Thirty-One Days of Italians
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This page honors the 2007 Thirty-One Italians and Italian Americans who have significantly contributed to America. To learn more about those listed below, go to Contributing to America and select the appropriate category. 

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THE ITALIAN IMMIGRANT

The Italian Immigrant [Honorary Member] This day is set aside for the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and beyond – every Italian who journeyed to America from Italy, regardless of the route. It’s to honor those who sought to make a better life for themselves and their families, to remember them for the sacrifices they endured, and to thank them for the opportunities they provided us and for their contributions to America.

It’s also a day to think about your ancestors, where they came from, and where their ancestors came from; and to learn something about Italy and your heritage.

 

ARCHITECTURE

Andrea Palladio (1508-1580) [Honorary Member] Considered by many to be the "Father of Architecture," Palladio’s style – arches, columns, pediments, porticos, symmetry, and the Palladian window – traveled throughout Europe, to England, and then to America. In 1570 he wrote I Quattro Libri dell' Architettura, The Four Books on Architecture, the most famous and influential books on architecture of all time, and still in print. Thomas Jefferson cited the books as "the Bible" on architecture and designed Monticello and other buildings using Palladio’s concepts.

 

ARTISTS/PAINTERS/SCULPTORS

Constantino Brumidi [or Costantino](1805-1880) [Honorary Member] Known as the "Michelangelo of the Capitol," Brumidi spent 25 years painting the walls and ceilings of the United States Capitol. The rotunda of the Capitol, with the Apotheosis of Washington, and the frescoes and murals on the first floor of the Senate wing – the Brumidi Corridors – are among the most elaborately decorated public places in America.

In January, U.S. Senate Bill S.254 was proposed to award posthumously a Congressional Gold Medal to Constantino Brumidi, in recognition of his contributions to America.

 

EDUCATION

Maria Montessori, MD (1870-1952) [Honorary Member] A medical doctor with experience in psychiatry, philosophy, and anthropology, Dr. Montessori combined her fields to focus on educating children. She developed an educational method based on her belief in treating a child with respect and assisting, rather than teaching, which allows the child to develop fully in all aspects of his or her life. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Montessori Method.

 

EXPLORERS

Giovanni Caboto [John Cabot] (c.1455-c.1498) Cabato was interested in trade and exploration. Some reports claim he was a spice merchant, and was seeking a shorter route to the East. Others claim he wanted to travel to China. His desire to find a shorter route to the East prompted him to appeal to both Spain and Portugal for financial backing. Denied by both, he headed to England and sailed for King Henry VII as John Cabot. Caboto sailed northwest and landed on the North American continent claiming the "new found land" for the king of England.

Christopher Columbus [Cristoforo Colombo] (1451-1506) [Honorary Member] Armchair philosophers and biases aside, Columbus was a man who believed. He studied, sought the answers, heeded advice, and secured funding. Many people may have influenced and supported Columbus, but it was his belief in his capabilities as a navigator that led him to sail an uncharted sea and find a new land. Celebrate Columbus Day.

Giovanni da Verrazzano (1485-c.1528) The first European explorer to enter the harbor of New York. In 1524, Verrazzano sailed along the East Coast of America stopping at North Carolina, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Maine. In 1964, the longest suspension-span bridge in the world at 4,260 feet – between Brooklyn and Staten Island – was named in his honor. Today, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is the second longest in the world.

Amerigo Vespucci (c.1451-1512) [Honorary Member] Traveling twice to explore the coastline of South America, Vespucci was the first to realize that the New World was a new continent. Letters he wrote describing his journey were widely distributed in Europe, leading German cartographer Martin Waldseemuller to identify the land as America.

 

FILM/DIRECTORS

Frank Capra (1897-1991) After a series of jobs and two years in the army during World War I, Capra begin his career in film by writing and directing silent films. In 1934, his film It Happened One Night, won five Oscars – including Best Picture and Best Director. Subsequent films, Mr. Deeds Goes To Town, You Can’t Take it With You, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life, garnered numerous Oscar nominations and two more Best Director Awards. It’s a Wonderful Life is said to be loosely based on Amadeo Pietro Giannini, the banker who risked lending money to those who needed it, and wound up establishing the banking system in America. Capra’s movies are loved for portraying characters with intrinsic qualities of kindness, goodness, and diligence.

