Italian American Contributions


Throughout U.S. history, Italian Americans have made significant contributions as the fact sheets listed below reveal.
:. Suggestion for additions to the fact sheets
:. Correction to a fact


There are nearly 15 million people who have identified themselves as Italian American in the 1990 U.S. census, the Population Division of the U.S. Census Bureau reports. The Census Bureau estimates, however, that 1 out of 10 Americans has some Italian blood, bringing the total number of Americans of Italian descent to 26 million.

Italian Americans are the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The four larger groups are: the Germans, Irish, English and African Americans.

The average Italian American still lives in the city in which he was raised, has attended at least one year of college and has an average family income of about $33,000 per year, according to a survey of the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

Italian Americans are evenly split among the three political parties: 35 percent Republican; 32 percent, Democrat; and 33 percent Independent, according to the NORC. No matter their political orientation, Italian Americans tend to support liberal social causes: 89 percent would vote for a woman president; 55 percent are pro-choice; and more than 60 percent think the government should spend more on health, education and the poor.

Italian Americans either make up 15 percent of the population or number more than 1 million in the following states: 

California 1,500,000
Connecticut 650,000
Massachusetts 845,000
New Jersey 1,500,000
New York 2,900,000
Pennsylvania 1,400,000
Rhode Island 200,000

Italian Americans are also found in significant numbers in 15 other states, including Florida (800,000); Illinois (730,000), Ohio (640,000); Michigan (412,000); Texas (314,000) and Maryland (253,000).


From the beginning of U.S. history, Italians have supported American independence.

  • Three Italian regiments, totaling some 1,500 men, fought for American independence: the Third Piemonte, the 13th Du Perche, and the Royal Italian.

  • Filippo Mazzei, a Tuscan physician, fought alongside Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry during the American Revolution. Mazzei drew up a plan to capture the British in New York by cutting off their sea escape, and convinced France to help the American colonists financially and militarily in their struggle against British rule. He also inspired the Jeffersonian phrase: "All men are created equal" when he wrote "All men are by nature equally free and independent."

  • Italian officers in the American Revolution include: Captain Cosimo de Medici of the North Carolina Light Dragoons; Lieutenant James Bracco, 7th Maryland Regiment, killed at the Battle of White Plains; Captain B. Tagliaferro, second in command of the Second Virginia Regiment, a direct subaltern of General George Washington; 2nd Lieutenant Nicola Talliaferro of the 2nd Virginia Regiment; and Colonel Richard Talliaferro, who fell at the Battle of Guilford. Other Italian officers, most from Massachusetts, are on regimental rolls of the Continental Army.

  • Major John Belli was the Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army from 1792 to 1794. The first settler in Scioto County, Ohio, he lived there until his death in 1809.

  • Three of the first five warships commissioned by the Continental Congress of the new American government, were named Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and Andrea Doria. Doria was a 16th century navy admiral from Genoa who was still fighting the Barbary pirates in his mid 80s.

  • Francesco Vigo (1747-1836), is believed the first Italian to become an American citizen. A successful fur trader on the western frontier (today the mid-western states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio), Vigo served as a colonel, spy, and financier during the American Revolution. He died a pauper, but in 1876 the U.S. government gave his heirs about $50,000 to repay them for Vigo's financial support of the Revolutionary War. Along with George Rogers Clark, he helped settle the Northwest territory.

Prepared by: The National Italian American Foundation
The NIAF thanks military historian Rudy A. D'Angelo for his assistance with this fact sheet.


Italian Americans have distinguished themselves in literature, the fine arts and classical music. This fact sheet represents only a small cross-section of their achievements.


Helen Barolini is an award-winning novelist, critic, translator and essayist, and one of the first to write a novel about contemporary Italian American women (Umbertina,1979).

John Ciardi, poet and scholar, did the only English translation of Dante's Divine Comedy that reproduces the Italian poet's complex rhyme scheme. Ciardi was also a poet in his own right, authored some 60 books, taught at Harvard and Rutgers universities, hosted a weekly radio commentary on National Public Radio in the 1980's, and was the only American poet ever to have his own television program ("Accent," CBS, 1961-61). Ciardi was born in Boston in 1916, son of Italian immigrants, and died in 1986.

Don DeLillo, one of the most important contemporary American novelists, wrote Americana, Great Jones Street, White Noise, Libra, and Underworld. He was brought up in an Italian American neighborhood in the Bronx. His father came to the United States in 1916.

Pietro di Donato wrote Christ in Concrete (1939), one of the few proletarian novels written by a blue collar worker. The son of an Italian immigrant and himself a bricklayer, he captured the life and death of his father, who was foreman of a construction crew of Italian immigrants.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gregory Corso are two prominent poets of the 1950's Beat Generation, a small group of artists based in San Francisco and New York who were dissatisfied with conformity. Ferlinghetti began writing at age 16. After earning a doctorate in poetry he moved to San Francisco, where he founded the magazine "City Lights." Corso was born in New York City's Greenwich Village, started his writing career at at age 20, and published his first poem in 1955.

