Crown Prince Olav and Crown Princess Märtha of Norway undertook an extensive ten-week, 15000 mile tour of the United States in the Spring and Summer of 1939 with the aim of strengthening ties between Norway and the United States. The royalties reached New York on 27 April aboard the Norwegian-American liner Oslofjord which unfortunately rammed and sank a pilot boat as it entered the city’s port in foggy weather. Nevertheless, thousands of New Yorkers were on hand to greet the royals with a traditional ticker tape parade down Broadway.
However, the tour truly kicked off, on 28 April, with a two-night stay with President and Mrs Roosevelt at their country estate, at Hyde Park, some ninety miles north of the ‘Big Apple’. Olav and his wife came ashore at Poughkeepsie at 4pm having travelled up the Hudson River aboard the presidential yacht Potomac from New York. The following afternoon, Märtha and the Prince were treated to an informal picnic lunch of hot dogs and apple pie at Top Cottage and a good rapport was struck up between the President and his guests by the time they departed on 30 April. In commemoration of the visit, the royal couple would later send the Roosevelts a gilded coffee service by the renowned Norwegian designer, David Andersen.
On 1 May, the royals paid a visit to the World’s Fair at New York’s Flushing Meadow to inspect the Norwegian Pavilion. The New York Times noted that the Crown Prince made a speech in which he saw no sign of peace in the world of tomorrow. The following evening, Olav and Märtha attended a Fleet Ball at the Waldorf Astoria given in honour of naval officers from over thirty nations whose battleships were currently moored in or near the city. On 3 May, the couple were the guests-of-honour at a ‘State Banquet’ given by the Official Committee for Norway’s Participation in the New York World Fair.
Thereafter, the royal couple’s duties through thirty-four states varied considerably but the focus was on visiting areas with close dynastic connections to Norway, particularly in the Mid-West. During three days spent in Chicago, Illinois, in early May, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess toured the Norwegian-American Hospital and Nurses’ Home, were guests-of-honour at a grand dinner attended by 1500 guests at the Loop Hotel, paid a visit to the University of Chicago and were feted by a crowd of 4000 during a visit to the United Evangelical Lutheran Church at Oak Park. Märtha even managed to sneak in a private visit to a nearby department store by ditching the flags on the official car so as to travel relatively incognito. The royal duo then travelled westwards by rail to La Crosse in Wisconsin where, on 6 May they were swept in a Cadillac with an outrider escort to the home of Mrs. Helga Gundersen for lunch. This was followed by an impressive street parade through the town featuring a marching band and cheerleaders. At the post-parade reception at Riverside Park, the Crown Princess was presented with an enormous bouquet of red roses, while the Crown Prince received a walking cane and a silk top hat. Olav and Märtha then departed by train for an overnight stay in Decorah, Iowa where they dined with Dr Sabo, the Norwegian Vice-Consul, opened a gymnasium and the Crown Prince presented gifts to the local Norwegian-American Historical Museum from the National Association of Museums in Norway.
The royalties reached Los Angeles in time for the Norway Independence Day celebrations on 17 May which were held at Sycamore Grove Park. The event included a display of traditional Norwegian dancing and a male choir singing a hearty rendition of the Norwegian National Anthem, ‘Ja, Vi Elsker Dette Landet.’ Olav and Märtha had previously been introduced to fellow countrywoman and Olympic figure skater turned movie star, Sonja Henie, who was part of the official welcoming committee. However, the royal party had little time to catch their breath as they were scheduled to be in San Francisco next day, to act as host and hostess at the Norwegian Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island. The couple were much impressed by the Pavilion which was in fact a massive log cabin in the shape of a horseshoe with a large raftered lounge at the centre. The Prince and Princess remained in the city for several days.
Although it was late Spring, the Norwegian visitors must at times have felt they had been transported homewards. During a subsequent visit to Oregon, a snow storm required the royalties to shelter under a tarpaulin while dedicating a new ski lift at Mount Hood. Fortunately, the recently-constructed Timberline Lodge Hotel nearby offered the sort of comforting facilities necessary for a good warm-up as the Princess was dressed in a flimsy black crepe dress more suitable for summery climes. Then, on 24 May, after a formal lunch at the Paradise Inn in the resort of Paradise, the royal couple went on a skiing trip down Mount Ranier. The Seattle Times noted cheekily that Olav’s ski attire ran to a ‘cap that had seen better days and a battered leather jacket.’ However, the Crown Prince proved to be an accomplished skier and soon left the majority of his party (including his wife Martha) lagging a good quarter-of-a-mile behind. On their return to Paradise, a banquet was given at the Inn, where the royal guests of honour, dress in their best evening finery, dined on crab cocktail, steak, asparagus, potatoes and fresh strawberry pie.
On 27 May, the royal duo attended one of the most moving events on their schedule: the dedication of a Memorial to Zakarias Martin Taftezon, the first Norwegian settler to traverse North America to Puget Sound, at the Stanwood Lutheran Cemetery in Washington State. The Crown Prince and Princess departed the next day for Seattle (with ninety pieces of luggage) to attend a festival at the Seattle Civic Auditorium. Olav also paid a solo visit to a Seattle lumber mill and was later intrigued to inspect the construction site of the Grand Coulee Dam over the Columbia River. The month of May ended with a visit to the city of Spokane where a civic welcome had been arranged at the Pavilion on Bernard Street. This stop was apt choice as Norwegian settlers had settled nearby in “Little Norway” in the mid-19th century. As with many of the stops, the city had an active Sons of Norway branch.
As June dawned, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess had moved on eastwards into Montana where several days was spent in the scenic but icy Glacier National Park. For fun the couple were given (and gamely wore) a matching pair of ‘his and hers’ cowboy outfits prior to taking to the local trails on horseback. A sightseeing tour of the Grand Canyon was another highlight as was observing the geysers and wildlife (including a family of bears) from an open-topped car in Yellowstone National Park.
On occasion-such as the visit to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota on 8 June (where the Prince received the College’s first honorary doctorate at a specially delayed graduation ceremony)-the royal couple would stay overnight in a local private home (on this occasion that of Congressman L.B. Hanna). This was convenient as it allowed the duo to carry out three further engagements in the neighbouring town of Fargo the following day before moving on to Fergus Falls. Before departing Minnesota the couple attended an event hosted by the Governor at the State Fair grounds in St Paul’s, the State Capital.
The tour reached Sioux Falls in South Dakota on 14 June where Olav and Martha again received a rousing welcome as they drove down South Phillips Avenue. A visit to Madison, the State Capital of Wisconsin followed with yet another State Dinner appointment, this time hosted by the Governor, Julius P Heil. The royal duo then motored, next morning, to Heg Memorial Park in Racine County to join in celebrations for the centenary of the foundation of the Norway-Moskego settlement. This was a true family event for thousands came from surrounding communities to picnic and listen to music from a Drum and Bugle Corps and the Waterford High School Band. Crowds also turned out in force in Milwaukee, on 21 June, when the Prince and Princess were feted all the way down Wisconsin Avenue to a Norwegian-American cultural event at Juneau Park.
Honorary degrees were also still very much on the itinerary as is evidenced when the duo subsequently paid a visit to the historical College of William and Mary in Williamsburg (founded in 1693 by British Royal Charter). On this occasion Olav was awarded a Doctor of Laws degree (LL.D.). The state of Virginia was also the setting for a spell at the celebrated West Virginia Resort in White Sulphur Springs. A rest must have been badly needed for a full examination of the tour schedule reveals that the majority of the couple’s time had been spent in a repetitive cycle of meeting and greeting, listening to speeches, replying to said speeches, watching dance displays, attending official lunch and dinners, in addition to the receiving of Honorary degrees.
Märtha and Olav arrived in Washington D.C., on 27 June, to a warm greeting at Union Station from the Secretary of State and Mrs Cordell Hull. Two days later, they and the Norwegian Minister were treated to tea with the President in South Portico of the White House. The Prince had earlier met with the Vice-President at the Capitol and lunched with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The royal party also undertook a private tour of Mount Vernon, the home of the first President of the United States. The final day of June was spent in Philadelphia where the Crown Prince and Crown Princess paid a visit to the Independence Hall to sign the visitor’s book and were praised in the local press for their ‘democratic manner’. The Philadelphia Inquirer also noted that the couple had-to date-travelled to 35 cities (the number of towns and outposts being too numerous to cite with accuracy) and that the Prince had delivered 264 speeches or words of thanks.
Following a visit to Boston on 1 July, Crown Prince Olav celebrated his 36th birthday on 2 July with his wife as a guest of William A. Coolidge, a fellow graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, at his estate in Topsfield, Massachusetts. Coolidge was a well-known lawyer and financier and had laid on a surprise for his Nordic friend: a huge birthday cake (weighing 75 pounds) bearing the armorials of the Crown Prince set between two Norwegian flags and with 36 candles set around the base.
The royal duo ended their tour back in New York, from where they set sail aboard the Norwegian-American Line liner Stavangerfjord for home on 6 July. Addressing a crowd earlier in the day at the unveiling of statue of the Norwegian explorer Leir Erikson, Crown Prince Olav stated, ‘We carry with us today a chest of memories that we will treasure as long as we live.’ Interestingly, although Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark and his wife Ingrid had been undertaking a similar tour of the States, it is the tour by the Norwegian royal couple that has truly enthralled readers over the decades.