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9 Italian Americans Who Changed the Course of History

9 Italian Americans Who Changed Our History

There was a large-scale influx of Italians that arrived in America in the late 19th century, an influx that changed forever the cultural aspect of the country (and not only). We say cultural because we couldn’t escape the fact that their food, fashion, and expressions forever marked our growth.

Many Italian Americans had extraordinary careers in sports, academia, but also public service. They managed to prove wrong all the stigma and overcome the language barrier, and some of them even moved mountains in certain domains.

Of course, when we talk about Italian Americans, we instantly think of Mob, and even if we’re going to mention one or two, there’s so much more than just that.

Photo by mark reinstein from Shutterstock

Frank Sinatra

Who doesn’t know “My Way”, or “New York, New York”? Frank Sinatra was one of the most famous performers that ever lived, thanks to his astonishing voice, Oscar-winning performance in “From Here to Eternity” and his wild adventures with the Rat Pack.

Even more, Frank, who was the proud son of two Italian immigrants, managed to achieve more in terms of American entertainment and popular culture after World War II, than many others did. He was probably the first bona fide teen idol, as he had his way of singing classic songs.

He was also the first singer that had a successful career on the big screen. And by the time Ol’ Blue Eyes managed to form his own record label in 1960, he also gathered enough clout to drive John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign to new territory.

Mother Cabrini

Francis Xavier Cabrini was born outside Milan all the way back in 1850. After Pope Leo XIII personally asked her to move to the U.S. in the late 1880s, she crossed the Atlantic to help millions of Italian immigrants get accustomed to their new lives.

She managed to open her first American orphanage in New York, but completely refused to settle, traveling all over the country to help the sick, and the abandoned people that needed help. She eventually naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1909, but unfortunately died in her own hospital in Chicago only eight years later.

Mother Cabrini left a legacy of over five dozen schools, orphanages, and hospitals. She was canonized (the first U.S. citizen) in 1946, becoming the patron saint of immigrants.

Joe DiMaggio

Even if they didn’t have to face the discrimination African Americans did, Italian American baseball players still had to go through their own share of ethnically charged abuse at the beginning of the 20th century. It happened for Joe DiMaggio in 1939, when he agreed to have his profile published in “Life” magazine.

However, the profile made sure to note that the baseball star “never reeks of garlic”. DiMaggio was an exceptional ballplayer, with amazing taste, and by 1941, he managed to reel off his well-known 56-game hitting streak.

From that moment, he definitely managed to transcend his roots and become an idol to all Americans. Joe DiMaggio retired in 1951, after three MVP Awards and nine World Series titles with the Yanks.

Enrico Fermi

Back in 1938, Enrico Fermi would stand to win the Nobel Prize in Physics for his astounding work on radioactivity and the fact that he discovered a couple of brand-new elements. However, as some would luckily consider this as a career highlight, for him, it was just the beginning.

He soon decided to escape fascism in Italy and Benito Mussolini’s regime, and he flew to America. But don’t imagine that things changed for the great scientist once he arrived on American land! As soon as he arrived, he supervised the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, which took place in Chicago in 1942.

Then, he was actively involved in the development of the atomic bomb, as an associate director of the Manhattan Project.

Mob italian
Photo by alexkoral at Shutterstock

Lucky Luciano

When it comes to Italian-speaking racketeers in America, the list would include a couple of famous names. However, probably one of the most prominent is Lucky Luciano. In fact, he is the one who had the biggest influence on the template for modern organized crime in America.

Salvatore Lucania was born in Sicily in 1897. Even so, he became of age in New York City’s Lower East Side, which is by the time he started working for crime bosses Joe Masseria and Arnold Rothstein.

Luciano managed to bring together the New York City, Chicago, and Buffalo syndicates under a big umbrella known as “The Commission”, which was meant to bring peace and wealth between mafia families.

Mario Puzo

If Luciano was one of the “founding fathers” of organized crime, well, Mario Puzo is the one who made the public fall in love with him. As he grew up in a gritty Manhattan neighborhood, he had to witness a lot of street violence, even if he never had any kind of personal experience with gang activity.

Even so, it was enough for him to create the story of the Corleone family, which was a New York Times best-seller for 67 weeks in a row. Then, he met Francis Ford Coppola…and the rest is history!

Geraldine Ferraro

Geraldine was a schoolteacher from Queens who rapidly turned criminal prosecutor and congresswoman. She entered the political scene in 1984, after joining the Democratic Presidential Walter Mondale, hoping to become the first woman and Italian American that would earn the bice-president nomination.

Unfortunately, her time as a political force was short-lived. Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan, and Ferraro’s following attempts to run for the Senate completely fizzled. However, the difficulty of her failed attempt to run would become even more obvious, as it would take another quarter of a century before a woman would earn an important party vice-presidential nod.

Photo by mark reinstein from Shutterstock

Anthony Fauci

In 1981, long before he would become known as an essential media presence during Covid-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci discovered an odd but new sickness that spread within the g*y community. He dived directly into the research of HIV/AIDS, trying to find a cure through experimental dr*gs.

After a while, effective but expensive therapies had been developed, and Fauci initiated President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, in order to bring those treatments to developing countries. As there’s still no cure, Dr. Fauci’s effort changed the way we perceive AIDS, as it is no longer a disease that comes with a death sentence.

Antonin Scalia

He was the first Italian American to be named to the United States Supreme Court. Scalia is probably one of the biggest supporters of the Conservative movement that was initiated during Reagan’s administration.

He forever changed history, from the time he vote to end the 2000 presidential recount that made George W. Bush President, to his steady determination regarding an individual’s right to bear arms.

He was also seen as a champion of originalism, as his feisty arguments brought laughter as much as angered his fellow colleagues. Even if he passed away, he keeps moving the cultural needle, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously turned down the request to fill his seat until Donald Trump’s election.

Did you find this article interesting? If so, then you’ll probably want to read: The 70s: 6 Things Everybody Got Wrong About This Decade


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