The construction of Washington D.C. began in 1791 and as befits the
capital of the United States of America, it is a city of stately avenues,
squares and public monuments. The greatest monument of them all is perhaps
the U.S. Capitol, that was completed in 1865. The Library of Congress
is the world’s largest library and the Smithsonian Institution has more
than 70 million catalogued items in a dozen separate museums. Every president
except for George Washington has lived in the White House. According to
census there are only 3,013 inhabitants in the capital with a Swedish
The portrait of George Washington that his contemporaries felt was the
best in “truthfulness and accuracy” was painted in 1794 by Adolf Ulric Wertmller
(1715 - 1811), a Swede. He was a relative of Alexander Roslin, who was
the greatest portrait painter of his time, and a student of the sculptor
and draftsman Johan Tobias Sergel. The original portrait of Washington
hangs in the Metropolitan in New York, but you can see a replica in the
White House. Wertmller initially stayed in the U.S. for two years.
He later returned to get married and buy a farm in the Delaware Valley
on Naaman’s Creek in what had once been the New Sweden colony. The artist’s
breakthrough had come when the Swedish ambassador in Paris had bought
his Ariadne in Naxos, that can now be seen at the National Gallery in
Stock-holm together with his Dana and the Golden Rain that was donated
to the Swedish museum by its American owner because the nudity in it was
considered to be pornographic and it was consequently rejected by American
museums. The Swedish ambassador who had bought Wertmller’s painting
was Gustaf Philip Creutz who together with Benjamin Franklin had signed
the historic treaty of friendship and commerce between Sweden and the
United States of America in 1783. It is interesting to note that the two
countries had about the same population of three million at the time,
although the United States only included its white citizens in its population
“It’s more open here than in New York,” says Lisa Nilsson who works with
trade at the Swe-dish Embassy in Washington after a few years in New York.
Lisa (right) is a young economist mentored in economist Barbro Ehnbom’s
BBB (Barbro’s Best and Brightest) furthering outstanding young women.
Although he is number 3 in ranking in the U.S. after the President and
the Vice President, Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been able to enroll
in art classes at the local high school and browse in the video store
without anybody recognizing him. He visited his stergtland roots
when he was the Swedish American of the Year in 1993. Rehnquist’s predecessor
Chief Justice Earl Warren also had a Swedish ancestry and Chief Justice
Warren Burger had a Swedish connection through his wife, whose maiden
name was Stromberg.
There are plenty of other Swedish Americans who have served in the capital
like Mary Anderson (1872-1964) who was born in a small farm near Lidkping
and for 25 years was the head of the Women’s Bureau in the Department
The most powerful Swedish lobbyist in the capital is Peder Bonde from
the Wallenberg’s Investor. The count fell in love with the head of the
Swedish American Historical Museum in Philadelphia when he led the corporate
side of the New Sweden 350 Year Jubilee in 1994 and now makes Washington
D.C. home for his new family.
House of Sweden
“The transparency of the building will reflect Sweden’s desire for openness
and dialogue in the most important capital in the world,” said Ambassador
Jan Eliasson at the groundbreaking for the new embassy in April last year.
The modernistic glass box, with private residences on the two top floors,
will be inaugurated in June 2006 and will provide the embassy with a conference
center with exhibition areas and an auditorium. You can follow the progress
in the construction at www.houseofswedendc. com. Designed by Wingardh
Architects of Sweden, the Embassy will become an in-stant landmark, attractively
situated on the banks of the Potomac River just north of the John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts, and next to the Washington Harbour. Part
of a development of Lano Armado Harbourside, the building “is a glass
construction, which is encompassed by an intricate belt of wood character.
The combination of an exterior cladding of screened glass with a layer
of wood veneer on glass sheets behind give the building a modern, Scandinavian
touch,” say the architects Gert Wingrdh and Tomas Hansen.
By the time the new Embassy is inaugurated Jan Eliasson will no longer
be the Ambassador. The career diplomat who was appointed as Sweden’s representative
at the United Nations in 1988 and later served as Deputy Under-Secretary
General for Humanitarian Affairs to the UN and Deputy Under-Secretary
for Asian and African Affairs, will lead the UN’s 60th General Assembly.
The new Ambassador is rumored to be Gunnar Lund with a past as Assistant
Minister of Finance.
At the turn of the last century, the Smithsonian Institution mounted the
greatest Viking exhibition ever with special bearing on the Vikings’ presence
in North America. Between 1948 and 1953, the Museum also exhibited the
controversial Kensington Stone claiming that the Vikings got as far as
Minnesota. At the National Museum of American History there are often
Swedish-American exhibits and at the National Air and Space Museum you
can actually see Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis, the first aircraft
flown solo across the Atlantic. The National Museum of Women in the Arts
has recently hosted an exhibition about Hot Nordic Female Designers with
many fine Swedish examples like Vivianna Torun Blow-Hbe’s bangle
At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg
is prominently honoured in the exhibit on those who rescued Jews during
World War II. The street where the museum is located is also named after
this great Swedish hero.
