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Immigrants Who Changed U.S. History

Elon Musk with Mars in Background

Elon Musk: Immigrant Billionaire

America is the land of limitless opportunity. Countless immigrants to the U.S. have taken advantage of the opportunities available to them to enrich both themselves and their country.

Here are just a few examples of some of the most illustrious immigrants in recent history.

Sergey Brin, Co-founder of Google (Russia)

Born in the Soviet Union in 1973, he immigrated to the United States with his family at age 6. After studying mathematics and computer science in the University of Maryland, he moved to California to pursue a PhD in computer science at Stanford University where he met Larry Page and together (at only 25 years old) started a search engine called Google that years later would become the most used search engine and would change the world. As of April 2021, he is the 8th richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $100 billion.

Elon Musk, Business Magnate (South Africa)

Born in 1971 in South Africa to a mother from Canada and a father from South Africa, he first immigrated to Canada at age 18 claiming his mother’s nationality and after 3 years there studying at Queen's University in Ontario, he moved to the U.S. to continue his studies at the University of Pennsylvania where he graduated in 1997 with a degree in economics and a degree in physics. From there he moved to California and co-founded an online financial service called X.com which eventually would be called PayPal which would be sold later to eBay for $1.5 billion. Today he is the co-founder of Tesla which became in 2020 the most valuable electric carmaker in the world, making him one of the richest men alive.

Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani (Turkey)

Born in Turkey in 1972 to a Kurdish family who owned a small dairy farm where they made cheese and yogurt, he immigrated to the U.S. at age 22 to learn English and take a few business courses. During a visit by his father to the U.S., he tasted several types of feta cheese which he thought were very poor quality, and he convinced Hamdi to import the family’s feta cheese and open his own store. It proved to be the right decision. In 2005, he bought his own yogurt factory and decided to make Turkish style yogurt (thicker, creamier, and with a higher protein content) as an alternative to American style yogurt and that’s how Chobani was born, the world's largest yogurt company. In 2019, he was named one of the most important entrepreneurs of the decade by Inc. Magazine and today Hamdi Ulukaya has expanded his company to several states in the United States and his estimated fortune is about $2 billion.

David Ho, AIDS Researcher (Taiwan)

Born in Taiwan in 1953, he immigrated with his mother and younger brother to the United States as a child to reunite with his father who had immigrated earlier in 1957 looking for a better life for his family. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a biology degree receiving its highest honors. Not satisfied with that degree he studied to become a doctor at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (two of the most selective universities in the world) from which he graduated in 1978. While doing his residency in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in the early 1980s, he came into contact with the first patients of what later would be identified as HIV/AIDS. Since then, Dr. Ho, a medical researcher and scientist has become a renowned authority all over the world due to his research into blocking HIV transmission and prolonging the life of those infected by the disease.

Ieoh Ming Pei, Architect (China)

Born in 1917 in Shanghai, he immigrated to America at age 18 because, based on the American movies that he had watched in his native China, he thought that college life was more fun in the U.S. than in China. He studied architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, but not happy with the approach of the school he quickly transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from which he graduated. But still, he wanted to do better, so he joined the Harvard Graduate School of Design to become the best architect in the world. After a few years of work in New York, he created his own firm I.M. Pei & Associates in 1955. With time, he would become one of the most famous and recognized architects in the world, designing mystic, unique, and famous buildings around the world like the glass and steel pyramid at the Louvre Museum in Paris, the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, the Dallas City Hall, the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art in Luxembourg City, the east building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Miho Museum in Kyoto, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, and the Suzhou Museum in Suzhou. He received many architecture awards during his career and in 1983 won the Pritzker Prize which is considered to be the Nobel Prize of architecture.

Rupert Murdoch, Media Tycoon (Australia)

Born in Melbourne in 1931, he immigrated to the United States in 1974, and gave up his Australian nationality to become an American naturalized citizen in 1985. He started his career when his father passed away and inherited a small newspaper owned by his father in Adelaide, Australia. In the 1960s he purchased a few other newspaper companies in his own country and in New Zealand before diving into the United Kingdom media business acquiring News of the World and The Sun. He moved to New York City in 1974 to continue the expansion of his media empire acquiring in the U.S. throughout the years renown media outlets like Fox Network, 20th Century Fox, The Wall Street Journal, and HarperCollins. In 2000, Murdoch’s business deals were worth over $5 billion and included over 800 companies in more than 50 countries.

Madeleine Albright, Politician (Czech Republic)

Born in 1937 in Prague, she and her family immigrated to the U.S. when she was only 11 years old. She became a U.S. citizen a few years later at the age of 20. Her education background included a degree from Wellesley College and a PhD from Columbia University. She worked for several senators in Washington, D.C. before she joined the National Security Council. In 1993, she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations until 1997, when she had the honor and the privilege to become the first woman U.S. Secretary of State.

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