10 Famous Immigrants Who Made America Great

Immigration, more than ever, generates political debate and polarizes communities – especially in the USA. With President Donald Trump at the helm, much of the conversation around immigration today is negative. Racist generalizations and stereotypes run rife. Trump continues to label immigrants as criminals, drug addicts and moochers, painting a heinously misconstrued picture of what the immigrant population has done for America.

When you look at the landmark events, inventions and technological breakthroughs that have shaped America though, it’s plain to see that most of them would not have happened without immigrants. Below are 10 of the most famous ones who, single handedly, changed America for the better.

Hamdi Ulukaya – CEO of the Chobani Greek Yoghurt Empire

Ulukaya began his life as a kurd raising sheep in the mountains of eastern Turkey, where he developed an interest in Kurdish rights and began studying political science at Ankara University. After attracting negative attention from the authorities for his involvement in political activism, Ulukaya chose to move to America, with $3,000 to his name, no English, and a distaste for capitalism. That was in October of 1994. Fast forward three decades, and Ulukaya has built a Greek yoghurt brand that dominates the competitive American market. Not only that, but he has also begun to change the face of business leadership in America. This year, Ulukaya started a program that plans to give away 10% of Chobani’s equity to his employees. He also offers a generous 6-week parental leave policy, and employs over 400 refugees. In January, he was invited to speak at the World Economic Conference in Switzerland, where he told other business leaders, “You have to lead by example. Chobani can inspire a new way of business, a new way of work, a new way of innovation.” In 2016, Chobani pulled in $1.6 billion in revenue.

Albert Einstein – Inventor and Physicist

Albert Einstein doesn’t need much of an introduction. Undoubtedly history’s most famous scientist, he developed one of the two pillars of modern physics – the theory of relativity. Einstein was born in Germany in 1879. At the age of 17 he moved to Italy and then Switzerland, where he began training as a teacher. There, he got a job as an assistant in the Swiss patent office; it was there that he would do the discovery that changed our understanding of the universe. By 1906, he had 4 revolutionary papers published on matter and energy. In 1911, he concluded that the trajectory of light arriving on Earth from a star would be bent by the gravity of the Sun, an idea that debunked the laws of Newtonian Mechanics which had stood since the 17th century. By 1921, his groundbreaking theories had transformed the basics of modern physics and he was awarded the Nobel Prize. He began to work at Princeton University and became a U.S. citizen in 1940 (his third passport) where he was a strident critic of racism, calling it America’s “worst disease”.

Sergey Brin – Founder of Google, Inventor and Engineer

Born in 1973 in Moscow, Sergey and his family emigrated to America to avoid Jewish persecution. After receiving a degree in mathematics and computer science from the University of Maryland, Brin began studying computer science at Stanford University. It was there that he met Larry Page, and forged a business partnership that would truly change the world. The two first developed what would become Google as a research project. The search engine that organized webpages according to popularity was named after the mathematical term Googol, which is a 1 followed by 100 zeros. Brin and Page built their headquarters in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, where they would progress to become the most popular search engine in the world. In 2016, Google averaged more than a trillion searches per day. Brin and Page have now extended Google’s reach to innovative technology-based products and more philanthropic and environmental initiatives, through google.org.

Levi Strauss – Creator of Levis Jeans

Levi Strauss was born in Germany in 1829 and moved to America in 1847. It was here that he would begin making his ‘heavy duty work pants’ or ‘waist overalls’ and change the course of fashion. Strauss was the first designer of blue jeans, a staple in almost everyone’s wardrobe to this day. In his later years, Strauss remained generous to those in need, funding 28 scholarships at the University of California in 1897. His company Levis continues to thrive as a popular brand today.  

