Question of the Week
Who was the first curator of Philadelphia's American Swedish Historical Museum?
Answer: Amandus Johnson
In the early 1900s, Amandus Johnson stopped in Philadelphia on his way to Yale University. He ended up staying in the city, obtained a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, and was a prominent figure in Philadelphia’s Swedish American community for many decades.
Johnson was born in Småland, Sweden, on October 27, 1877. At the age of 3, his family moved to a farm in Rice Lake, Minnesota. He graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in 1904 with a preaching certificate and a degree in English literature. He continued his studies and eventually won a scholarship to Yale University. On his way there, he stopped in Philadelphia, which he knew had strong ties to Swedish colonial history. He obtained a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, where he also found a career as a professor of Scandinavian languages.
Johnson went on to become a prolific writer and historian of early Swedish settlements in America. He was a vigorous supporter for a national Swedish American observance of the 300th anniversary of the charter of the first Swedish colonial trading company. He also was instrumental in the establishment of the American Swedish Historical Museum in Philadelphia. The museum’s cornerstone was laid by Sweden’s Crown Prince (later King Gustav VI Adolf) on June 2, 1926. Starting around 1928, Johnson served as the museum’s first director and curator. Johnson actively sought out donors to help add to the museum’s collections, which often showcased Swedish American contributions throughout U. S. history. In 1943, he was named Emeritus Curator, and Johnson remained active in the museum throughout his life. He died in June 1974 and is buried in the cemetery of Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church in Philadelphia.
The Amandus Johnson papers (MSS041A) include correspondence, speeches, and other records from Johnson's involvement in a large number of Swedish American organizations, along with very extensive research files regarding Sweden's relations with North America from 1621 through the mid 1850s.
Image: View of the American Swedish Historical Museum at 19th Street and Pattison Avenue [now Franklin D. Roosevelt Park], photograph (1937)
About the Author
Look for these history stories every Sunday in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The stories, called Memory Stream, are published in the Currents section of the newspaper.