Immigrant Innovators in the United States

Filed in American Culture by on June 5, 2014 0 Comments

1167050_94858347Many of the products and services we all use daily started with an immigrant’s innovative idea. From telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, immigrants have been the brains behind many things we use every day. Across the United States of America, there is no doubt that highly skilled immigrants are vital to the country’s innovation industries. They’re also important to the many states and metropolitan areas across the nation, places that are drivers of the national economy. Here are a few examples of how immigrants contribute as innovators in the United States.

Immigrants invent new things and are the brains behind many common products and ideas we all use every day. Immigrant inventors dreamed up many of the gadgets and gizmos, services and products, we all use regularly. Consider the following examples. Levi Strauss, originally from Germany, is one of the creators of blue jeans. Alexander Graham Bell, originally from Scotland, invented the first telephone. Luther George Simjian, originally from Turkey, invented the ATM machine. Today, ATM machines are a critical component of the country’s banking system, helping customers with faster banking transactions.  Shimon Shmueli, originally from Israel, was one of the first inventors of the portable USB flash drive. Even the food Americans consume represents a culinary mixture of cuisines from immigrants’ home cultures around the world. And the ideas for many new food items in the U.S. were cooked up by innovative immigrants. Take the hot dog, for example. Charles Feltman emigrated from Germany to New York in 1856 at the age of 15. Feltman, a Coney Island resident, decided to sell sausages in a roll to avoid plates and silverware. In 1916, one of his employees, Nathan Handwerk, an immigrant from Poland, left Feltman’s company to start his own hot dog business—Nathan’s Famous.

Foreign-born individuals contribute to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in the U.S. Immigrants contribute to the United States’ economic growth and competitiveness by earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from the country’s research universities. In 2009, “non-resident aliens” comprised almost 41 percent of all masters and doctorate degrees in STEM fields. Additionally, over 43 percent of workers in these occupations holding doctorate degrees are foreign-born. Skilled immigrants are also playing a role in the growing need for more healthcare professionals, including medical doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. As a large cohort of the country’s population grows older—the baby boom generation—there is a growing demand for healthcare professionals that can be filled by immigrant primary-care/family practice physicians and nurses, particularly in geographic regions designated as health professional shortage areas.

Whether it’s a new food item that adds to America’s diverse culinary landscape or a revolutionary new technological breakthrough that emerges as a tool people use every day, immigrant innovators have been and are continuing to make their mark on the U.S. economy and society in many ways.