Famous Immigrants

Individuals and families have immigrated to this country for many years and for many reasons. The United States was founded long after it first became a destination for those seeking rich opportunities or freedom from oppression. Following is an alphabetical list of just a few of the noteworthy immigrants who have left their homelands to make the U.S. their home. It is our intent to continue adding to this page.


Madeline Albright 1937-
Czech Republic : Politics

Formerly Secretary of State under President Clinton, Madeline Albright was born Marie Jana Korbel. She fled the Nazis with her family during WWII; first to the U.K., then to the U.S. in 1948. She did not learn of her Jewish roots, nor that her grandparents died in German concentration camps, until she was in office in the 1990s.


Isabel Allende 1942-
Chile : Literature

Born in Lima, Peru, Isabel moved around the world due to her stepfather’s career as a diplomat. She lived in Chile, Bolivia, Europe, and the Middle East, but Chile was her homeland. That is, until the military coup on Sep 11, 1973 overthrew and killed her uncle, when she fled with her husband and children to Argentina. Now a U.S. citizen, and one of the most popular novelists of our time, her books are translated into 27 languages. In 1981, she learned her 99-year-old grandfather was dying and began writing him a letter. That letter became The House of Spirits, made into a film in 1993 by Danish director Bille August. Some of her other books are Of Love and Shadows 1984, Afrodite 1997, Daughter of Fortune 1999, and My Invented Country 2003.


Mario Andretti 1940-
Italy : Sports

The race car driver saw the Italian Grand Prix at Monza as a small child. He left war-torn Italy in 1955 with his family and came to Pennsylvania. Andretti began racing with his twin brother, Aldo, who later quit after serious injury. Mario went on to win NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in 1967.


George Balanchine 1904-1983
Russia : Performing Arts

Son of a composer and student of music, Balanchine graduated with honors from the St. Petersburg Imperial Theater School’s ballet section. He came to the U.S. at age 29. After several different attempts, the New York City Ballet was begun in 1948. Balanchine remained choreographer and ballet master of the company until the time of his death in 1983.


Amar Bose 1929-2013
India : Electrical Engineer

A graduate of MIT, Amar Bose set out to develop a speaker system that could reproduce the experience of a live performance. The result is arguably the most renowned manufacturer of speakers in the world today. Bose speakers are so well known for their quality that they are used by NASA, by performing arts halls, and by countless individuals for their homes and cars.


Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar 1910-1995
India : Astrophysicist

1983 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, Chandrasekhar is noted for his mathematical theory of black holes. Chandrasekhar studied at Presidency College in Chennai and at the University of Cambridge. Most of his career was spent at the University of Chicago. He was the nephew of Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who was 1930 winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics.  Read more.


Liz Claiborne 1929-2007
Belgium : Arts / Business

This designer of women’s fashions was raised in New Orleans. She studied art in Europe instead of finishing high school and worked in the New York fashion scene as a designer for 25 years before beginning her own house in 1976 for women’s sportswear.


Xavier Cugat 1900-1990
Spain / Cuba : Entertainer

Born in Boran, Spain, Cugat immigrated to Havanna with his family at the age of five, where he was trained as a classical violinist. As a teenager, he moved to New York and played with a band when the tango was hot. He later became a syndicated cartoonist for the L.A. Times. As sound began to be used in the movies, Cugat started a tango band that performed in many feature films by the 1930s. The band opened the famed Waldorf Astoria Hotel and became its house band, while the band’s leader also commuted regularly for movie appearances. Cugat discovered and married classical guitarist and salsa dancer Charo in 1966. He died in Barcelona at age 90.


Oscar de la Renta 1936-2014
Dominican Republic : Fashion Designer

This fashion designer left the Dominican Republic at 18, worked in Spain and for two years in Paris (for Dior & Lanvin) before coming to New York to work for Elizabeth Arden. In 1965, he began his own fashion house famous for ladies’ day wear and evening gowns, moving in celebrity circles. De la Renta as helped to define fashion during the late 20th & early 21st centuries. New York’s garment industry is the 10th largest employer in the private sector with 100,000 jobs, many in production, many in skilled labor areas, employing new immigrants who have no other employable skills and may lack English language skills, as well.


Albert Einstein 1879-1955
Germany : Physicist / Mathematician

Scientist most noted for his contributions to physics and math, and for his theory of relativity. Einstein won the 1921 Nobel Prize for physics. He taught in Zurich, Prague, and Berlin before emigrating to the U.S. in 1940 to teach at Princeton. He was offered the presidency of the State of Israel, which he declined.


