“Every American who has ever lived, with the exception of one group, was either an immigrant himself or a descendant of immigrants,” these are the words of the 35th president of the United States John F. Kennedy. Though immigration remains a topic of debate, the country as it is now, featuring innovation, creativity and many opportunities, wouldn’t be possible without the impact of foreign-born people who once immigrated to the United States.
The list of people who made a valuable contribution to making America great seems to be endless but let’s find out at least some names.
Famous Immigrants in American History
Albert Einstein, the greatest scientist of the 20th century, received threats from Nazis and, fearing for his life and the life of his wife Elsa, asked for refuge in the United States in 1933. In the USA, he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. In 1940 he passed the citizenship test and was naturalized the same year.
On the eve of World War II, Einstein signed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning the president about the potential nuclear danger and recommending that the US take action. This letter led to the launch of the Manhattan Project, though Einstein denounced the idea of using nuclear fission as a weapon.
Pierre Omidyar, the man who launched eBay, is also an immigrant. His parents were Iranian immigrants to Paris, France, where Pierre was later born. When Pierre was a child, his family moved to Baltimore due to his father’s residency at The Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Omidyar is a member of the 21st Century Council at Berggruen Institute. In 2010 he launched Honolulu Civil Beat, an investigative news website that covers civic affairs in Hawaii. In 2013, the website partnered with The Huffington Post and created the weblog’s latest regional addition, HuffPost Hawaii. In 2013, Omidyar founded First Look Media as a venue for independent journalism.
Yao Ming became an international star after he started playing at the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association. However, he wasn’t born in the USA – he was born in China and started his career at the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA).
In 2016, Yao was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Next Year, Yao was elected as chairman of Chinese Basketball Association.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, was born in 1973, in a Russian Jewish family in Moscow, Russia. At the times of the Soviet Union, Jewish people were restricted from many opportunities because of their nationality. Sergey’s father pursued a better future for his family so he applied for an exit visa in 1978. The family had gone through very hard times before they finally arrived in the USA. Sergey was six years old at that time.
He followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and studied computer science and mathematics at the University of Maryland. After graduation, he enrolled in Stanford University to acquire a PhD in computer science. At Stanford University he met Larry Page, with whom he developed a web search engine. The search engine became highly popular at the university, and they suspended their doctoral studies to start up Google.
Anousheh Ansari, the engineer, entrepreneur, and the first self-funded woman to fly to the International Space Station, has Iranian roots. She was born in Mashhad, Iran, and later moved to Tehran with her family. In 1984 she and her parents immigrated to the United States, now she is an American citizen.
Ansari became the first Iranian in space, the fourth self-funded space tourist, and the first self-funded woman to fly to the International Space Station. Shei co-founded and is currently a chairwoman at Prodea Systems. She also co-founded Telecom Technologies, Inc. Her family sponsors the Ansari X Prize.
Andrew Carnegie isn’t a USA natural-born citizen as well. Before establishing himself as one of the richest and most philanthropic men of all time, Carnegie lived with his parents in Dunfermline, Scotland. He immigrated with his parents in 1848 to Allegheny in search of a better life.
Carnegie revolutionized the steel industry in the late 19th century in the USA and became one of the main philanthropists in the USA and in the British Empire. He contributed about 90 percent of his fortune to charity. His 1889 article proclaiming “The Gospel of Wealth” encouraged wealthy people to use their money and assets to improve society, and triggered a wave of philanthropy. Besides that, he built Carnegie Hall in New York and founded a large number of institutions.
Madeleine Albright, the first female US secretary, was born into a Jewish family in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Because of the family’s Jewish roots, three of her grandparents died in Nazi concentration camps. At the age of 5, her family were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church and dropped the umlaut from the name “Körbel” since “Korbel” had a less Jewish sound. During the war years, her family in England and came back in 1945, after the war ended. However, her father disapproved of the communist regime that dominated in Czechoslovakia at those times and her Madeleine’s family migrated to the United States in 1949.
