Viking or Hamberg? Hamberg or Viking? Early in the last century, Scandinavian and German residents of what is now Hamberg, North Dakota, were at odds over the name. The townsite sprang up after The Great Northern Railroad ran the “Surrey Cut-Off” through Wells County in 1910. Early Scandinavian residents called the town “Viking.” The town quickly grew to include a general store, post office, pool hall, blacksmith and bank.
By about 1912, German residents of the area began calling the town “Hamburg” after the port city in Germany. They didn’t like the name Viking because it was often confused with other towns and places with the same name. One was nearby in neighboring Benson County, though that town had been abandoned a few years earlier.
In an “ethnic compromise,” the Scandinavians and German residents settled on “Hamberg,” with an E not a U. On this date in 1913, the postmaster officially adopted the name. Hamberg was in; Viking was out. Some businesses in town went along with the change, like Hamberg State Bank, but others clung to Viking, like the Viking Mercantile Company.
Over the years, Hamberg managed additional growth, at one point boasting three banks and three elevators. Hamberg even had an opera house. But many early businesses were destroyed by fire, and the town’s population was never much—barely two hundred at its peak in 1930. Other lonely towns with interesting names can also be found along the “Surrey Cut-Off” – Bremen, Heimdal and Selz, to name a few.
Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura
Spokesfield, W.E. (1929). The history of Wells County, North Dakota and its pioneers: With a sketch of North Dakota history and the origin of the place names.
Eldredge, M. (1984). Wells County, North Dakota 1884-1984, 73 centennial stories. Eldredge Publishing Company, Harvey, ND.
Wick, D.A. (1989). North Dakota place names. Bismarck, ND: Prairie House