Barbara Grizzuti-Harrison, one of the most well-known contemporary writers, is the author of Italian Days, considered a masterpiece of travel writing, thanks to her acute powers of observation and broad cultural knowledge. She has also written The Islands of Italy, A History and a Memory of Jehovah's Witnesses, and The Astonishing World.

Jerre Mangione (1909-1998) was one of the most celebrated early Italian American writers. His first book, Mount Allegro, (1943) and his later An Ethnic At Large (1978), explore the evolution of Mangione's identity from child of Sicilian immigrants to an American. His last book, La Storia, which he co-authored with Ben Morreale, is a monumental five-century social history of the Italians in America.

Ed McBain (b.1926), author of The Black Board Jungle, and inventor of the police procedural novel, has written 94 novels with 100 million copies in print inmany languages.  He was born Salvatore Albert Lombino and grew up in New York's East Harlem and North Bronx. Early in his career, publishers warned him that "Lombino" was too hard to pronounce and might hurt sales. He uses several pen names, the most familiar being "McBain" for his detective stories and "Evan Hunter" for his more literary works.

Gay Talese (b.1932) is a prolific writer and one of the founders of the 1960's "New Journalism," which incorporates fictional elements (dialogue, scene description, and shifting points of view) into news writing. Talese was a reporter for The New York Times between 1956 and 1965, writing about sports and politics.
Among his many best-sellers is The Kingdom and the Power, a critical history of The New York Times Honor Thy Father, the story of crime boss Joe Bonanno and his son, Bill; Thy Neighbor's Wife, which examines America's changing sexual mores; and "Unto the Sons," a largely autobiographical book about his Italian heritage.

Frances Winwar (1900-1985) was a novelist, translator, and biographer of poets, statesmen, and heros, including Joan of Arc and Napoleon. Born Francesca Vinciguerra in Sicily, she came here in 1907 and later Anglicized her name on the advice of her editor.


Enrico Causici, Antonio Capellano and Luigi Persico were sculptors who worked on the early phase of the building and decoration of the U.S. Capitol in 1805. They were the first to introduce American mythology into their sculptures.

Costantino Brumidi, (1805-1880) who emigrated to the United States in 1852, is the "Michelangelo" of the U.S. Capitol. Among his many achievements is the painting of the huge Capitol interior dome as well as the decoration of the President's Room, where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Brumidi started his career in Rome where he became known for restoration of classic works. In 1855 he began working on the Capitol dome and dedicated the rest of his life to embellishing the Capitol.

Giorgio Cavallon (1904-1989) was one of America's first abstract-expressionists. His works won him election to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and are part of permanent collections of major museums of modern art.

Robert De Niro (1922-1993) has paintings in the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Museums and other major institutions. Admired for the unusual "physicality" of his painting, he is the father of the famous film actor who bears his name.

Ralph Fasanella (1914-1997) was known for his "primitive" paintings of working class life and ethnic neighborhoods, especially that of his native Bronx in New York City. A self-taught painter, his best known works are "The Supper" and "The Great Strike - Lawrence 1912."

Attilio Piccirilli and his five brothers carved the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC along with the famous lions guarding New York's Public Library, statues in Rockefeller Center, and many other works. The studio that he and his brothers established in New York in 1889 became the largest sculpture studio in the country.

John Rapetti (1862-1936), worked in Paris with Frederic Bertholdi on the Statue of Liberty and his name in engraved in the crown as one of its creators.

Frank Stella, born in 1936, achieved fame as a painter and sculptor in the 1960's. His art evolved through several stages and his works range from minimalist paintings to abstract expressionism. His paintings hang in America's most prestigious museums, including New York's Museum of Modern Art, Chicago's Art Institute, and San Francisco's Museum as well as in museums in Europe. Born in Malden, Massachusetts, the son of a Sicilian American physician, Stella attended Phillips Academy and Princeton University.


Dominick Argento was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975 for his song cycles "From the Diary of Virginia Woolf." Argento is among the most frequently performed 20th century composers of opera. His most famous works include "Postcard from Morocco", "Casanova's Homecoming" and "The Dream of Valentino." He has held various teaching position at universities nationwide.

John Corigliano is the composer of "The Ghosts of Versailles," which had its premiere in 1991 and was the first new work commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Opera in more than 25 years. His compositions have won Grammy Awards and have been performed by the most famous orchestras worldwide. His works also include "A Dylan Thomas Trilogy" and "Sonata for Violin and Piano", which brought him his first fame in 1963.

David Del Tredici, renown contemporary composer and Pulitzer Prize winner, was born in 1937 in California. He based a series of works on "Alice in Wonderland" and is recognized for his compositions for large orchestras. His works include "Pop-Pourri", "An Alice Symphony", "Child Alice" and "In Memory of a Summer Day", for which he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

Gian Carlo Menotti is the first composer to write American operas that have become part of the international repertory. Among his most famous works are "The Consul" (1950); "The Medium" and "The Telephone" (1947), "Amahl and the Night Visitors" (1951) and "The Saint of Bleeker Street" (1955), an opera set in a modern Little Italy. His operas "The Consul" and "The Saint of Bleeker Street" won him Pulitzer Prizes. "Amahl" was the first opera ever televised while "The Consul," "The Medium" and "The Telephone" were produced on Broadway. Menotti also founded the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto (1958) and its American counterpart in Charleston (1977) which celebrate western music. Though he was born in Italy in 1911, he came to the U.S. when he was only 17 and has made his career here.


