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John Wiita papers

Identifier: IHRC2841


Papers (1970-1984) of John Wiita (1888-1981) include his correspondence with Michael G. Karni, an autobiography, and short sketches on Finnish American labor history and biographies of Finnish Americans.

The John Wiita collection originated from correspondence between John Wiita and Michael Karni, when Wiita began responding to specific questions with lengthy, detailed answers. In 1977 he wrote an essay on the co-op movement, which was followed the next year by a series of fifteen essays and biographies on varied subjects. The final essay, "Cultural Life of the Finnish-American Labor Movement", was added to the collection by courtesy of the Iron Range Historical Society in Gilbert, Minnesota, where it had been deposited in 1978.


  • Creation: 1976-1978


Language of Materials

Finnish and English


Open for use in the Elmer L. Andersen Library reading room.


This collection may be protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and to obtain all necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials. Researchers may quote from the collection under the fair use provision of the copyright law.

For further information regarding the copyright, please contact the IHRCA.


John Wiita was born in Ylistaro, Finland in 1888. After attending folk school, he came to the United States at the age of 17. His first residence was in Superior, Wisconsin where he worked as a longshoreman and later as a railroad car repairman. In 1907 Wiita joined the Superior chapter of the Finnish Socialist Federation. He was also associated with the Work People's College in Duluth, Minnesota until 1916 when it became a school of the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1909 he was elected to the board of directors, serving as its secretary. Later he served as an associate instructor and as the director of the correspondence school.

In 1910 Wiita was elected to the executive committee of the Finnish Socialist Federation's mid-western district, acting as its secretary in 1911 and again in 1914. When he moved to Detroit in 1916 to find work in an automotive factory, he participated in activities of Socialist Party and was a member of the Party's Detroit Central Committee.

John Wiita's mobility throughout the major Finnish communities in the U.S. and Canada is reflected in his involvement with the Finnish American and Finnish Canadian labor press. He was on the editorial staff of the Toveri in Astoria, Oregon in 1913, the Socialisti in Duluth in 1915, the Tyomies in Superior in 1917 and again in 1928, Vapaus in Sudbury, Ontario from 1918-1922, the Eteenpain in Worcester, Massachusetts from 1923 to 1925 and again from 1939 to 1943.

After the 1920 split within the Finnish Socialist Federation, Wiita remianed with the left-win majority and rose to prominence both in the Finnish Federation as well as the Worker's (Communist) Party of America. In 1925 he was elected to the Party's central committee and became the director of the move to reorganize the Finnish Federation during the 1924-1925 "bolshevization" period. Wiita was the principal organizer of the Finnish Workers Federation, which was founded in 1927. He became its national secretary and then national chairman, a post he held until 1932.

In 1929, the Worker's Party assigned John Wiita to direct the Agrarian Department of the Party, a position he held until 1935 when he became the Party's district secretary for Upper Michigan. After 1943 he discontinued his membership and activities for the Party. In the Fall of 1945, he moved to Brooklyn, Connecticut and became involved in real estate. He was a founding member of the Northeastern Board of Realtors and served numerous terms on its executive board as well as on various committees. John Wiita died in 1981 in Connecticut.


5 linear inches


The collection has been organized into the following two categories: I. Correspondence (folder 1) II. Essays and Biographies (folders 2-17)

Section I The correspondence in this folder is between John Wiita and Michael Karni.

Section II John Wiita's essays and biographies have been arranged chronologically according to the date of their writing. Three of the folders contain both the original draft as well as the final typed copy.

N.B. Many of the essays in this collection draw on material from John Wiita's Autobiography, which is contained in the IHRC's Finnish American collection. The Autobiography is written in Finnish.

Processing Information

The John Wiita papers were deposited in the archives of the Immigration History Research Center from April 1976 through November 1977. They were acquired through the efforts of Michael G. Karni, Research Associate for the Immigration History Research Center. The collection consists of two linear inches of correspondence, essays, and biographies, and all of the material is in English. The John Wiita Collection was processed in 1977, and completed in 1979, by Timo Riippa, Research Assistant at the Immigration History Research Center. This inventory was reformatted and encoded by Paul Bowman and Anna Peter, IHRC Archives Student Assistants, and Daniel Necas, Assistant Curator, in 2003 and 2017.

Inventory of the John Wiita papers.
IHRC Archives
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding Aid in English

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Immigration History Research Center Archives Collecting Area