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Famous American Immigrants

Albert Einstein:

Greatest physicist of the twentieth century. Born in Ulm, Germany, the young Einstein was dissatisfied with the restrictive schools in Germany. At the age of 16 he moved to Switzerland and graduated from the Federal Institute of Technology. In 1902 he became a clerk with Swiss Patent Office, where he worked with new inventions. In 1905 he published five papers, including the “Special theory of Relativity” which considered motion and the speed of light. The devastation of World War I caused Einstein to become an active pacifist. In 1916 he published his “General Theory of Relativity,” a concept of a curved universe and its affect on light. In 1922 he won the Nobel Prize for Physics. While visiting America in 1933 the Nazi party came to power in Germany and Einstein renounced his German citizenship for a second time. He chose to stay in America, accepting a position at Princeton University. During World War II, Einstein knew the Germans were working on the atomic bomb. He advised President Roosevelt of the dangers of the bomb in Nazi control. He appreciated that the United States had to develop it first, but begged Roosevelt not to use it. Einstein spent the rest of his life working for peace and died in 1955.

Ieoh Ming Pei:

One of America’s most famous architects, Ieoh Ming Pei was born in Canton in China in 1917 and came to the United States at the age of 18 to study architecture. He attended MIT and Boston. In 1942 he became a concrete designer. He worked as an assistant professor at Harvard until 1948 when he joined Webb & Knapp Inc. in New York. In 1960, he started his own architectural office, I.M. Pei & Partners, now Pei, Cobb, Free & Partners. Pei’s designs are famous for their geometric patterns and their characteristic use of glass. Among Pei’s many building designs are the East Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library in Boston and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His accomplishments also include updating the Louvre in Paris.

Madeleine Albright:

Our former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and moved with her family, the Korbels, to the United States in 1948, fleeing the Communist takeover. She graduated from Wellesley College with honors in Political Science, and received her master’s degree and doctorate from Columbia University’s Department of Public Law and Government. Secretary Albright served as a staff member on the National Security Council, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies, a professor at Georgetown University, President of the Center for National Policy and, finally, as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations before being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate in January 1977 as Secretary of State. She is the first female Secretary of State and the highest-ranking woman in the U.S. government.

John Muir:

This world-famous naturalist was born in Dunbar, Scotland in 1838 and moved with his family to Portage, Wisconsin at the age of eleven. His observations of nature sharpened as he and his brother explored the beautiful countryside. Muir became a creative inventor and studied at the University of Wisconsin. In 1867 he began his travels around America, settling in California where he and his wife raised two daughters. He continued his study of glaciers, and his writings about the Sierra became popular. Muir wrote another series for Century magazine explaining the devastation of open spaces by ranch animals. This exposition led to Congress in 1890 creating Yosemite National Park. Muir also helped establish Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Petrified Forest and Mount Rainier national parks. Muir founded the Sierra Club to protect these areas, and is today remembered as the Father of Our National Park System.

Joseph Pulitzer:

This son of a Jewish father and Catholic mother was born in Hungary in 1847 and attended private schools in Budapest until age 17. His weak eyesight prevented him from joining the Austrian Army; however, he did make his way to America to join the Union Army during the Civil War. Later he found work in St. Louis where he came to the attention of two editors of a German language paper. They hired him, and the ambitious Pulitzer made the most of the opportunity. A few years later, Pulitzer had a controlling interest in the ailing paper, and by the age of 25 he was a publisher. A series of deals made him owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He married in 1878 and became a member of the city’s social elite. Pulitzer’s paper gained favor among the public for exposing corruption and tax dodgers. His purchase of The New York World, and his brilliance in marketing, including raising public subscriptions for building a pedestal for the Statue of Liberty so it could be shipped from France, made him the publisher of the best-selling newspaper in the country. He also set standards for editorial excellence. His success, as well as his keen involvement in every aspect of the paper, led to further weakening of his eyesight and his health in general. In 1904 he wrote in The North American Review, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.” Pulitzer died in 1911, leaving as his greatest legacy an annual series of journalistic awards, the Pulitzer Prizes.

Felix Frankfurter:

This Supreme Court member was born in Vienna, Austria in 1882 and moved with his family to the United States in 1894. He attended the College of the City of New York, and Harvard University. He was appointed an assistant U.S. attorney in New York City in 1906 and in 1910 he moved to the War Department. In 1914 he became a teacher at Harvard Law School, where he earned a reputation as a leading constitutional scholar. He advised President Roosevelt on those selected to lead agencies established during the New Deal. Frankfurter also participated in drawing up the Securities Act (1933), the Securities Exchange Act (1934) and the Public Utility Holding Company Act (1935). In 1935, Frankfurter was nominated by Roosevelt as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. He served until 1962 when he retired due to illness. Frankfurter’s rulings on the Court were reflected his a policy of non-interference in the proceedings of state governments. He died in 1965.

Hakeem Olajuwon:

Hakeem Olajuwon, born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1963, is considered by some to be the most famous continental African to have played in any sport in the entire American continent. At age 15, Olajuwon was 6’9″ tall and soon became the center for the Nigerian national team. From 1981-84 he attended the University of Houston, where he led his team to three consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances. In 1984, the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA) drafted Olajuwon, and he developed into one of the dominant big men in the league. Nicknamed, “The Dream,” Olajuwon led the Rockets to the NBA championship in 1994 and 1995, and was voted the league’s most valuable player for the 1993-94 season. During the 1990s, sportswriters and fans considered him, and Shaquille O’Neal, as the NBA’s best centers. Olajuwon retired in 2002 after signing with the Toronto Raptors the previous year. “The Dream” became an American citizen in 1993.

Martina Navratilova 

Another world-class immigrant athlete, Martina Navratilova , excelled in the sport of tennis. Born in Revnice, near Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1956, Navratilova defected to the United States in 1975, shortly after winning her first professional singles title in Orlando, Florida. She became a U.S. citizen in 1981. Navratilova is a former World No. 1 women’s tennis player. At the age of 15, she won the Czechoslovakian national tennis championship, and then turned professional the following year.

Subranhmanyan Chandrasekhar:

This 1983 Nobel laureate for Physics, nephew of another Nobel Prize winner for Physics, was born in Lahore, India in 1910. He studied at Madras University in India and at Cambridge University, where he received his doctorate in 1933. While at Cambridge he submitted a paper to The Astrophysical Journal on the upper limit to the mass of white dwarf stars. It was rejected as unsound. Later his theory was proved correct. He joined the University of Chicago in 1937 and spent his career there. Chandrasekhar published a number of books in his field, and for twenty years served as editor of the same Astrophysical Journal that once rejected his work. During the 1940s, Chandrasekhar drove 100 miles from Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin to Chicago for many weeks to teach a class of only two students. Some wondered why he bothered. Ten years later, his entire class won the Nobel Prize in Physics. They were Tsung Dao Lee, who received his Ph.D. under Chandrasekhar’s guidance, and Chen Ning Yang, Tsung’s classmate for that course. Chandrasekhar’s 1983 prize was for his studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of stars.

Irving Berlin:

Born in Russia in 1888, Berlin’s family moved to New York city when he was four years old. As a young man, he found work as a singing busboy in the Bowery before publishing his first song in 1911. He went on to write eight hundred more, many of which would become some of the best loved American songs of all time, including “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade” and “God Bless America.” Among his stage productions are There’s No Business Like Show Business, Top Hat and Annie Get Your Gun. Berlin died in New York in 1989 at the age of 101.

Edward M. Bannister:

Edward Bannister, a prominent American landscape painter, was born in 1828 in New Brunswick, Canada of West Indian heritage. He moved to Boston in 1848 and held various jobs while learning to paint. Some say his drive to excel in his craft was ignited by an 1867 New York Herald article that stated, “the Negro seems to have an appreciation for art while being manifestly unable to produce it.” Bannister was probably influenced by the works of the Barbizon School. His many landscape paintings depict peaceful rural settings. He also painted seascapes, portraits and still lifes. He married in 1857, and moved to Providence, Rhode Island in 1870. In 1876 his painting “Under The Oaks” was awarded the grand prize at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. When the judges realized Bannister was black, they wanted to reconsider their decision, but his white competitors upheld the judges’ decision.

