Leif Erikson Day

US stamp honoring Leif Erikson (1968)

US stamp honoring Leif Erikson (1968)

Leif Erikson Day is celebrated on October 9th of each year in honor of the Norse explorer who brought the first Europeans known to have set foot in North America.

American Not Discovered by Columbus by Rasmus B. Anderson was published in 1874.  This book helped popularize the now familiar idea that Vikings were the first Europeans in the New World.  During his appearance at the Norse-American Centennial in 1925, President Calvin Coolidge gave recognition to Leif Erikson as the Discoverer of America due to research by Norwegian-American scholars such as Knut Gjerset and Ludvig Hektoen.  In 1930, Wisconsin became the first U.S. state to officially adopt Leif Erikson Day as a state holiday, thanks in large part to efforts by Rasmus Anderson.  A year later, the state of Minnesota followd suit.  By 1956, Leif Erikson Day had been made an official observance in seven states (Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois, Colorado, Washington, and California) and one Canadian province (Saskatchewan).

In 1963, the U.S. Representative from Duluth, John Blatnik, introduced a bill to observe Leif Erikson Day nationwide. The following year Congress adopted this unanimously. In 1964, the United States Congress authorized and requested the President to create the observance through an annual proclamation. Lyndon B. Johnson and each President since have done so. Presidents have used the proclamation to praise the contributions of Americans of Nordic descent generally and the spirit of discovery. In addition to the federal observance, some states officially commemorate Leif Erikson Day, particularly in the Upper Midwest, where large numbers of people from the Nordic countries settled.