She was appointed an ambassador to the United Nations in 1993. In 1997, she was appointed as a Secretary of State and became the first female to hold this position. Albright served on the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations. Beside, she founded the Albright Group, a consulting firm. In 2012 Albright received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Arnold Schwarzenegger dreamed of moving to the US since he was 10. He saw bodybuilding as the avenue through which to do so. Arnold was born in a small Austrian town called Thal. he had a bad relationship with his father and always dreamed of becoming rich. Since 15 Arnold did weight training and took part in bodybuilding competitions. In 1968 at the age of 21, he realized his dream and migrated to the United States. In 1983, he was granted citizenship.
Besides being considered one of the greatest bodybuilders of all time, Schwarzenegger gained fame as an action movie icon. He served as governor of California from 2003 to 2011.
Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the Huffington Post, was born in Athens, Greece, in 1950. She made her way to the United States in 1980 after studying at Cambridge University in England.
Huffington founded and headed Thrive Global, a corporate and consumer well-being and productivity platform. She was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time Magazine and one of the most powerful women by Forbes.
Nikola Tesla, the electrical engineer, mechanical engineer and one of the greatest inventors of all times, was born in Austrian Empire (now Croatia). There he received advanced education in engineering. In 1884 he migrated to the United States and became a naturalized citizen. Tesla started his scientist and inventor career in New York – that’s where he started developing his electrical and mechanical devices.
Joseph Pulitzer, the newspaper publisher and founder of the Pulitzer Prize, was born in Pest, Hungary. His ancestors migrated from Pullitz, Moravia to Hungary at the end of the 18th century. He arrived in Boston in 1864 to seek a better life.
In his time he was one of the most powerful journalists in the USA. Pulitzer became a leading voice in the Democratic Party and was elected congressman from New York. He advocated against corruption and big business, and helped with fundraising for the Statue of Liberty.
Jim Carrey was born in Canada. His mother had French, Scottish and Irish roots and his father had French and Canadian ancestry (the original name of the family is Carré). In 2004, Carrey became a naturalized U.S. citizen and remains a dual citizen of both Canada and the United States.
Carrey starred in such popular films as “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”, “Dumb and Dumber”, “The Mask”, and “Liar Liar”, “The Truman Show”, among others. He has written and produced a number of his films also. He received 2 Golden Globe Awards, 11 MTV Movie + TV awards, among many other recognitions.
Willem de Kooning was born in the Netherlands. In 1927, he moved to the USA from Rotterdam by stowing away on a freight ship bound for Argentina. In 1964, de Kooning received the presidential medal of freedom.
William de Kooning became one of the foremost Abstract Expressionism painters. He has influenced numerous painters during his time and even years after his death. His works were on display at New York’s Charles Egan Gallery, the Whitney Museum of American Art, National Gallery of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the National Medal of Arts, and the Andrew W. Mellon Prize.
Carlos Santana came from Autlán de Navarro, Mexico. His family moved from Autlán de Navarro to Tijuana, which is located at the border with California, and at the beginning of the 1960s to San Francisco.
Santana crossed the musical boundaries with his fusion of rock and roll and Latin American jazz. In 2015, Rolling Stone magazine listed Santana among 100 Greatest Guitarists. Santana received 10 Grammy Awards and three Latin Grammy Awards.
Melania Trump, the first lady of the United States, migrated to the country in 1996. She was born in Novo Mesto, and grew up in Sevnica, Slovenia (at those times it was part of Yugoslavia). She moved to New York City to pursue a career in modeling. She became a citizen of the USA in 2006.
In addition to modeling, she marketed a line of jewelry sold by the QVC company and created a caviar-based skincare line. In 2018, she set up the Be Best campaign that focuses on well-being for youth and advocates against drug use and cyberbullying.
