Smithsonian National Museum of American History - 05/2021

Smithsonian National Museum of American History - 05/2021

Immigrant Inventors Giving Back

Written by Eric S. Hintz

The United States has a long history of welcoming and encouraging immigrant inventors such as telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell (Scotland), electrical wizard Nikola Tesla (Croatia), and Google’s search engine co-inventor Sergey Brin (Russia). American independent inventors have often been valorized as symbols of rugged individualism; this is especially true for bootstrapping immigrant inventors. Like all inventors, America’s immigrant inventors had to overcome technical challenges and resistance to the adoption of their products, but they also had to overcome additional social and cultural barriers as outsiders in a strange land.

But American immigrant inventors were not just rugged individualists; they were also rugged altruists. After earning hard-won financial success in the United States, the most successful immigrant inventors often channeled their generosity back to their homelands or to communities of immigrants living in the United States. In this blog post, I examine how the immigrant experience influenced the charitable giving and service activities of two immigrant inventors from the early 20th century—Leo Baekeland and Charles Eisler—whose historical collections are preserved at the National Museum of American History.

To read the balance of the article: