In preparation for the peace conference that was expected to follow World War I, in the spring of 1917 the British Foreign Office established a special section responsible for preparing background information for use by British delegates to the conference. Greenland is Number 132 in a series of more than 160 studies produced by the section, most of which were published after the conclusion of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. At the time the study was written, Greenland was a Danish colony, its political and commercial affairs managed from Copenhagen by the Royal Greenland Board of Trade. The first European colonies on Greenland were established in 986 by the Norseman Eric the Red. The Norse colonies were abandoned in 1410. In 1728 the Danes established the settlement of Godthaab (present-day Nuuk), and in 1774 the Danish government took over management of the colony. According to the 1911 census, Greenland’s total population was 13,459, of whom 384 were Europeans and the remainder Eskimos. Seal and whale hunting are listed as the chief occupation of the indigenous population. The main economic product of interest to the Danes was cryolite, an ore used in the production of aluminum found almost exclusively in Greenland, in a large deposit on the western coast of the island. 11,300 metric tons of the ore were mined in 1914, of which 4,000 tons were shipped to the United States and the remainder to Denmark. The study concludes by noting that the “present relation of the country to Denmark is supported more by motives of humanity than by hope of profit, and the regulations of the Government have chiefly in view the protection of the native population.” In 1953 Greenland became an integral part of the Kingdom of Denmark; in 1980 full internal self-government was introduced.

Last updated: February 18, 2015