Legendary Italian Americans have set records in America's favorite sport.

  • Known as "The Yankee Clipper," Joseph Paul DiMaggio, the son of Sicilian immigrants in California, had a 56-game hitting streak in 1941 which still stands as the longest in baseball history. He retired with a .325 lifetime batting average, 361 home runs, and 1,537 runs batted in, and was voted American League Most Valuable Player three times (1939, 1941 and 1947) during the 13 seasons he played for the New York Yankees. In 1936, the defensive center fielder won a position on the Yankees team. In 1950, Joe DiMaggio was voted the "Greatest Living Player" of baseball and in 1955, only four years after his retirement, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died March 8, 1999 at age 84.

  • Yogi Berra, born Lawrence Peter Berra in Saint Louis, Missouri, played for 14 pennant-winning and 10 World Series winning clubs-- a record no other player has matched. One of baseball's greatest catchers, he was voted American League Most Valuable Player three times (1951, 1954 and 1959). Berra joined the New York Yankees in 1946 and played with the team for 17 years, then managed the Yankees and the New York Mets. In 1964, he led the Yankees to the American pennant, becoming the first Italian American manager to win a league championship. Childhood friends gave him his famous nickname because he used to sit with his legs crossed like a Buddha in the dugout. During his career, Berra had a .285 lifetime batting average and hit 358 home runs. His malaprop sayings are part of popular culture and include: "It ain't over till it's over" and "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

  • Known as "the Scooter" for his agility as a shortstop, Phil Rizzuto played for the Yankees from 1941 to 1954, less two years in the Navy during World War II (1943-45). A key member of ten Yankee pennant-winning teams and nine World Series classics, he had 200 hits in 1950, a Yankee club record for shortstops, which helped earn him selection as the American League's most valuable player that year. After retiring, he became a sports announcer and was known as "the voice of the Yankees.

  • Roy Campanella, a catcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers, played in five World Series. He was named Most Valuable Player in 1951, 1953 and 1955. He caught 1,215 games in his 10 seasons and had a lifetime batting average of .276. His career ended tragically when he was left paralyzed from a car crash.

  • Vic Raschi, born March 28, 1919, pitched for the New York Yankees on five straight World Series champion teams from 1949 to 1953, winning 21 games three years in a row. Nicknamed "the Springfield Rifle" for his powerful arm, the West Springfield, Massachusetts native had a 132-66 lifetime record with 26 shutouts.

  • The first Italian American to manage a major league baseball team was Phil Cavarretta, a former player who managed the Chicago Cubs from 1951 to 1954. Cavarretta's appointment came four years after the late Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in the major leagues.

  • Baseball's ambassador Tommy Lasorda in 1999 celebrated 50 years with the Dodgers as a player, scout, coach manager, and vice president. He holds the second longest tenure in baseball history with the same team. He led the Dodgers to a World Championship in 1981, three National League titles and five division titles. "Mr. Baseball" was named Manager of the Year four times, and managed in three World Series and three All-Star games.

  • Billy Martin, born Alfred Manuel Pesano, became the first Italian American manager to win a World Series when he led the New York Yankees to victory in 1977. Four other Italian Americans managers have led their teams to World Series victories: Tommy Lasorda led the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1981 and 1988, Joe Altobelli of the Baltimore Orioles in 1983, Tony LaRussa of the Oakland Athletics in 1989, and Joe Torre of the New York Yankees in 1996 and 1998.

  • Buttercup Dickerson, born Lewis Pessano in Tyaskin, Maryland in 1858, was the first Italian American player in the major leagues. His first game was July 15, 1878 when he was the starting outfielder for Cincinnati. Batting left and throwing right, he played for seven years and finished his career playing for Buffalo. His lifetime batting average was 284. He died on July 23, 1920.


Italian Americans have developed some of America's largest industries and corporations.

  • The Bank of America, the largest bank in the country,  was established in 1904 by Amadeo Pietro ("A.P.") Giannini (1870-1949) in San Francisco.  In 1919, he innovated the system of branch banking. Originally called the Bank of Italy, it changed names in 1928 and, in 1998 merged with NationsBank Corp.  Giannini financed the Golden Gate Bridge, and the fledgling film industry, including Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments," and Disney's "Snow White," as well as California's aerospace and agricultural industries.

  • The first Italian American millionaire was Generoso Pope, who came to America from Benevento in 1904. He began as a railroad laborer, later worked for a small construction firm, the Colonial Sand and Stone Company, which he bought out in 1925 and made into the largest supplier of building materials in the country. In 19298, he bought Il Progresso Italo Americano, the first Italian-language daily newspaper in the U.S., founded in 1880. Pope's son, Fortunato, became its publisher. His other son, Generoso, Jr. was the publisher of the National Enquirer, and one of Forbes' 400 wealthiest Americans.