Patrick Ewing 1962-
Jamaica : Athlete

A basketball player, who moved to U.S. with his family at age 13. Ewing learned to play basketball, and as a high school senior in MA and 7′ tall, chose Georgetown from the many offers he received for college. He was the only player to win the consensus All-American award three times (1983, ’84, ’85). He was named outstanding player in 1984 when Georgetown won the NCAA and starred on the U.S. Olympic team that won in 1984. In 1985, he was selected by the New York Knicks, where he was a starter for 14 seasons. In 1996, he was named one of the top 50 players in NBA history.


Andy Garcia 1956-
Cuba : Actor

Born Andrés Arturo García Menéndez, 5 years before Castro came to power in Cuba. Garcia came to Miami with family. His father was a lawyer in Cuba, who set up successful fragrance business in the U.S. One of the few Hispanic actors to successfully crossover into mainstream Hollywood, Garcia lives a quite life outside of the hubbub with his wife, also a Cuban immigrant, and their children. Films include Stand and Deliver 1988, The Godfather III 1990, When a Man Loves a Woman 1994.


David Ho 1952-
Taiwan : Medical and Scientific Research

Ho’s father left Taiwan searching for better things for his family. Nine years later, he was able to send for his family. Spoke no English when he arrived in this country with at age 12, yet completed high school in central L.A. with honors. Attended MIT and Cal Tech to study Physics, leading him eventually to medicine and molecular biology. As a resident, witnessed some of the first cases of AIDS in this country. Ho developed the “cocktail” used now to treat early stages of HIV. His treatment has been credited with extending the productive lives of those with HIV. Time’s Man of the Year 1996. Has also begun to research SARS virus.


Bob Hope 1903-2003
Great Brittan : Entertainer

Born in England, Hope was one of seven boys. The family immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio and Hope was naturalized at age 17. Having taken on odd jobs from the age of 12, Hope was never a stranger to hard work, entering dance contests or doing other entertainment to make some money on the side. After a stint in Vaudeville, Hope made it to Broadway and, eventually, to Hollywood. Through a long film and television career, perhaps Hope’s greatest gift was to generations of U.S. troops through his tours and performances with the United Service Organization (USO). First performing in 1941 in CA, Hope’s USO career spanned half a century, during which time he headlined approximately 60 tours. An act of Congress in 1997 was signed by President Clinton, naming Hope Honorary Veteran, to which he responded, “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime – but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most – is the greatest honor I have ever received.”


Henry Kissinger 1923-
Germany : Politics & Diplomacy

Naturalized in 1943, Kissinger earned his B.A. Summa Cum Laude, from Harvard in 1950. His MA in 1952, and his Ph.D. in 1954. He also taught at Harvard prior to entering into public service. Kissinger served as National Security Adviser and then Secretary of State under President Richard Nixon. His negotiations with China paved the way for open relations with that country. Kissinger won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1973 for his role in the ceasefire in North Vietnam. He is the author of many books. In 2002, he was named by George W. Bush to head a government inquiry into the 9/11 attacks. The following month, Mr. Kissinger stepped down, citing as his reason conflicts of interest with his private political consulting firm. Criticisms of U.S. foreign involvement have been traced to Kissinger in the 2002 documentary, The Trials of Henry Kissinger.


Mike Nichols 1931-2014
Germany : Director of Films & Stage

This award-winning director of stage and screen was born Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky in Berlin. He left Germany w/ family in 1939. He attended the University of Chicago and studied under Lee Strasburg in New York. Nichols partnered with Elaine May to make a successful comedy team. He began directing and has six Tony Awards to his credit. He was an honoree of the 2003 Kennedy Center Honors with Itzhak Perlman, Loretta Lynn, James Brown, and Carol Burnett. His illustrious film direction career includes Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe? 1966, The Graduate 1967, Carnal Knowledge 1971, Silkwood 1983, Working Girl 1988, Angels in America 2003. In 2012, Nichols won the Tony for Best Director for the Broadway production of Death of a Salesman.


Satya Nadella 1967-
India : Computer Science & Business

Named CEO of Microsoft in February 2014, Nadella was born in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, and given the name Nadella Satyanarayana. He earned his Bachelor of Engineering degree from the Manipal Institute of Technology. He moved to the United States, where he earned an M.S. in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. He played a major role in Microsoft’s foray into cloud computing prior to becoming CEO.


