Iceland, a once-unpopulated country, was first settled by Norwegian Vikings, with a settlement in the country’s capital (Reykjavik) established back in 870 AD. Since then, Iceland has been subjected to rule from both Norway, as well as by fellow Scandinavian power Denmark — including the 17th century, when Denmark and Norway were under a political union until the early 1800s. One significant event that occurred in Iceland was the eruption of Laki volcano in 1783, which killed most of the island’s livestock, along with 9,000 locals. The climate change that occurred in Iceland during that period triggered starvation (killing a quarter of Iceland’s population). Another period of harsh climactic conditions overwhelmed Iceland in the 19th century — which contributed to another wave of outward migrations (particularly into Canada).
By the end of World War I (1918), Denmark granted Iceland full sovereignty (the Kingdom of Iceland). By 1926, Iceland’s population reached 100,000 for the first time. Iceland’s independence was interrupted during World War II, when the British occupied it for strategic purposes (control of the north Atlantic). When circumstances within the UK prevented the British forces from fully protecting Iceland from the Germans, up to 40,000 U.S. troops assumed responsibility for the defense of that country. With Iceland enjoying economic prosperity during the WWII years, it joined NATO in 1949, which resulted in a long-term U.S. military presence there.
Iceland is using its air links to both North America and Western Europe to expand its tourism sector, resulting in it taking up 6% of the country’s GDP (2010). This has been driven in part by Iceland promoting itself as an eco-tourist destination (which includes whale watching, as well as exploration of its volcanoes and glaciers). In 2012, Iceland received about 673,000 visitors, which was more than twice the country’s entire population (of just 317,000).