 

FINANCE/BUSINESS

Domenico Ghirardelli, Sr. (1817-1894) Immigrated from Rapallo (Genoa), first to South America and then to California during the Gold Rush. With prior experience as a merchant and apprentice candy maker, and with his knowledge of the chocolate trade, Ghirardelli established a confectionery company in 1852. In 1865, his company developed the Broma process, a method of extracting cocoa butter from the cacao beans, that is now used by most chocolate manufacturers. In 2002, Ghirardelli Chocolate Company celebrated its 150th year in business.

Amadeo Pietro Giannini (1870-1949) [Honorary Member] At 14, Giannini left school to help his stepfather run a produce business. Five years later, he was a partner, and at 31, he sold the business to retire. Three years later, he opened the Bank of Italy – based on the concept of lending money to the working class – offering mortgage, automobile, and installment loans. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, he salvaged the bank’s resources and loaned money to help rebuild the city. He provided financial backing to start United Artists and the California wine industry, and to keep Walt Disney’s Snow White from going over budget.

In 1928, he purchased Bank of America with plans for a nationwide banking system, and when he died in 1949, Bank of America was the largest bank in the United States. A. P. Giannini revolutionized banking, establishing the foundation for the modern banking system.

Lee Iacocca (1924) Became CEO of Chrysler Corporation in 1978, and in four years turned it from the verge of bankruptcy into receiving record-breaking profits. Iacocca convinced the federal government to provide assistance to the company and was able to pay the loans back seven years earlier, resulting in millions of dollars in profit to the government. Under his realm, the K-car and minivan were produced. As the former president of Ford Motor Company, he is sometimes referred to as the "Father of the Mustang" for his involvement in its design.

In 1982, he headed the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to raise funds for the largest American restoration to date. With proceeds from his autobiography, in 1984, he established The Iacocca Foundation – in honor of his late wife – to provide grants to fund diabetes research.

Robert Mondavi (1913) Guided by his passion to integrate the values and traditions of his Italian heritage into the American wine industry, Mondavi revolutionized it. After years of working in the vineyards and learning about the industry, in 1966 he opened Robert Mondavi Winery to create premium wines and established one of the most recognized vineyards in the world. He introduced old-fashioned wine making techniques to the California wine industry, and changed the production process to create a Sauvignon Blanc – Fumé Blanc – setting the standard for it in America. Mondavi produced wines using cold fermentation, aging in small barrels, and basket pressing, blending new methods with the old-world techniques, and in 1970 he was one of the first to export California wine.

Antonio Pasin (1896-1990) [Honorary Member] Arriving in America in 1914 from a small town outside of Venice, within several years Pasin was able to save enough money to start a small business crafting wood wagons. By 1923, he hired his first employees and named his company Liberty Coaster Company, after the Statue of Liberty. Inspired by the automobile industry, he started using metal stamping to make wagons, and named the first steel wagon Radio Flyer in honor of Marconi’s invention of the radio and Pasin’s interest in flight. Throughout the Depression, his company was one of the few that ran at full capacity and his exhibit at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair brought world fame to the red wagon. As one of the oldest toy companies in America, it is still family owned and it’s the only company that makes steel, wood, and plastic wagons. Pasin was inducted into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in 2003.

 

HUMANITARIANS

Father Pietro Bandini (1852-1917) [Honorary Member] A Jesuit priest, Father Bandini first came to America in the late 1880s as a missionary for Native Americans in the northwest. He returned to Italy for a short time, then traveled back to America to assist Italian immigrants in New York City. His previous travels through Arkansas brought him back when he learned of a group of immigrants who needed help in settling there. Recalling an area in the Ozarks similar to Italy’s environment, he assisted in purchasing the land and established Tontitown in 1898, named after Enrico de Tonti, the Father of Arkansas. By 1905, Tontitown was considered the "perfect example of colonization," and in 1909 the town was incorporated with Father Bandini as its first mayor. Through Father Bandini’s efforts and guidance, the Italian immigrants of Tontitown had cultivated the land into vineyards, producing grapes for wine and the Concord grape for commercial use.

Father Geno Baroni (1930-1984) Serving under President Jimmy Carter as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Father Baroni was known for his dedication to improving race relations and the general quality of inner city neighborhoods. He founded and was president of the National Center for Urban Ethnic Affairs and founded the Urban Rehabilitation Corporation, the forerunner to Housing Counseling Services. His principles focus on a social-action approach to bringing neighborhoods and communities together through understanding and accepting diversity.