  • Two Italian Americans developed the American shopping mall. William Cafaro began building and operating neighborhood shopping centers in the 1940s. When he died at age 84 in 1998, he was one of the richest men in America, leaving behind $800 million. Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. began as a construction worker and ended with the largest real estate and development company in the nation. During the 1960s, DeBartolo Corporation began to develop shopping malls and suburban office parks.

  • The owner of the world's largest distributer of English-language comic books is Baltimore's Steve Geppi, who dropped out of high school to support his family. Today, Geppi's Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. delivers 1,300 of the 1,600 comic book titles, and has a 52 percent market share of this $500 million industry. Geppi is also a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles and the publisher of Baltimore magazine.

  • The founders of both Blimpie and Subway Sandwich chains are Italian American. There are now over 2,000 Blimpies in the U.S. and 13 foreign countries with a net worth of $38 million, thanks to Anthony Conza, who founded the first Blimpie in New Jersey in 1975. Fred De Luca borrowed $1,000 at age 17 to start his first sandwich shop. Today, he counts 13,136 Subways in 64 countries and is worth $3 billion.

  • Mr. Peanut and the Planters Peanut Company were created by Italian immigrants Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi in 1887 in Pennsylvania. By 1930, the partners had four huge factories, and raked in over $12 million annually.  Obici was called "The Peanut King".

  • Italian Americans are at the helm of the U.S. book industry. Leonard Riggio is the founder and CEO of Barnes & Noble, the largest book store in the nation while Borders, the second largest book store chain in the U.S., is chaired by Robert DiRomualdo.

  • Chef Boyardee, the man behind the nation's leading brand of ready-to-eat spaghetti dinners, pizza, sauce and pasta, was Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant, who began as a chef's apprentice at age 11, eventually opened a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio and in the 1930s, began selling his pasta and sauce in cans. During World War II, Chef Boyardee was the largest supplier of rations for the U.S. and Allied Forces.

  • When Prohibition was lifted in 1933, brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo took their entire savings of about $5,000, and began producing wine from the vineyards their father had owned in California. They made a profit of $34,000 in their first year of business and helped launch California's wine industry. Today more than 100 wineries in the U.S. are owned by Italian Americans.

  • The popular Radio Flyer red wagon was created by Antonio Pasin, an immigrant Italian carpenter in 1917. Today, his three grandsons run the Chicago-based Radio Flyer Inc. whose 100 employees manufacture about 8,000 wagons a day.

  • Mr. Coffee, the best-selling coffee maker in the world, was invented by Vince Marotta, who also invented the paper coffee filter and developed a better way to extract oil from coffee beans. Since 1972, more than 50 million Mr. Coffees have been sold. An estimated 10 billion Mr. Coffee paper filters are sold annually.

  • Jeno Paulucci founded Chun King Chow Mein, which he launched with a $2,500 loan in 1946, and sold 20 years later for $63 million in cash. He has also founded Jeno's Pizza Rolls, Luigino's Inc., a line of frozen pasta entrees, and Pasta Lovers Trattorias.

  • Prince Company, a $200 million-a-year pasta manufacturing business, was established by Joseph Pellegrino, who emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily at age 12. A former street hustler, Pellegrino only went to school through the eight grade. His son, Joseph, Jr. and granddaughter Carla, both work for Prince today.

  • Lee Iacocca, (born "Lido"), brought the Chrysler Corporation back from the brink of bankruptcy during the mid-1980s. The company was in the black within a month of his tenure as chairman. He resigned in 1992.

  • Richard A. Grasso was elected chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. He started at the Exchange in 1968 and steadily rose through the ranks. In 1988 he became president and chief operating officer; in 1991 he became executive vice chairman and was elected chairman and CEO June 1, 1995. He was the first member of the NYSE staff to be elected to any of those posts in the Exchange's 206-year history.

  • The world's largest beauty supply distributor was started in 1972 when Michael H. Renzulli took over six stores in New Orleans. Now CEO and president of Sally Beauty Company, Renzulli has 2,150 stores in North America, Europe and Japan with $1 billion in sales.

  • The man who put a hand-held hair dryer in every beauty salon and American home is Leandro ("Lee") Rizzuto, chairman and president of Conair Corporation in Connecticut. Rizzuto and his parents founded the company in 1959 with $100 and their invention of hot rollers. In 1971, Conair perfected the professional pistol-grip hair dryer. Today, Rizzuto is sole owner of this multi-million dollar corporation, which also owns Cuisinart, a leading name in kitchen appliances and cookware.

  • Tropicana was founded in 1947 by Anthony Rossi as a Florida fruit packaging company. In 1954, Rossi pioneered a pasteurization process for orange juice. For the first time consumers could have not-from-concentrate orange juice in a ready-to-serve package. In 1978, Rossi sold his company to Beatrice Foods. It is now owned by PepsiCo, which bought it in 1998. Today, Tropicana is the world's largest producer of fruit juices. They are sold in 23 countries with sales of $2.5 billion a year.


