Brilliant Immigrants Reveal America's True Greatness

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Answer from Aaron Yip, software engineer:

With the turn of the 1900s, Germany was perfectly poised to become the greatest superpower in written history, one of the most industrialized nations at the time (next to UK and Argentina) paired with the biggest military for the following 50 years.

The German empire and territories would soon give birth to an overwhelming portion of future Nobel Laureates and many of the greatest minds of the 20th century including Max Born, Hans Bethe, Alexander Grothendieck, Bernard Katz, Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Walter Kohn, Hans Adolf Krebs, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, and Albert Einstein.

All of these people would be forced to flee the German empire. Where did they go? Well…

The United States is universally renowned for its universities and industry giants today like Apple, Google, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Dropbox and Uber; as well as Sun Microsystems, Intel, Yahoo!, IBM all the way to Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, eBay, United States Steel, Ford, and General Electric.

Albert Einstein, fleeing Germany, would find refuge at Princeton and change the world forever in many ways. On the eve of World War II, he penned a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt which would establish the Manhattan Project. There, future Nobel Laureates Hans Bethe and Enrico Fermi, refugees from Italy, ran the labs that invented the atomic bomb to end WW2 for the United States.

03_16_einstein_01 Picture shows a German 55 euro cents special edition stamp commemorating the the 100th anniversary of the publication of late German-born physicist Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity in Berlin June 15, 2005. Reuters

Nobel Laureates With Immigrant Roots

Abdul Fattah Jandali is a political migrant from Homs, a city now destroyed by the Syrian civil war. Jandali started university at the American University of Beirut, but protests ultimately forced him to flee Lebanon. He finished his degree at Colombia University in the U.S. and continued with an economics PhD at Wisconsin University. There he met and dated Joanne Carol Schieble, a German-Swiss Catholic. She became pregnant, and they placed their child for adoption in San Francisco. The couple that adopted their baby named him Steve Jobs.

In the late 1960s, Michael and Eugenia Brin left the USSR to escape anti-Semitism with their son. Michael Brin became a professor at the University of Maryland, and Eugenia Brin became a research scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Their son, Sergey Brin, received a NSF fellowship that took him to Stanford University. He met Larry Page; the duo became fast friends and transformed information technology. Google was born with an investment of $100,000 by Stanford alum and Sun Microsystems co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim, a German immigrant.

Steve Chen, born in Taiwan, founded YouTube. Jan Koum from Ukraine founded WhatsApp. Brazilian Mike Krieger founded Instagram. Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox founder, is an Iranian-American. Travis Kalanick, Uber founder, was born to Polish and Russian Jewish immigrants. Andrew Grove, born in Hungary, founded Intel. Jerry Yang from Taiwan founded Yahoo, Herman Hollerith from Germany founded IBM and Charles Pfizer and Charles Erhart from Germany founded Pfizer. AT&T? Alexander Graham Bell from Scotland; P&G? William Procter from England and James Gamble from Ireland; Goldman Sachs? Marcus Goldman from Germany. Pierre Omidyar, France, founded eBay. Scottish American Andrew Carnegie founded US Steel as well as Carnegie Mellon University. Irishman William Ford and Mary Ford, daughter to Belgian immigrants, raised Henry Ford who in turn founded the Industrial Revolution, automobiles, and the Ford Motor Company. General Electric's Thomas Edison was born to a Canadian father. Walt Disney, Amazon, Boeing, Citigroup, Kroger, Costco, Home Depot, Walgreen, State Farm Insurance, Lockheed Martin, Oracle, McDonalds — the list goes on and on and on.

Fortune 500 Companies With Immigrant Roots

These companies employ more than 19 million people globally with combined revenues of $4.8 trillion (2014) for the United States. This figure exceeds the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China, and Japan. Immigrants are twice as likely to start a new business than non-immigrants. Seven of the 10 most valuable brands in the world come from American companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants.

A Luo boy was born on the shores of Lake Victoria outside Kendu Bay, British Kenya in 1936. As he grew up, he traveled widely — visiting Europe, India and Zanzibar — and became a cook for missionaries and a local herbalist in Nairobi. In 1960, he attended the University of Hawaii where he met and dated Stanley Ann Dunham, an American woman. Their son, Barack Obama, would become the seventh US president with immigrant parents—a lineage that includes Thomas Jefferson.

Stanford Professor Maryam Mirzakhani was born in Iran in 1977. Twenty-two years later, she started her PhD at Harvard University. At 37, she became the first woman to win the Fields Medal—the highest honor in mathematics—putting her in a very small circle that includes Terence Tao, an Australian-American mathematician.

Harvard Professor Pardis Sabeti was born in Iran in 1975 and left before the Iranian Revolution. Sabeti pioneering the use of genetic sequencing to track and monitor Ebola during its 2014 outbreak; she established critical measures to control the virus and prevent future epidemics.

For 36 years, Iranian-American Firouz Naderi served the U.S. government at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There, he led the deployments of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers to Mars. For his contributions to advancing space exploration, Naderi received NASA's highest honor—the Distinguished Service Medal.

03_16_musk_01 SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Reuters

South African Elon Musk builds on the Martian dream with his work at SpaceX. In his biography, answering why he choose to move to the U.S., Musk says, "The United States is definitely ahead in culture of innovation. If someone wants to accomplish great things, there is no better place than the U.S.”

This is absolutely correct.

But let us imagine a slightly different world. A world where Maryam Mirzakhani and Pardis Sabeti are Canadian Professors; where Apple and Google are Canadian companies; where Carnegie Mellon University and the Industrial Revolution were founded in Canada; and so were YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Dropbox, Uber, Sun Microsystems, Intel, Yahoo!, IBM, Pfizer, Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, eBay, Boeing, Citigroup, Kroger, Costco, Home Depot, Walgreen, State Farm Insurance, Lockheed Martin, Walt Disney, Oracle, Amazon, McDonalds, and innumerable other companies.

Imagine Satya Nadella, Sundar Pichai, and Vinod Khosla running Canadian internet giants.

For our entire history, our country has been defined by welcoming when other nations oppressed.

The most American thing is unconditional love — love that ended wars; love that helped build everything from YouTube and Instagram to McDonalds and Disney; love that uncovered new laws of physics, advanced the frontiers of space, and saved countless millions of lives on earth.

The most American thing ever is exclaiming boldly and unyieldingly, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free; the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.”

Those were the greatest minds of the last century who came and helped transform America into the global center of innovation from technology and politics to sciences and the arts.

That is our American brand. That is true greatness. Let’s make America great again.

What is the most American thing ever? originally appeared on Quora—the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on TwitterFacebook, and Google+.
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