantly became one of America's most beloved folk heroes. Now, on the 75th anniversary of the historic feat and with the recent reenactment of that flight by his grandson, Erik R. Lindbergh, an historian who knew Lindy well elaborates on the aviation pioneer's Swedish roots.

WELL-KNOWN TO AMERICANS, SCANDINAVIANS, and the world is the fact that Charles A. Lindbergh established a milestone in aviation history, when, in May 1927, he made the first nonstop solo transatlantic flight from New York to Paris in the Spirit of St. Louis. It has now been 75 years-a normal lifetime-since that historic flight. Less well-known in Lindbergh history during this anniversary year may be his Scandinavian roots. In keeping with this focus, the following discussion will examine some highlights concerning the Swedish identity of Lindbergh.

Charles A. Lindbergh (1902-1974) was the only child of Charles A. Lindbergh, Sr., who was born in Sweden, and Evangeline Lodge Land Lindbergh, whose family had English and Scotch-Irish roots. However, it was Lindbergh's grandfather, Ola Mansson (later August Lindbergh), who made the decision to emigrate from Sweden to America in 1859. Like many immigrants, Mansson had been a farmer at Gardlosa in the southern province of Skane, but unusual was the fact that he had been a member of the Swedish Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, from 1847 to 1858. The main thrust of his public career was reform, and he gained a reputation for his liberal views including a stand to abolish the whipping post as a form of public punishment in Sweden. But his views were often in contrast with the political climate of the times in post-Napoleonic Europe and he was attacked by the conservative press and accused of embezzlement. What Mansson had done was to personally endorse loans from the Bank of Malmo to hard-- pressed farmers, which raised a question about his authority as an officer in the bank. Grace Lee Nute, curator of manuscripts at the Minnesota Historical Society, concludes that his enemies "framed him, and that he was guilty only in a technical sense." When the case was referred from a lower court to the Swedish Supreme Court, Mansson, then 50, decided to leave Sweden.

August or Augustus?

Before he left to begin a new life, Mansson took a new name, August Lindbergh. While there was nothing extraordinary in changing one's name in Sweden, Mansson chose the same name that his two sons, Mans and Jons, had chosen to avoid problems in the mails with their very common surname, Olsson (son of Ola). Mansson's choice for a first name, August, was likely inspired by its use by the royal family, and his son Charles August was named for Crown Prince Carl (often anglicized to Charles), a friend of Mansson, who later became King Carl XV. There is also some confusion about Charles, Sr.'s middle name; it was August, not Augustus. Discrepancies appear in print, partly because the aviator's middle name was Augustus, chosen by his mother. (Interestingly, in discussions with this writer, aviator Lindbergh apparently had not been aware of this difference.)

In America, August and his second wife Louisa, 30 years his junior, and their infant son Charles homesteaded near Melrose, Minnesota, and in most respects were typical Swedish immigrants on the Minnesota frontier. Here young Charles, Sr. grew up, experiencing the common hardships and challenges of a frontier life. He learned to hunt, to farm, to read, and to be self-- sufficient. His father, who became a naturalized citizen in 1870, encouraged the use of the English language and joined the Republican party. In 1861 August Lindbergh lost an arm in a sawmill accident, and two sons from the first family in Sweden were called upon for help. Mans and Per Lindbergh came to America, but Mans joined an Illinois unit of the Union Army in the Civil War while Per arrived on the farm.

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