Levi Strauss is known as the inventor of one of the world’s most durable and popular clothing items – the blue jeans. Strauss came from the German city called Buttenheim. His birth name was “Loeb,” but he took on the Americanized version “Levi” after moving to New York with his family in 1847.
In 1850, during the Gold Rush, Strauss was selling dry goods to miners. Being aware of the miners’ need for durable clothes, Strauss hired a tailor to make pants out of tent canvas. He established his company Levi Strauss & Co. in 1853 in San Francisco.
Anne Elisabeth Claiborne, a fashion designer and businesswoman, was born in Brussels, Belgium. She moved to New Orleans in 1939 at the start of World War II.
Claiborne co-founded Liz Claiborne Inc., the first company established by a woman to make the Fortune 500 list. She dramatically transformed the women apparel industry and created a line of casual, comfortable, and colourful clothing that allowed customers to mix and match various parts of their outfit. After having retired from the management position in her company, Claiborne switched focus to environmental conservation projects.
Jan Koum, the co-founder of WhatsApp, was born in Ukraine however he and his mother moved to the United States when the boy was 16, leaving behind their anti-Semitic and communist environment. They settled in a small apartment in Mountain View, California.
Koum started his working career as a cleaner at a grocery store and managed to create a product with about 1.5 billion monthly active users worldwide. In 2014, Koum entered the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. He donated $1,5 million in total to The FreeBSD Foundation, and about $556 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
Isabel Allende, one of the world’s most-read Spanish authors, was born in Peru, Chile but was forced to move to Venezuela after the assassination of her uncle, Chilean Pres. Salvador Allende. On her book tour in 1988, Allende met her second husband Willie Gordon. They got married in 1988 and Allende settled in the USA.
In 1996 Allende found the Isabel Allende Foundation, aimed at supporting nonprofit organizations provide help to women in Chile and the San Francisco Bay area. In 2004, Allende became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She received Chilean National Prize in Literature and the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as the PEN Center USA’s lifetime achievement award in 2016.
Steve Chen & Jawed Karim, the co-founders of Youtube, are foreign-born residents. Steve Chen was born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved to Illinois with his parents at the age of 8. Jawed Karim was born in Merseburg, East Germany and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota with his family in 1992.
Steve Chen co-founded the Internet company AVOS Systems. Asian Scientist Magazine included him in the list of the 15 Asian Scientists To Watch. Besides that, Chen co-launched the Nom.com live streaming food network in 2016 however year after it was shut down. Chen was inducted as a Laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and received the Order of Lincoln.
In 2008, Karim co-launched the Youniversity Ventures venture fund and invested in Airbnb. In 2006, he gave a speech at the annual ACM Conference at the University of Illinois on the history of YouTube. In 2007, he became the youngest Commencement Speaker in the history of the University of Illinois.
Elon Musk, the technology entrepreneur, engineer and investor, was born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa. At the age of 17 Musk moved to Canada to study at Queen’s University and later transferred to the United States for further studies.Musk holds South African, Canadian, and U.S. citizenship.
It seems like the list of Musk’s start ups is endless. He founded and heads Space X, Tesla, Inc., Neuralink, The Boring Company, OpenAI, and PayPal. In 2016, he was included in the list of The World’s Most Powerful People and is ranked the 40th-richest person in the world by Forbes.
Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo! immigrated to San Jose, California in 1978. He originally came from Taipei, Taiwan. He was born with the name Yang Chih-Yuan but changed his original name to Jerry after moving to the United States.
Yang co-founded Yahoo! in 1994 but left the company in 2012. He established a venture capital firm called AME Cloud Ventures that provides funding to startups. Besides that, Yang serves on several corporate boards.
In 2007, Yang and his wife donated $75 million to Stanford University. In 2012 and 2013 the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco exhibited items from their Chinese calligraphy collection. They also made a donation of $25 million to the museum.
This list is just a tiny example of the impact immigrants made on the United States, and the country would lose out on a lot if it wasn’t for immigrants.