With an embassy (501 M Street, N.W., Suite 900, 202-467 2600, www.swedenabroad.com),
Ikea store ( 2901 Potomac Mills Circle, Woodbridge, 703-494-4532), a Swedish
once-a-week school (www.
theswedishschool.org, 703-938-3549) and many Swedish-related organizations,
Swedes have an easy time being Swedish in Washington D.C. The Swedish-American
Cultural Union (202-338-9246) organizes lunch events with prominent guests
to keep members in touch with Swedish current events. The local chapter
of the American Scandinavian Foundation (703-734-0319) does the same for
Nordic issues. The Vasa Lodge Drott (301-215-7375) has welcomed local
Swedes since 1910 while the Swedish-speaking women’s organization SWEA
(703-716-8448) has had a phenomenal growth since it set up a chapter here
Every once in a while there is a picture of a beaming Swedish prime minister
visiting the President of the United States in the White House. There
were, however, no big smiles when Olof Palme visited the US in 1970 soon
after becoming Sweden’s Prime Minister. President Nixon was upset about
Palme’s criticism about the Vietnam War and wrote “let us completely ignore
the visit” in the margin of Henry Kissinger’s memo regarding it. Expressen’s
former US correspondent, Staffan Thorsell, who has written the recently
published book Sverige i Vita Huset, notes that 22 seconds, of a conversation
at the Oval Office about a speech Palme made about the war a year later,
have been deleted from the tape recording. The deletion was attributed
to “national security” but in light of the fact that Nixon called Palme
“that Swedish asshole” the 22 seconds could also be full of profanities.
Just months before Palme made his most critical speech about the Vietnam
War, Nixon, Kissinger and George Bush Senior together with William Rogers
who was the Secretary of State, had been discussing a hijacking of a plane
that had taken place in Sweden when the President suddenly exclaimed “I
wish they had taken the prime minister!” On the tape, only one of the
assembled laughs at this joke and that is George Bush.
Apart from this there are only 37 references to Sweden in the 14 900 conversations
recorded during the period Richard Nixon taped all the goings-on in the
Oval Office for posterity.
The Augustana Synod bought the impressive church at the corner of New
Hampshire Avenue and U Street NW from the Episcopelians in 1939. Right
now the Swedish Lutheran Church is being renovated at a cost of $1.5 million
(donations are welcome to Augustana Lutheran Church, 2100 New Hampshire
Ave N.W., Washington D.C. 20009-6507) so it is not as accessible as usual.
Once a month Pastor Jan Kesker from the Church of Sweden in New York leads
the sermon in Swedish and this is always followed by coffee with a Swedish
touch in the basement (703-847-0940). There is no longer any julotta,
but the St Lucia festival has become a large event that has sometimes
featured a black Lucia. The dynamic pastor Clarence Nelson who led the
Augustana parish from 1946 made this the first non-Roman Catholic Church
in D.C. to accept black worshippers.
Over at Sixteenth Street you can visit the Gothic-style “Swedenborgian”
Church of the Holy City and the Swedenborg Information Center where you
can find out everything about the world-famous Swedish scientist, scholar,
inventor and prophet Emanuel Swedenborg who never managed to get any followers
in his home country.
The Swedish Ame-rican Chamber of Commerce of the United States was founded
in 1906 in New York and is the oldest such organization abroad. There
are today 19 regional chambers, with a total of about 2 500 members. The
umbrella organization SACC-USA (www.sacc-usa. org, 703-836-6560) is located
in Washington, D.C. or rather, to be exact, in a cute house in Alexandria,
where the Executive Director Gunilla Girardo oversees services to the
Chambers as well as the very successful Entrepreneurial Days, like the
latest one last summer in Vxj. On April 20-22, it is time for the
9th E -Days in Washington, where the core businesses are in aerospace,
bio-tech, defence, e-learning, network security, new media, satellite
communications, telecommunications and wireless. There are, furthermore,
127 R&D firms and 168 embassies. Apart from its seminars and networking,
SACC-USA has become very successful with its Business Match-making Service
where it pre-schedules some 450 business meetings, at no extra cost, to
enable businesses to find partners, legal advice, consultants, agents
and distributors in Sweden or the U.S.
