Just over a century ago, representatives of the many Swedish immigrants pouring into Illinois realized one of the best ways for them to accomplish many of their common goals - get involved politically.
Out of that realization grew the John Ericsson Republican League - so named for the famous Swedish-American inventor and patriot - which is marking its 115th anniversary during a meeting in Elgin this month.
The John Ericsson Republican League - known as the Swedish-Republican League of Illinois during its first decade - got its start at a meeting held at Chicago's Grand Pacific Hotel in December 1894, according to records maintained by the group.
The purpose of the new league - designed to replace some of the smaller Swedish organizations at the time - was to promote Republican principals and work for the needs common to Swedish immigrants, club members say.
The upstart organization held its first convention the spring of 1895 and elected Edward Westman, a Chicago furniture dealer, as president. Other league members and officers hailed from across northern Illinois, with some of the largest concentrations coming from Kane, Knox, Rock Island, Winnebago and Will counties - all areas with notable Swedish populations. An Elgin chapter was organized in 1905.
Annual conventions in the years ahead took place in Aurora, Chicago, Joliet, Rockford and Rock Island. This began a tradition of meeting in the hometown of the group's president, club members say. Meetings were held on the weekend nearest March 9, both to commemorate the battle of the Civil War battleship Monitor - a ship designed by Ericsson - as well as to energize members for the upcoming primary election.
A Swedish immigrant, Ericsson was noted for various inventions, including a propeller design and a hot air engine, but most importantly as the designer and builder of the Monitor, a Civil War-era ironclad battleship.
Going from design to a finished project in just over three months, the Monitor was credited with helping protect a very important federal blockade of Norfolk, Va., during the early years of the war.
Throughout its 115-year history, the John Ericsson League has had some very influential candidates speak at its meetings. These have included United States Presidents William Taft, Herbert Hoover and Ronald Reagan.
Numerous Illinois governors have also attended, including Charles Deneen, William Stratton and Richard Ogilvie.
Other political notables have included Illinois Sen. Everett McKinley Dirksen and Arizona Sen. and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater.
In more recent times, Illinois Congressman and Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert addressed the group.
The league says they have long been politically active, endorsing various candidates for office. Early records show they also supported woman's suffrage and challenged parts of Roosevelt's New Deal policies in the 1930s.
In more recent times, the group has had a strong Kane County presence, due in large part to the active involvement of retired Judge Donald T. Anderson of Elgin. Over half the recent presidents have hailed from Kane County, including Doug C. Johnson, Mike McCoy, Steve Rauschenberger and Greg Slovacek.
Beyond its political activity, the league has been working with the Kane County Board to restore a reproduction Viking ship stored at Good Templar Park in Geneva. Built for the Chicago's Columbian Exposition in 1893, the craft has seen various owners over the years, including a Swedish-American group that become defunct in 2000, putting the craft at risk. The Friends of the Viking Ship then took over.
This year's annual meeting will be Friday, March 19, and Saturday, March 20, in Elgin, where Ann Jorgensen, incumbent candidate for the Illinois Appellate Court Second District in Elgin, will address the group. The dates have been proclaimed as "John Ericsson Days" in Elgin by Mayor Ed Schock, Anderson says.
Membership in the league is open to all people of Scandinavian descent or to someone who has married a person of Scandinavian descent. Others may become associate members, but may not hold an office in the organization, club members say. Since its inception, members have also received a regular newsletter called "The Monitor."
"The John Ericsson Republican League remains committed to creating a bond of fellowship among Americans of Scandinavian descent. We want to support the best candidates for office and to promote better citizenship and government," said current President Scott R. Anderson-Johnson.
For more information, write to the John Ericsson Republican League at P.O. Box 642, Elgin IL 60121, or visit johnericssonleague gopil.org.