Joseph Pulitzer 1847-1911
Hungary : Journalist & Publisher

Eldest son of Hungarian Jews, Pulitzer’s father died when Joseph was 11 years old. His mother remarried and Joseph was educated in Budapest. In 1864 he immigrated to the U.S. Though rejected by the Austrian army for weak eyesight and by the French Foreign Legion, Pulitzer served in I Company of the 1st New York Lincoln Cavalry until the end of the Civil War. Pulitzer became a journalist and publisher, credited with beginning new, controversial journalism, along with William Randolph Hearst. The standard of journalism was raised and credibility made the profession respectable. Pulitzer was an advocate of democracy who supported labor and exposed political corruption. The prestigious American prize for journalism is named for him.


Arnold Schwarzenegger 1947-
Austria : Body Builder, Actor, Politician

Born in Thal, Austria, the son of a former Nazi storm trooper, Schwarzenegger was always interested in sports. In his teens, his soccer coach took the team for weight training and Arnold discovered his love of body building. While serving his mandatory one year in the Austrian army in 1965, Arnold sneaked off base for his first competition at age 18. He won first place in the junior division of the Mr. Europe competition. At 20, he became the youngest Mr. Universe. Schwarzenegger came to the U.S. in 1968 with little money, able to speak very little English. Undaunted and with a generous patron, he trained at Gold’s Gym in Santa Monica. From 1971 – 1975 Schwarzenegger held the title of Mr. Olympia – the highest award in body building. Having retired after the 1974 competition, he was convinced to enter once more by George Butler and Charles Gaines who wanted to make the documentary, Pumping Iron. Though he had little time to train and was underweight because of a recent film role, he easily won this competition, also. Schwarzenegger found more than mild success in the film industry starring largely in action films and a few comedies, also winning a Golden Globe for Stay Hungry (1976).

Schwarzenegger began his political career by chairing the President’s Council of Physical Fitness and Sports under President George H.W. Bush 1990-1993.

In 2003, Schwarzenegger opposed and defeated Governor Gray Davis in the California recall election. A feather in the Republican cap, Schwarzenegger is married to Maria Shriver, a leading Democrat and member of the Kennedy family.


Maria Sharapova 1987-
Russia : Athlete

In 2004, a 17-year-old Sharapova defeated reigning tennis champion Serena Williams in the Grand Slam at Wimbledon. Sharapova came to the U.S. as a child with her father, escaping the fallout at Chernobyl, with no prospects and little money. The family would be separated for 2 years until her mother could gain a visa to join them. Maria began hitting tennis balls at 4 and by 6 was in Moscow for an exhibition featuring Martina Navratilova. Possibilities abound for this young, talented, 6′ tennis star.


M. Night Shyamalan 1970-
India : Filmmaker

Born in Pondicherry, Tamil-Nadu, India, Shyamalan came to the U.S. as a young child and was raised in the affluent suburbs of Philadelphia’s main line. At age 8, he knew what he wanted to do and already had a Super-8 camera, following in the footsteps of his hero, Steven Spielberg. Shyamalan graduated from NYU and has written and directed The Sixth Sense 1999, Unbreakable 2000, Signs 2002, and The Village 2004.


Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008
Russia : Author

Prolific writer known mostly for his criticism of oppression under the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union. Earlier works include One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 1962, describing the labor camps under Stalin, and The Gulag Archipelago 1973, exposing Stalin’s labor camps to the world. In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. Fearing he would not be allowed to return to his country, Solzhenitsyn did not go to Sweden to receive the award. The western world had taken note of him, however, and knew when he was arrested for treason and expelled from his country in 1974. He became a U.S. citizen and continued to write such works as The First Circle and Cancer Ward, both 1968, August 1914 1971, and The Oak and the Calf 1980. In 1994, the USSR cleared him of treason, and he returned to his native Russia.


Sammy Sosa 1968-
Dominican Republic : Athlete

The Chicago Cubs right fielder was born 5th of 7 children in a home suffering from poverty. Sosa’s father plowed fields to support his family, but died when Sammy was just 7 years old. Sammy was already earning what he could by shining shoes or washing cars to help his mother. Not really interested in baseball, his brother Jose convinced Sammy to play when he was 14 years old. Discovered by a scout, Sammy was signed with the Texas Rangers and gave almost all his bonus to his mother. In 1998, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire volleyed to break Roger Maris’s season record of 61 home runs, which had held for 37 years. In 2003 Sosa became the 18th player in history to hit 500 home runs in his career.