Visitors to the Rotunda in the Capitol building are always taken by surprise
when they come upon a life-size bronze sculpture of the “first president
of the United States”. This is because the sculpture does not depict George
Washington but the Swedish descendant John Hanson. The United States declared
its independence in 1776 and the new country was formed on March 1, 1781,
with the adoption of the Articles of the Confederation. John Hanson was
chosen unanimously as the first “President of the United States in Congress
Assembled”. One of the voting congressmen was George Washington himself
who later wrote “I congratulate Your Excellency on your appointment to
fill the most important seat in the United States.” Washington’s own turn
was to come eight years later, in 1789, with the new constitution. To
this day there are many who wonder why Hanson’s role has been so diminished
John Hanson (1721-1783) was born on the Mulberry Grove Farm in Maryland,
across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon. The tobacco and maize farm
with some hundred black slaves had been established by Hanson’s grandfather,
with the same name, who had arrived to the New Sweden colony at the age
of 13 and moved to Maryland when he was 23. His father had, according
to family history, fallen at the battle of Ltzen along with Sweden’s
hero king Gustavus Adolphus, but the family's Swedish ancestry has never
As a youngster, John Hanson studied the classics and then, like the
sons of many other well-to-do colonial families, got his education in
England. He was elected to the Provincial Legislature of Maryland in 1775
and two years later he became a member of Congress where he distinguished
himself as a brilliant administrator. As the first president, Hanson ordered
all foreign troops and all foreign flags off American soil. Within a year,
he had established the first Treasury Department, the first Secretary
of War, the first Foreign Affairs Depart-ment, a post office, a national
bank and, above all, managed to calm down the unpaid troops and hold the
country together. He established the Great Seal of the United States,
which all presidents have since used, and he proclaimed Thanksgiving Day
that we have celebrated ever since. Quite a legacy for an “unknown” president.
There is a bust of John Hanson at the Gloria Dei in Philadelphia and a
monument at his birthplace. The U.S. 50 highway from Washington to Annapolis
has been named the John Hanson Highway and his birthday, April 14, has
been declared John Hanson Day in Maryland. The John Hanson Society did
succeed in getting a six-cent stamp issued in Hanson’s honour in 1972,
but he must be worth a greater honour than that.
A grandson of John Hanson became a US senator and a nephew was among
the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Another signatory
was Benjamin Harrison who also had a Swedish ancestry and whose son William
Harrison became the ninth president, and whose namesake and grandson was
elected the 23rd president of the U.S.
The White House staff thought she was strict and demanding, but American
women loved her youthful “Mamie style” and even copied her “Mamie bangs”.
Mamie Eisenhower (1896-1979) was one of the most popular first ladies
the country has had, and her personality and sparkling blue eyes became,
just like her husband’s wide smile, the trademark of the Eisenhower administration
between 1953 and 1961. Mamie met Lieutenant Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower when
her family wintered in San Antonio. After her marriage her pampered life
was replaced by that of an army wife and before the Eisenhower family
made the big move to the White House they had moved a full 27 times. Although
they entertained more than any presidential couple before them, the Eisenhowers
were a disappointment to the Washington cocktail circle because the couple
so obviously preferred to spend their evenings quietly at home. There
were persistent rumours that Mamie was a heavy drinker. This was because
she so often stumbled, but as a matter of fact this was because of an
imbalance caused by an inner ear problem. After the presidency, the Eisenhowers
retired to the “dream house” that Mamie had designed on their farm in Gettysburg.
They also visited Sweden, “the country my wife proudly points to as the
birthplace of her maternal grandparents”. Carl and Marie Carlson came from
the province of Halland. The couple emigrated to America in 1868, probably
driven away from Sweden by crop failures. They started what became the
Carl Carlson and Sons Milling Co in Boone, Iowa.
When Count Wilhelm Wachtmeister took over as Sweden’s Ambassador to the
United States in 1974, relations between the two countries were at a historic
low point. It took a lot of diplomatic tact from Ambassador Wachtmeister
and a whole lot of networking by his wife, Countess Ulla Wachtmeister,
to turn things around. Wilhelm Wachtmeister retired in 1989 not only as
one of the most popular and long-serving Swedish ambassadors ever but
also as doyen of the Washington diplomatic corps.
For many years afterwards, the Wachtmeisters, who were nicknamed “Team
Sweden”, stayed on in a townhouse in Washington where Ulla pursued her
painting and Wilhelm played tennis with ex-President Bush Senior. The
Wachtmeisters have now returned to Sweden and their estate Vans in
the south, where Wilhelm grew up.
Ulla’s paintings are a feast for the eyes with their bright joyous colours,
shapes and patterns and they have been exhibited all over the world. “Ulla
Wachtmeister is a tall, slender, elegant and beautiful Swedish woman with
a restrained, polite, and aristocratic bearing. Yet her paintings - bold,
outgoing and innocent - are about the other Ulla Wachtmeister, the inner
life and personal world of a woman who has lived most of her life in the
public’s eye,” writes one critic.
From the January 2005 issue and Swedish Press