Italian Americans have made significant contributions to American education as teachers, and pioneer theorists.

  • The first graduating class of the University of Pennsylvania in 1757 included an Italian American named James Laita. He was one of seven men chosen by Ben Franklin, the University founder, to attend what was then called the College of Philadelphia.

  • Leonard Covello (1887-1982) was the first Italian American high school principal in New York City (Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem 1934-56). A pioneer in bi-lingual education, Covello believed a school should serve the interests of its neighborhood. He was also a co-founder of the American Italian Historical Association in 1966.

  • Peter Sammartino was the founder, president and chancellor emeritus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, a liberal arts institution in New Jersey which he began in 1942 with his wife, Sylvia (Sally) Scaramelli. He also founded the International Association of University Presidents and was the author of 30 books. The Sammartinos died in 1992.

  • Mother Frances Cabrini, the first American saint, founded 14 American colleges, 98 schools, 28 orphanages, eight hospitals, three training schools, and a score of other institutions with the help of over 4,000 sisters she recruited for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, a group she also founded. Mother Cabrini emigrated to the US in 1889 and became a US citizen in 1909. She died in 1917 and was canonized in 1949.

  • Italian Americans have founded some of America's oldest colleges and universities. The University of Santa Clara in California was founded by two Italian Jesuits: John Nobili and A. Accolti in 1851 with only $150. Gonzaga University in Washington State was founded by a Jesuit priest, Joseph Cataldo in 1881. St. Bonaventure's College, one of the best and well-known small colleges in New York state, was founded by Father Pamphilus in 1858.

  • Italian Americans served as presidents of several notable American colleges very early in their history. Father Giovanni Grassi served as the president of Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) in Washington, DC in 1812, only two years after emigrating to the U.S. from Bergamo. Father Anthony Ciampi was president of Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland in 1863. Father Lawrence B. Palladino was president of Gonzaga University, in Washington State, from 1894-1897.

  • In 1978, at age 38, A. Bartlett Giamatti became the youngest president of Yale University in 200 years and the first president not entirely of Anglo Saxon heritage. As the New Haven, Connecticut university's 19th president, Giamatti served until 1986 when he resigned to become the president of the National League of Baseball (NLB). In January 1989, he became commissioner of the NLB. He died of a heart attack in September 1989 at age 49.

  • Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino, the former president of Catholic University, a physician and author was founder, chairman, director, founding dean, professor, chancellor and president of medical centers in New Jersey, Kentucky, Tennessee, Connecticut and Washington, DC; as well as the author of over 400 medical articles.

  • Linda Lantieri co-founded "Resolving Conflicts Creatively," an organization which teaches students how to prevent violence in the classroom in New York City. The private agency, founded in 1985, forms partnerships with public schools to help elementary and high school students learn how to resolve conflicts and develop friendships.

  • As superintendent of Baltimore County schools, Anthony Marchione has turned the nation's 25th largest school district with 105,500 students around. Since 1995, he has paired new teachers with experienced mentors; cut class sizes to 23 students; and hired building experts to shore up the county's 159 schools. In 1993, Baltimore ranked 13th out of Maryland's 24 counties. By 1998, it ranked 8th.

  • Rosemarie Truglio, Ph.D., is the director of research for Public Television's award-winning children's program, "Sesame Street." She develops the program's interdisciplinary curriculum and conducts research to enhance the program's educational and entertainment values. Dr. Truglio is a nationally recognized expert on the effects of television on children and teenagers.

  • In 1998, the NIAF identified at least 166 college presidents of Italian descent, including John DiBiaggio (Tufts University); Claire Gaudiani (Connecticut College); Jay Oliva (New York University); Joseph Polisi (The Julliard School); and Neil Rudenstine (Harvard University), whose mother was Italian American (Mae Esperito).


Italian Americans have shaped U.S. entertainment from opera to the latest blockbuster. The following represent highlights but are by no means an exhaustive compendium of these contributions.

  • The Metropolitan Opera became one of the finest opera companies in the world under the legendary leadership of its manager, Giulio Gatti-Casazza (1869-1940) who brought to its stage a brilliant array of singers, including Enrico Caruso, Rosa Ponselle, Amelita Galli-Curci, Beniamino Gigli, and Ezio Pinza as well as the conductor Arturo Toscanini. Gatti-Casazza managed the Met from 1908 to 1935.

  • Hollywood's first sex symbol and the first "Latin Lover" of the silver screen was Rudolph Valentino. Born Rodolfo Guglielmi in Castellaneta, Italy in 1895, he emigrated to the United States in 1913 and became a dancer. Stardom came in 1921 with the title role in The Sheik, followed by Blood and Sand. In all, he made 18 movies between 1914 and 1926, the year he died at age 31 of a ruptured appendix in New York City. Grieving fans caused a mass riot during his funeral at Saint Patrick's Cathedral.

  • Frank Sinatra, the Oscar, Emmy and Grammy-winning legend known as "The Voice" and "The Chairman of the Board," was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1915 and died in 1998. He made more than 2,000 recordings, many movies, and numerous television and cabaret performances as well as raised millions of dollars for charities during his 60-year career.