Mother Francis Cabrini (1850-1917) [Honorary Member] With a desire to become a missionary at a young age, Francis Cabrini devoted her life to helping others. After taking vows and adding Xavier to her name in honor of Jesuit Francis Xavier, Mother Cabrini founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the Bishop’s request – and upon the advice of Pope Leo XIII – in 1889 she came to America to work with the Italian immigrants. Once in New York, she quickly established an orphanage, convent, and school to teach catechism. Over the years she traveled back and forth to Italy and established 67 missions, orphanages, hospitals, and school – one for each year of her life. She became an American citizen in 1909. In 1946, she was canonized a saint. Her body is enshrined under glass at the mother Cabrini High School and Shrine. She was the first American citizen to become a saint.

 

MEDICINE

Anthony Fauci (1940) Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984, Fauci is a key advisor to the Federal Government on AIDS issues and one of the most cited researchers and scientist in the world. His numerous awards include Harvard School of Public Health Richmond Award (2006), American Association of Immunologists Lifetime Achievement Award (2005), R&D Magazine Scientist of the Year (2005), and The New York Academy of Medicine’s Honorary Award for contributions to public health (2004).

 

MUSIC/COMPOSERS/CONDUCTORS/SINGERS

Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) [Honorary Member] Recognized by many as the world’s most acclaimed tenor, Caruso’s recordings launched the phonograph industry in the early 1900s and prompted other singers to start recording their music for sale. His vocal range and versatility is still unmatched and it’s noted that his recordings have been researched and studied more than any other singer. His recording of "No Pagliaccio non son" was the first record to sell one million copies, and more than a century later, his records continue to sell. Caruso first sang at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York in 1903 and continued his association with the Met for 18 seasons. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 for his significant artistic contributions to the recording industry.

Mario Lanza (1921-1959) Cited by tenors today as their inspiration, as a child, Lanza listened to and studied Enrico Caruso, singing along with Caruso’s recordings. At 21, Lanza sang in his first opera. After World War II, he toured as tenor in the Bel Canto Trio and his performance at the Hollywood Bowl in 1947 led him to a contract with MGM. He continued with his singing – performing in several operas and recording several albums –while making films. His first film was an instant success and in 1951, he had the starring role in The Great Caruso. His soundtrack recording of The Student Prince in 1954 was the first million-seller soundtrack album.

Since 1961, the mayor of Philadelphia has proclaimed October 7th (the day of Lanza’s death) as Mario Lanza Day. In 1962, the Mario Lanza Institute Scholarship Program was founded to fulfill one of Lanza’s dreams of a scholarship program, and 200 scholarships have been awarded since its inception. Each year, the award ceremony concludes at the Mario Lanza Ball.

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) [Honorary Member] More than fifty years after his final performance, Toscanini – known for his photographic memory, strong beliefs in music interpretation, and demand for perfection – reigns supreme as one of the world’s greatest conductors. At 13 he played cello in an orchestra, and at 19 his last-minute substitution as conductor of Verdi’s Aida in Rio de Janeiro set the course for his career. In 1898, he became director of La Scala and reorganized the performances to maximize the integrity of the music. From 1908 to 1915, he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera House. Returning to Italy during World War I, in 1921, he assembled a new La Scala orchestra and toured for eight months – three months in the United States.

In 1926 he began conducting with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and led a European tour of the company in 1930. Seven years later, with plans to make radio educational and cultural, the NBC Symphony Orchestra was created for Toscanini. Many credit him today for bringing classical music to the masses. He returned to Italy to reopen the demolished La Scala in 1946, but he continued to conduct the NBC orchestra until his retirement in 1954 at the age of 87.

Toscanini has appeared on the cover of TIME magazine twice and in 1987 he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for his significant contributions to the recording industry. A United States postage stamp was issued in his honor in 1989. This year, the 50th anniversary of his passing, in honor of his musical career and his stand against fascism, Italy is hosting numerous events in tribute to il Maestro.

