Postcard Pals - Old Swedish Cards in Translation


"Don’t dance barefoot any more, since you’ll just make your wife’s husband come down with a cold."

And so wrote one of Olof Harrison's "caring brother" in May 1909. I wanted to learn more!

A series of correspondence to and from the same people opens up a whole new understanding about them. Are they formal, casual, kidding?

We have a handful of postcards mostly from 1909 to "Olaf Harrison" living in Braddock, PA. We didn't have any background on Olof or his writer(s). Most have kind of goofy pictures on the front like a smiling, dapper gentleman, hat askew, pouring himself what looks like a strong beverage. All are in Swedish, but each card was sent from the US. One is from across town, and a couple are from only a few short miles away in Pittsburgh, PA.

It's remarkable how much you can quickly learn about someone with just these few short notes. Each card is light-hearted. Olof must have been really fun to know.

At least a couple of the postcards end with winking, cryptic sign-offs - "You know who" or "Many greetings from a close friend known but not named."

I got curious enough to do a little bit more research. I don't think of Western Pennsylvania as having a lot of Swedes. However, I came across an article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette mentioning that beginning in the 1880s many Swedes went to McKeesport outside Pittsburgh and some to the surrounding towns (I'm assuming like Braddock). Apparently, the Swedes who moved to the area had a strong tradition of factory work, including iron and steel, which fit perfectly with the needs of the area.

That fits perfectly with the little other bit of information I found about our Olle. These cards are from 1909. City directories in the late 1900s and early teens list him in Braddock as a mill worker or laborer. The 1920 census shows him married. His native tongue is Swedish, and he doesn't speak English! It certainly makes sense that he'd be writing to his friends and family in Swedish. Now I've learned a bit about Olof as well as the Swedes in western Pennsylvania - that what happens when I start digging into the interesting artifacts and ephemera that I've managed to accumulate!

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#Swedish #postcard #Braddock

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