  • Italian American cartoonists have created some of the world's most popular animated characters including: Donald Duck, created by Alfred Tagliafero; Woody Woodpecker, a creation of Walter Lantz, (born "Lanza"); and Casper, the Friendly Ghost, the brainchild of Joseph Oriolo.

  • The voice of Snow White in the first full-length animated film, released in 1937 belonged to Adriana Caselotti. The 21-year-old coloratura soprano beat out 148 other candidates for the role, which earned her $960.00. She died in 1997 at age 80.

  • Among the many Italian Americans in Hollywood is the legendary father-and-son team of Carmine and Francis Ford Coppola, who won four Oscars in 1975 for The Godfather, Part II. Carmine, who was a flautist for Arturo Toscanini, composed the soundtrack and Francis, who first won an Oscar for Patton, directed the film.

  • The producer of all but one of the first 17 James Bond movies was Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli. (1909 - 1996). Broccoli launched the 007 film series in 1962 with "Dr. No." His last film was "Golden Eye" in 1995. His ancestors developed and named the popular vegetable in Italy in the 19th century.

  • With a pregnant wife and only $100 in the bank, Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in three and a half days. The screenplay found a buyer, but Stallone, age 30, refused to sign the contract unless he were allowed to play the lead. The film received an Oscar for Best Picture in 1976. Stallone is one of the highest-paid actors of all time.

  • Vaudeville legend and early television star Jimmy Durante, born in New York City in 1893, insured his enormous nose, which he called his "schnozzola," for a million dollars. During the 1940s, this Emmy-winner's radio program was a Friday night fixture and he became famous for songs like "Inka Dinka Doo" and "Umbriago."

  • One of Hollywood's most gifted directors, Frank Capra was born in Sicily in 1897, and spent his sixth birthday in steerage on a 13-day ocean voyage to America. Although he is perhaps most famous for his film It's a Wonderful Life, his film portfolio includes Mack Sennett and Our Gang comedies; American Madness (1932), based on the life of banker A.P. Giannini; It Happened One Night (1934) with Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert; and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, (1939) starring Jimmy Stewart. Capra won three Academy Awards for Best Director and died in 1991.

  • The man behind Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, The Flintstones, The Jetsons, The Smurfs and Scooby-Doo is Joseph Barbera, director, producer, and co-founder of Hanna-Barbera Film Studios. A banker and free-lance cartoonist, he met Bill Hanna at MGM in 1937. The team created Puss Gets the Boots, which was nominated for an Oscar and inspired the Tom and Jerry cartoons. In 1957, they started their own animation studio and went on to win seven Oscars during their long collaboration.

  • A Chorus Line, one of Broadway's longest running shows, was choreographed by the late Michael Bennett (born Michael DeFiglia), who received a Tony for his work.

  • Hollywood's famous Walk of Fame holds nearly 400 stars imbedded in the pavement. The stars are created by Bill Paternostro, a terrazzo artist. He takes about two days to make a star, composed of thick colored concrete with tiny marble chips and the name of the star, which is in brass.

SOURCES:   A Directory of Italian Americans in U.S. Entertainment by Michael Bacarella (Published by the National Italian American Foundation)


Columbus is perhaps the most famous Italian explorer, but many other Italians and Italian Americans also made significant discoveries that expanded America.

  • In all, Christopher Columbus (1451-1506) made four voyages to the New World. On his third trip in 1498, he landed in Venezuela. It was the first time he actually set foot on the South American continent.

  • Giovanni Caboto, whom most know as John Cabot [1450 (c)-1498], discovered North America in 1497. Sailing under the English flag, he established Newfoundland and laid the basis for the English colonization of America.

  • Sebastian Cabot [1482-1557], the son of John Cabot, organized the English Navy and later, sailing under the Spanish flag, explored South America, which allowed Spain to take possession of the continent.

  • The New World was named "America" for Amerigo Vespucci(1451-1512), the Florentine explorer and geographer who was a friend to Columbus.  He sailed to the New World in 1499, landing in what is now Brazil. Vespucci was the first to advance the belief that the land discovered by Columbus was not India, but a new continent and for that, European cartographers named the New World in his honor.

  • The first explorer to describe the North American mainland and New York Bay was the Florentine Giovanni da Verrazzano [1481 (c) - 1528]. He reached what is now Cape Fear, North Carolina in 1524, sailed to Cape Hatteras, Maine and then entered New York Bay eighty-five years before the Dutch seaman Henry Hudson.

  • Jamestown, the first English settlement in the New World, was home to several Italian glass blowers around 1610. One family, the Tagliaferros, arrived in 1637. Pronounced "Tolliver," today it is still one of the most well-known names in the South.

  • The first relatively large immigration of Italians to the American colonies was in 1657 when an estimated 300 Protestants from Piedmont landed in New York and went on to Delaware, where they organized the first government of the colony of New Amstel, now New Castle, Delaware.

  • The American Southwest and California were explored and mapped almost solely by Eusebio Kino (1645-1711), an Italian Jesuit priest, whose name was changed by the Spanish from "Chino." Exploring under the Spanish flag, he established 19 missions and built more than 30 churches.