 

POLITICS/LAW

Ella T. Grasso (1919-1981) Known for her close family ties and a commitment to the people she served, Grasso was the first woman in America to become state governor in her own right. She started her career as an elected politician in 1952, in the Connecticut House of Representatives, serving two terms. In 1956, she became Chair of the Connecticut Democratic State Platform Committee, continuing in that position until 1968. In 1958, she was elected Connecticut Secretary of State, a position she held until her election into the U. S. House of Representatives in 1970. She was elected for a second term in the House and in 1974, Grasso was elected Governor of Connecticut. Halfway into her second term as Governor, she resigned due to illness. In Grasso’s active political career, she won every election. In 1993, Grasso was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Fiorello H. La Guardia (1882-1947) Known for his strong support of fair government, La Guardia was the first three-term Mayor of New York City, and is credited for changing its landscape and building the foundation for the city’s growth after the Depression. Born in New York, La Guardia spent his early years in the west and southwest with his family, following his father’s career as a member of an Infantry Band. The family moved to his mother’s homeland of Trieste, Austria-Hungary (now Italy) after his father retired in 1898. From 1901 to 1906 he served in the American Consular Service in Budapest, Hungary, Trieste.

He returned to New York in 1907 and worked for U. S. Immigration at Ellis Island as an interpreter while he completed his law degree at the New York University Law School. After graduating, La Guardia began to practice law and became Deputy Attorney General of New York in 1915. A year later he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, but left to serve in the army during World War I. In 1922 he ran again and was elected to five consecutive terms in the House of Representatives. During his last term, he co-sponsored the Norris-La Guardia Anti-Injunction law, a law that allowed workers to join unions.

In 1933, La Guardia was elected Mayor of New York City, and during his 12 years as mayor, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, Triborough Bridge, East River Drive, West Side Highway, and airport – which now bears his name – were built.

Filippo Mazzei (1730-1816) [Honorary Member] Befriended by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, in 1773, Mazzei – a physician, horticulturist, and merchant in Italy – came to America to establish vineyards in Virginia. Through his friendships with Franklin and Jefferson, Mazzei became acquainted with George Washington, James Monroe, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, and John Adams, and Mazzei also became a supporter of American freedom. His collaboration with Jefferson led to the inclusion of "all men are created equal" into the Declaration of Independence, a paraphrase of Mazzei’s "All men are by nature equally free and independent."

In 1778, Mazzei returned to Italy to help raise money and gain information to assist Virginia during the Revolutionary War. He went back to America after the war, then in 1785 returned to Europe. In 1788, he published The History and Politics of the United States of America, which was widely accepted as the source of accurate information about the Revolution.

 

SPORTS

Yogi Berra (1925) Recognized as one of the most popular baseball players in major-league history, Berra is as famous for his quotes, known as "yogi-isms," as he is for his sports career. His early interest in baseball led to playing in the minor league and signing with the New York Yankees. He joined the Navy during World War II, and after returning home, resumed playing with the Yankees in major league as a catcher and "bad-ball hitter." He played with the Yankees for 19 years – in 14 World Series – and was named to the All-Star team 15 times. He earned three Most Valuable Player Awards and ten World Championships (on a winning team), and holds numerous World Series records.

Berra managed the Yankees in 1964 and 1984-85, and in 1972 he became manager of the New York Mets. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and is a member of Major League Baseball's All-Century Team, and he was inducted into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1979. During his baseball career, Berra became known for his quotes of wisdom laced with humor. It’s said that he has more quotes in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations than any other sports figure. Among his most famous are "It ain't over 'til it's over," "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded," It's deja vu all over again," and "When you come to a fork in the road ... take it."

Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999) Credited with leading the New York Yankees to nine World Championships, DiMaggio – known as "The Yankee Clipper" for his gracefulness on the field – gained fame for his baseball skills and his demeanor both on the field and off. His career started when he played in the Pacific Coast League and caught the eye of Yankees’ scouts. He started with the Yankees in 1936 and set American League rookie records for runs and triples, making the All-Star Team and playing in the World Series. In 1941, he captured America’s attention with a 56-game hitting streak. He played with the Yankees – and in four more World Series – until 1942 when he joined the army during World War II. He rejoined the Yankees in 1946, and went on to play in four more World Series.

Dimaggio retired in 1952, before baseball was televised, but his name is legendary and he’s been immortalized through songs and in Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, as "the Great DiMaggio." He was elected into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1955, and he was elected to the Major League Baseball's All-Century Team. At the Centennial Celebration of baseball in 1969, DiMaggio was named the "Greatest Living Player." He was the first inductee in the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, elected in 1978, and a statue depicting DiMaggio swinging a bat stands outside the Museum.

