Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Iceland

For works with similar titles, see Iceberg.

ICELAND, an island belonging to Denmark; between the North Atlantic and the Arctic oceans, 250 miles from Greenland and about 600 miles W. of Norway; greatest length, E. to W., 300 miles; central breadth, about 200 miles; area with adjacent isles, 39,756 square miles. Pop. (1919) 91,912. The coast line for a considerable extent on the S. E. is almost unbroken, but in all other directions presents a continued succession of deep bays, affording a number of natural harbors. The interior is covered by lofty mountain masses of volcanic origin, many of them crowned with perpetual snow and ice, which, stretching down their sides into the intervening valleys, form immense glaciers. These icy mountains, which take the common name of Jökul, have their culminating point in Oräfajökul, which has a height of 6,409 feet. Among the volcanoes the most celebrated is Mount Hecla, in the S., about 5,000 feet high. Numerous hot springs or geysers are scattered throughout the island. There are numerous lakes and rivers. The most valuable mineral product is sulphur, of which the supply appears to be inexhaustible.

The climate is mild for the latitude, but the summer is too cool and damp for agriculture. In the S. parts the longest day is 20 hours, and the shortest 4, but in the most N. extremity the sun at midsummer continues above the horizon a whole week, and of course during a corresponding period in winter never rises. Vegetation is confined within narrow limits. The most valuable crop is grass, on which considerable numbers of live stock (sheep, cattle, ponies) are fed. The reindeer, though not introduced before 1770, form large herds in the interior. Wild fowl, including the eider duck, whose down forms an important article of commerce, are abundant; the streams are well supplied with salmon, and on the coasts valuable fisheries of cod and herrings are carried on. Manufactures are entirely domestic, and consist chiefly of coarse woolens, mittens, stockings, etc. The exports are wool, oil, fish, horses, feathers, worsted stockings and mittens, sulphur, and Iceland moss.

The inhabitants are of Scandinavian origin. Iceland is a sovereign state, but the King of Denmark is also King of Iceland. Under the charter of May 18, 1920, the King is chief executive, acting through a cabinet, consisting of Minister of Justice, Minister of Trade and Communication, and Minister of Finance. The Althing, or Parliament, consists of: Upper House, 14 members; Lower, 28. Six members of the Upper House are chosen by proportional representation. The other 36 members of Parliament are elected by universal suffrage. From this number 8 are elected by the Althing to complete the Upper House.

Some settlements of Irish monks had been made in Iceland about the end of the 8th century, but the island received the greatest proportion of its population from Norway. In 870 Harold Haarfager had made himself supreme in Norway, and as he treated the landed proprietors oppressively, numbers left the country and went to Iceland. A settled government was established, a sort of aristocratic republic, which lasted for several centuries. Christianity was introduced in 981, and adopted by law in 1000. The Latin language and the literature and learning of the West, introduced by Christianity, were all the more warmly received. Previously to this time the Icelanders had discovered Greenland (983) and part of America (about 1000), and they were now led to make voyages and travels to Europe and the East. In 1264 Magnus VI. of Norway united Iceland with his own kingdom, with which it passed to Denmark in 1380, remaining with the latter in 1814, when Norway was joined to Sweden.

The franchise was granted to women in July, 1915. The sale of liquors was prohibited by an act passed by the Althing in January, 1915. Complete independence is now (1920) being urged by a majority of the people.