  • Henry Di Tonti, known as "Tonti the Iron Hand" because he lost a hand in battle, accompanied Robert La Salle, a Frenchman, and explored for the first time the Great Lakes in The Griffin, a ship he built in 1679. Tonti also founded the first European settlement in Illinois in 1680, and the first French settlement in Arkansas in 1683. He sailed under the French flag because he was from Gaeta, near Rome, which was originally controlled by France. Today, Tontitown in Arkansas is named in his honor.

  • The co-founder of Detroit, Michigan in 1704 and its colonial governor for 12 years was Alphonse Tonty, the younger brother of explorer Henry Tonti.

  • The route to the the source of the Mississippi River, was discovered by Giacomo Costantino Beltrami while he  was exploring the territory that later became Minnesota  in 1823.  In 1886, Minnesota created Beltrami County in honor of the explorer's discovery.


As players and coaches, Italian Americans have set records in one of America's most popular sports.

  • Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi (1913-1970) led the Green Bay Packers to five National Football League (NFL) championships (between 1959 and 1967), the first and second Super Bowls (1967 and 1968), and three world titles during the 1960s. The Brooklyn-born former football player and coach introduced the T-formation offense, which he used in 1956 to bring the New York Giants to their first NFL championship since 1938. In 1969, he coached Washington, D.C.'s Redskins, bringing them to their first winning season in more than two decades. He died in 1970 and was elected posthumously to the Football Hall of Fame the same year. His motto was "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

  • Joe Paterno became head coach of the Penn State football team in 1965 where he led the team to 22 major bowl games and four perfect seasons, produced many All American players and 48 players who joined the NFL. Three times honored as Coach of the Year, he won more than 80 percent of his games.

  • Lou Little, born Luigi Piccolo in 1893, was a member of the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame. He coached Columbia University's football team from 1930 to 1956 and was known for developing teams that never gave up. Among his more notable victories was a one-point win over Army in 1947 that snapped the Cadets' 32-game winning streak.

  • Seven Italian American football players have won the Heisman Trophy, college football's highest honor. They are Alan Ameche (Wisconsin), Gary Beban (UCLA), Joe Bellino (NAVY), Angelo Bertelli (Notre Dame), John Cappelletti (Penn State), Gino Torretta (Miami), and Vinny Testaverde (Miami). Cappelletti, an all-American running back, gave his trophy to his younger brother, Joey, who was dying of cancer.

  • The greatest Super Bowl drive of all time-- eight complete passes in two minutes and thirty seconds was the work of San Francisco 49ers Joe Montana in 1984. Montana quarterbacked the 49ers to four Super Bowl titles before playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. He was the Most Valuable Player of three of those four Super Bowls.

  • Dan Marino, who played for the Miami Dolphins, was the highest rated quarterback in the NFL in 1984. He passed for an amazing 47 touchdowns in his first 20 games, a record it took Joe Namath three seasons to match.

  • Brian Piccolo led the nation in rushing when he played for Wake Forest University, totaling 1,044 yards during his senior year in 1964. Drafted by the Chicago Bears, he gained 927 yards and caught 58 passes before his life was cut short by cancer in 1970 when he was 27 years old.

  • Pro football "iron man" Andy Robustelli was well-named. He missed only one game in 14 years with the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants, earning All-Pro honors seven times was named the National Football League's "Player of the Year" in 1962, and elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

  • Franco Harris, a black Italian American whose mother came from Lucca, played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. A record-breaking rusher, he led his team to its first divisional title in 40 years and then won two league championships in 1974 and 1975. He held the record for the most yards gained in a Super Bowl -- 158 against the Minnesota Vikings in 1975.


Italian Americans have been part of the American political scene for more than 200 years.

  • The words in the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal" were suggested to Thomas Jefferson by Filippo Mazzei, a Tuscan physician, business man, pamphleteer and Jefferson's friend and neighbor. Mazzei's original words were "All men are by nature equally free and independent."

  • Two of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Italian origin: William Paca and Caesar Rodney. Paca was one of the first senators in the Maryland state legislature, governor of Maryland (1782 to 1785) and a major general during the Revolutionary War. Rodney of Delaware, descended from the Adelmare family in Treviso, is most remembered for his courageous ride to Philadelphia in July 1776. Though sick with cancer, he rode through thunder and rain to arrive just in time to vote for independence.

  • Onorio Razzolini was the first Italian American ever to hold public office. He was the U.S. Armourer and Keeper of Stores in Maryland between 1732 and 1747, a duty which essentially put him in charge of defense for the Colony of Maryland.

  • In 1837, John Phinizy, the son of an Italian immigrant named Ferdinando Finizzi, became the first Italian American mayor of an American city: Augusta, Georgia. In 1880, Anthony Ghio was elected mayor of Texarkana, Texas, where he later opened the town's first opera house.

  • Among the first Italian American governors were William Paca, who served Maryland from 1782 to 1785; Caesar Rodney of Delaware in 1776; and Andrew Houston Longino who was elected governor of Mississippi in 1900. The first Republican governor of Italian descent was Christopher Del Sesto, who was elected governor of Rhode Island in 1958.