Rocky Marciano (1923-1969) The only Heavyweight World Champion to retire undefeated, Marciano gained the title in 1955 when he knocked out Archie Moore, and still holds the title – with 43 knock-outs in 49 fights – more than 50 years after his final fight. Although his short stature appeared to have the odds against him, his iron chin, right punch, and determination made him a winner. He started to box in the army during World War II, and after his discharge in 1946, he began training. His first professional fight was in 1947, which he won with a third-round knockout. By 1949, he won 16 fights, knocking out 9 contenders in the first round. He knocked out returning champ Joe Lewis in 1951, and in 1952, Marciano won the World Heavyweight Championship Belt, defending the title six times (with five knockouts), until 1955 when he retired from boxing.

The Ring magazine named Marciano "Fighter of the Year" in 1952, 1954, and 1955; and he was elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1977, receiving special recognition with a statue in the Gallery of Champions. Marciano was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

TECHNOLOGY/SCIENCE/INVENTORS

Enrico Fermi (1901-1954) [Honorary Member] Recognized as one of the twentieth century’s great scientists, and with a name that every physics student is aware of, Fermi received the Noble Prize in physics in 1938 for discovering new radioactive elements and the nuclear reactions caused by slow neutrons. Fermi’s work heralded the age of nuclear power that now provides energy, and used in medical treatments, and agricultural and industrial applications.

With a natural inclination toward physics, at 27, Fermi became a professor in the field. His applications in experimentation and theoretical physics led him to become the first to split an atom. Arriving in America after he received the Nobel Prize, he continued his research in nuclear power generation, first at Columbia University in New York then at the University of Chicago. He became a professor at the Institute of Nuclear Studies, now named the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the element fermium is named after him. Fermi was involved in The Manhattan Project during World War II.

In 1956, President Eisenhower established the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award in honor of the Nobel Prize recipient. The National Accelerator Laboratory, established by the U. S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1967 was renamed Fermilab in 1974. In 1976, Fermi was inducted to the Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2001, a United States postage stamp was issued to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Fermi’s birth.

Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937) [Honorary Member] His early experiments with Hertzian waves led him to conducting experiments at the family villa in Italy and later in England where he would file a patent for wireless telegraphy. Although Marconi shares the 1909 Nobel Prize in physics, he was acknowledged for his ability to put together a "practical, usable system" for wireless transmission of radio waves over long distances. Marconi did not immigrate to America, but in 1903, he established a wireless station in South Wellfleet, Massachusetts, allowing President Theodore Roosevelt to send a Morse code message to King Edward VII of England – the first transatlantic message from a U. S. President to a European ruler. Marconi’s wireless communications (known as Marconigrams) were essential for transmitting messages to and from ships, and his application expanded from cruise ships to battleships when World War I began.

Antonio Meucci (1808-1896) [Honorary Member] Scientist, mechanical engineer, stage technician, business-owner, and the original holder of the patent for the forerunner of today’s telephone, in 2001 Meucci was recognized by the U. S. House of Representatives declaring that "… his work in the invention of the telephone should be acknowledged." Meucci traveled from Italy to Cuba, where he began working on his teletrofono in 1849. A year later, he was in America, supporting his experimentation with the teletrofono by establishing various business, among them the first paraffin candle factory in the world and the first lager beer factory in America. He received patents for "Effervescent Drinks" and "Sauce for Food" and he developed the precursor to coffee filters and the process for making postage stamps. Meucci befriended Garibaldi, who stayed with him in Staten Island, while Garibaldi was in exile from Italy and before he returned to Italy in 1854 to fight for unification.

 

YOUR FAVORITE ITALIAN

Celebrate the Day Honoring a Special Italian. End Thirty-One Days of Italians with a tribute to the Italian or Italian American who may not be on the list, but is greatly admired.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Mario Andretti

Geraldine Ferraro

Ernest and Julio Gallo

Henry Mancini

Ezio Pinza

Francis Rogallo

R.A. Salvatore

Frank Zamboni

 

 
 
Copyright 2007-2013 Janice Therese Mancuso
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission except when published with this credit: Excerpt from Thirty-One Days of Italians, ©2013 Janice Therese Mancuso.