Saint Frances X. Cabrini:

Mother Cabrini was born the youngest of 13 children in San Angelo in Italy. At an early age she devoted herself to a life of service to God and dreamed of becoming a missionary. In 1880 she founded, with seven other women, the order of Sisters of the Sacred Heart. Pope Leo XIII sent her to America to work with the immigrants in New York. She started with nothing, and in her first year acquired 450 acres along the Hudson River to use for an orphanage. Her work took her all over the United States and South America, founding orphanages, hospitals and schools. Mother Cabrini was a woman of tremendous faith who worked tirelessly for those in her care. She became an American citizen in 1909, was beatified in 1938 and canonized in 1946, becoming the first American saint. She founded sixty-seven schools, hospitals and orphanages, one for every year of her life.

“Mother” Mary Harris Jones:

Mother Jones was born in Ireland and emigrated with her family, who had rebelled against British rule. She finished school, worked as a teacher, married an ironworker and had four children. During her marriage she became aware of the condition of factory workers. In 1867 her husband and all of her children died during a typhoid epidemic. She then moved to Chicago and found work as a dressmaker. Just four years later, she lost everything in the Great Chicago Fire. This time, Jones found herself in the same position as many other workers who depended upon factory owners for her wages. Their dangerous and low-paid working conditions ignited her passion to fight for the rights of workers, particularly coal miners in Colorado and West Virginia, steelworkers, and children. She endured jail and death threats for her cause, and worked almost to her death at nearly one hundred.

Rita M. Rodriguez:

Dr. Rodriguez, a former director of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, was born in Oriente, Cuba in 1942, and came to the United States at the age of 15. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, and received her master’s degree in business administration and her Ph.D. from the New York University Graduate School of Business. In 1969 she became the first female hired to teach at the Harvard Business School, and she remained there until 1978. Then Dr. Rodriguez became a professor of international finance at the University of Illinois. In 1982, she was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as one of the five directors of the Ex-Im Bank, an independent agency whose chief purpose is to improve U.S. trade with other countries. She retired in 1999.

David Ho:

Dr. Ho is a well known AID research pinoeer born in Taiwan.  When David Ho was 12 years old, his father sent for the family to join him in a land they did not know, and whose language they did not speak. David was laughed at by classmates who thought he was stupid because he could not speak English, but he focused on his studies and was soon earning A’s in math, science, and even English. After graduating summa cum laude from Cal Tech, he earned a scholarship to Harvard Medical School.  As a young physician he saw some of the first known cases of AIDS. His pioneering work with “cocktails” of protease inhibitors and other antiviral drugs has brought about remarkable recoveries, and raised hope that the virus may someday be eliminated. Now Dr. David Ho is Director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center. He was chosen by Time Magazine as its 1996 “Man of the Year” for his discoveries.

Ang Lee:

Ang Lee, a New York-based, Taiwan-born independent producer, director and screenwriter who won “Best Director” in the 2005 Academy Award (“Brokeback Mountain“). Lee gained international attentions with his “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000)–an Kung Fu epic which married two genres—historical romance and martial arts.  He was also the producer and director of “The Wedding Banquet” (1993)– Described by one of its producers as “a cross-cultural, gay ‘Green Card’, comedy of errors,” this gentle, observant comedy strove to recreate the plot structure of an old Hollywood screwball comedy while confronting issues of Taiwanese identity. ”  Some of his other films include: “Hulk” (2003), “Sense and Sensibility” (1995), and “Eat Drink Man Woman” (1994).  While studying at NYU in the early 1980’s, Ang Lee was a classmate of Spike Lee (a well-known African-American Writer, Producer and Director) and have worked on Spike’s “Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barber Shop: We Cut Heads” (1982, as assistant to cinematographer Ernest Dickerson).



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