About the same time
as the Hungarians were busy building the beautiful Opera house in Budapest many poor Icelanders saw their only chance for survival in emigrating to the New World.
In 1884, the year of the inaugural of the mentioned Opera house, 4778 emigrants had left Iceland from the first year of the Emigration period 1870-1914.
On May 12, 1870, Jon Gislason, Gudmundur Gudmundsson and Arni Gudmundsson left Eyrarbakki
, South Iceland, for America.
In Reykjavik, they were joined by Jon Einarsson. Jon Gislason was in moderately good circumstances and he loaned the others money to pay for their tickets.
In Reykjavik various efforts were made to dissuade these four men who were bound to the far west, but without effect. They sailed about the middle of May in the mail steamer Diana by way of the Faeroe and Shetland Isles to Copenhagen. Here they remained four days. On June 3 they sailed by the steamer Pacific to Hull and proceeded then by railroad to Liverpool.
From Liverpool they took passage in the Allen Line steamer to Quebec, where they proceeded by immigrant train to Milwaukee, where they did not arrive until the 27th.
The first colony
of Icelanders was started on Washington Island, in the
Northwestern part of Lake Michigan, north of Door County, Wisconsin, and the story of this Icelandic colony is the major part of the history of this island. Only about a half a dozen white men had settled there in log shanties before the arrival of the Icelanders. It is true that fishermen had visited the shores of the island for years, but they had made no improvements, they had simply cut down trees for fuel around their shanties and made some use of some of the pine trees for barrel staves. Jon Gislason, Gudmundur Gudmundsson and Arni Gudmundsson settled there in 1870. In 1871 they were joined by Arni Bjarnason, a merchant from Reykjavik, with his eldest son and eldest daughter, his wife and
remaining children coming two years later. Johannes Magnusson and his wife also arrived the same year. In 1872 the colony received an addition of immigrants from Iceland of fourteen men and several women and
children. There were fresh arrivals from Iceland in 1873, 1874, 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888 and 1895. Though many of the settlers remained on Washington Island for the rest of their life, some went west to Minnesota and north to Manitoba.