Lee Strasberg 1901-1982
Austria-Hungary : Performing Arts

Student of the American Laboratory Theatre in New York. Co-founded the Group Theatre in 1931, known for producing the likes of Elia Kazan, Stella Adler, John Garfield. Strasberg is remembered as a director, producer, actor, teacher, coach and writer. Strasberg became Artistic Director of the Actor’s Studio in New York less than a year after joining. His students are award-winning legends on the stage and the film industry. Among them, Paul Newman, Marilyn Monroe, Dustin Hoffman, Robert DeNiro, and Jack Nicholson. Strasberg lectured at Harvard, Brown, Tulane, Yale, UCLA, Brandeis. Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from University of Florida for contribution to acting and directing technique.


Levi Strauss 1829-1902
Bavaria : Business

In 1847, Strauss moved to New York with his mother and two sisters, joining two brothers who owned a dry goods business. In 1853 he moved to San Francisco at the height of the gold rush. Strauss brought with him sail cloth and other sewing supplies, planning to offer his services to construct tents and the covers for wagons. The miners and prospectors complained that their clothes were not durable enough for their work conditions. Strauss used up his supply of sail cloth and then found a supply of surge de Nimes, made in France. Eventually, the name was shortened to denim. Strauss opened a dry goods wholesale business with his brother-in-law, David Stern, and Levi Strauss, & Co. was born. In 1872, a tailor from Nevada who was a customer of Strauss, told Strauss how he used metal rivets at points of stress when he made britches for his customers. Stern could not afford the patent, but suggested Strauss take out the patent and the two share the idea. Strauss died in 1902, leaving the business to four nephews. Davis sold his shares to Strauss’s heirs after they managed to rebuild following the 1906 earthquake and fire.


Bjarne Stroustrup 1950-
Denmark : Inventor

Dr. Stroustrup gained his college degree in Denmark from the University of Aarhus and his Ph.D. from Cambridge. His creation of the C++ Computer Language, one of the most important developments in computing, awarded him a place in the National Academy of Engineering. In 1979, Dr. Stroustrup moved to New Jersey with his wife and daughter to work for the Bell Labs. After the 1995 break-up of that system, the moved to Texas, where he took up and maintains a position at Texas A&M University’s computer science department. Dr. Stroustrup maintains a connection to the AT&T Research Labs.


Billy Wilder 1906-2002
Austria-Hungary : Film Director, Writer, Producer

Fleeing the Nazi regime in 1933, Wilder came to the U.S. by way of Paris. Films to his credit are Double Indemnity 1944, The Lost Weekend (1945 Oscar for Best Director), Sunset Boulevard (1950 Oscar for Best Screenplay), Sabrina 1954, Some like it Hot 1959, and The Apartment 1960. Wilder has been honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Directors Guild, European Film Awards, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and, from the Academy the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award.

Wolfgang Puck, chef and fellow Austrian, says that Wilder is partly responsible for the success of his restaurant, Spago. Wilder would bring actors and others from Hollywood there for celebrations and working dinners.


This list is a growing work-in-progress. Following are some other immigrants to the United States on whom we will elaborate in the future. You are welcome to forward your suggestions to webmaster@murthy.com.

Mikhail Baryshnikov 1948-
Ballet dancer

Jagdish Bhagwati 1934-
Professor, Columbia University

Irving Berlin 1888-1989

Hans Bethe 1906-2005
Nobel Prize-winning Physicist

Frank Capra 1888-1989
Film director

Charles Chaplin 1889-1977
Great Brittan
Film director and actor

Andre Codrescu 1946-

Claudette Colbert 1903-1996
Movie actress

Karl Dane 1886-1934

Edwidge Danticat 1969-
Author, Breath Eyes, Memory

Placido Domingo 1941-
Opera Singer

Jaime Escalante 1930-2010
Educator (subject of film Stand and Deliver)

Gloria Estefan 1957-
Pop singer

Father Edward Flanagan 1886-1948
political activist / Catholic Priest

Michael J. Fox 1961-
Actor and activist for stem cell research as related to Parkinson’s Disease, from which he suffers

Max Frankel 1930-
Editor, New York Times

Felix Frankfurter 1882-1965

John Kenneth Galbraith 1908-2006

Greta Garbo 1905-1990
Movie actress

Kahlil Gibran 1883-1931
Author of The Prophet

Samuel Goldwyn 1882-1974
Movie producer and Goldwyn-Mayer studios in Hollywood

Arshile Gorky 1904-1948
Artist / Painter

Andrew Grove 1936-2016
Founder, Intel Corp

Iman (Abdulmajid) 1955-
Model, Actress, Business Executive

Elia Kazan 1909-2003
Film & theater writer / director

Angela Lansbury 1925-
Great Brittan

Yo-Yo Ma 1955-
Concert Cellist

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