Madeleine Albright – the First Woman Secretary of State

Madeleine Albright was born in Prague in 1937 and moved to America with her family as a child. While at university, a professor urged her to enter politics. She did, and in 1993 became the American ambassador to the United Nations. 3 years later, under the Clinton administration, she became the first woman to ever be appointed secretary of the state. She held the position for many years before retiring to pursue other things. During her tenure, she was widely known as a strong willed problem solver. She fiercely advocated for increased human rights and democracy throughout the world, and fought the spread of nuclear weapons from former Soviet countries to rogue nations such as North Korea. Albright has received countless awards and accolades for her contributions to diplomacy, democracy and world affairs, including honorary degrees from several universities. In 2012, Albright received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Arianna Huffington – Co-Founder and Editor in Chief at Huffington Post

Born in Athens, Greece in 1950, Arianna Huffington moved to the US after finishing her degree in economics at the University of Cambridge, where she became president of its widely regarded debate organization, the Cambridge Union. In the U.S. she became involved in political commentary, making regular television appearances to speak on her conservative views. Eventually she came to embrace more left leaning platforms, supporting ecological activism and corporate reform. In 2005 she launched The Huffington Post, which has today become one of the most popular and powerful media platforms. By 2008, The Observer ranked The Huffington Post as the most powerful blog in the world. She has published more than a dozen books on feminism, corporate America and politics. In 2016, Huffington announced her plans to leave the Huffington Post to start a new company called Thrive Global, a digital platform dedicated to health and wellness.

Joseph Pulitzer – Journalist and Publisher

Born in Hungary, Joseph Pulitzer emigrated to America in 1864 where he would become the most powerful journalist of his time. In the 1880’s he introduced to the newspapers he acquired a new style of journalism called ‘yellow journalism‘. He became a leading figure in the democratic party, and was elected congressman for New York’s 9th congressional district from 1885 to 1887. Pulitzer campaigned against big business and corruption, and helped keep the Statue of Liberty in New York. In 1917, he established the Pulitzer Prizes, which recognize excellence and achievement in journalism, literature and the arts. The Pulitzer Prizes are still highly revered today.

Arnold Schwarzenegger – Politician & Actor

Arnold Schwarzenegger was born in Austria and migrated to America after a tough childhood pushed him to seek a brighter future. After he arrived to America, he started working alongside a trainer named Joe Weilder who saw his potential. During his body building career, he won an unprecedented five Mr. Universe titles and six Mr. Olympia crowns, and single handedly brought body-building into the mainstream. He then set his sites on Hollywood, and in no time became an A-list movie star, scoring lead roles in iconic films such as Terminator and Conan the Barbarian. In 2003, the impossibly ambitious Arnold moved into politics, running for Governor of California. He held his position until 2011, when he left office and has since moved back into acting.

Ieoh Ming Pei – Architect

Ieoh Ming Pei was born in China in 1917, moving to America at the age of 18 to eventually become one of America’s most famous architects. After earning his B.A. from MIT and his M.A. from Harvard, both in architecture, Pei founded his own firm in 1955. Pei went on to design such well-known structures as the Kennedy library, the glass pyramid at the Louvre, JFK Airport, El Paso Tower, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to name a few. Now in his nineties, Pei continues to design innovative structures around the world.

David Ho – AIDS Researcher

David Ho’s research has heavily influenced the understanding, investigation and treatment of HIV/AIDS worldwide. Born in a small town in Taiwan, David immigrated to California at age 12. He attended Harvard Medical School and began his research at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In the 1980’s, Ho’s research discounted previously held theories about how the AIDS virus affected the body. He proved that, contrary to previous belief, the AIDS virus did not lay dormant in the body for a number of years before attacking the infected person’s immune system. Instead, he proved that it began to rapidly multiply as soon as it entered the body. His discovery signaled a significant shift in how AIDs was researched and treated. Ho’s work caused the introduction of the use of a “cocktail” of drugs, including protease inhibitors, to retard the advance of the virus upon the detection of HIV in the patient. David’s discoveries have raised hope that one day the AIDS virus will be eliminated altogether. He was chosen by Time Magazine as its 1996 “Man of the Year” for his discoveries.

These ten incredible people are just a tiny example of what has resulted from immigration and the intercultural sharing of ideas. It’s a vital part of our collective pursuit of a healthier, smarter and more vibrant world. We would hate to imagine a world, or an America, without it.

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