  • Francis B. Spinola was the first Italian American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives (1887-1891). A Democrat, Spinola represented New York City.

  • In 1950, John Orlando Pastore became the first Italian American elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served until 1976. In over 50 years in public office, he never lost an election. A Democrat from Rhode Island, he began his political career as a state assemblyman in 1934 and became the first Italian American governor of his home state in 1945 after his predecessor resigned. He was reelected in 1946 and then again in 1948 by a record 73,000 vote margin over his opponent.

  • Alfred E. Smith, who was born Alfred Emanuele Ferrara, was the first Italian American governor of New York (1919), and the first Italian American presidential candidate. He was defeated by Herbert Hoover in 1928. His paternal grandfather was born in Genoa in 1808.

  • Charles Joseph Bonaparte founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908, built the U.S. Navy into one of the strongest in the world and was the first Italian American appointed to a cabinet position, serving as Secretary of the Navy and later as U.S. Attorney General during Theodore Roosevelt's administration.

  • New York City's "Little Flower," Fiorello H. LaGuardia was elected mayor in 1931 and served until 1944. Elected on the Republican ticket, he became the first Italian American mayor of the city. The former lawyer was a champion of labor unions and campaigned in English, Italian, Yiddish, German and Spanish.

  • Michael A. Musmanno served on of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and on the bench of the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal, which tried the Nazi officers after World War II.

  • The 1950 New York City mayoral race was among three Italian Americans: Edward Corsi, Vincent Impellitteri, and Ferdinand Pecora. Impellitteri won on the Experience Party ticket and served as mayor until January, 1954.

  • U.S. Congressman Peter Rodino, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, led the Committee recommendation to impeach Richard M. Nixon. Elected to Congress in 1948, Rodino also was a key congressman supporting the law that made Columbus Day a national holiday in 1973.

  • Anthony J. Celebrezze was the first foreign-born mayor of Cleveland, Ohio and the first non-native to be appointed to the U.S. Cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare under the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. Also a judge to the U.S. Court of Appeals, he was born in Potenza, elected Cleveland's mayor in 1953 and re-elected four times, the last time with nearly 75 percent of the vote. He was the only Cleveland mayor elected five times. He died in 1998 at age 88.

  • Gov. Ella Tambussi Grasso of Connecticut was the first American woman elected governor in her own right and the first Italian American woman in Congress. Elected governor in 1975, she brought the state out of debt and created an "open government" so all citizens could easily access public records. Grasso served as governor until 1980. She served in Congress from 1970 to 1974. Ella Grasso died of cancer in 1981.

  • Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to ever run for national office in the U.S. In 1984 she ran as Walter Mondale's vice presidential candidate. A Democrat from New York, she served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1985.

  • Mario Cuomo, who was first elected governor of New York in 1982, won the 1986 election with 2,761,000 votes, or 64 percent, the largest margin in New York history. During his 12 years in office, Gov. Cuomo pushed through landmark programs in criminal justice, education, the environment, health care, human rights, housing and health care that were national firsts. See his book, The New York Idea: An Experiment in Democracy

  • The first woman to be secretary of state and attorney general in Nevada was Frankie Sue Del Papa. She was elected secretary in 1987 and attorney general in 1991.

  • Brooklyn's Rudolph W. Giuliani was elected mayor of New York City in 1993, and re-elected in 1997. During his first term as mayor, crime in the Big Apple dropped 41 percent, the largest sustained decrease in the nation and the lowest rate in New York City since the 1960s. The Mayor began his career in the U.S Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York in 1970 at age 29, later practiced law privately and worked for the Attorney General's office and the Justice Department. He first ran for mayor in 1989 as an independent but lost to David Dinkins.

  • At the close of the 20th century, about eight percent, or 82 of the mayors of the 1,056 major U.S. cities had Italian last names. Per state, the largest percentages of mayors are in New York (35 percent), Connecticut (31 percent) and New Jersey (23 percent). Six of the Italian American mayors are women. Italian Americans constitute about six percent of the U.S. population.

  • When the 20th centuryh closed, 31 men and women of Italian descent were serving in the U.S. Congress, including five senators and four women.


Italian Americans created many of the familiar items we enjoy every day.

  • The Jacuzzi hot tub and spa were invented by the Jacuzzi family. whose family of seven sons and six daughters came to America in 1907. In 1915, they formed the Jacuzzi Brothers Incorporated, which supplied the American military with propellers. In 1926, they developed the deep well (jet) water pump that led to the famous whirlpool bath.
  • Mr. Coffee, the best-selling coffee maker in the world, was invented by Vince Marotta, who also developed a better way extract oil from coffee beans and invented the paper coffee filter. Since 1972, more than 50 million Mr. Coffees have been sold. An estimated 10 billion Mr. Coffee paper filters are sold annually.
  • The convertible sofa was invented by Bernard Castro (1904-1991) who came from Italy and opened an upholstery shop in New York in 1931.  In 1945, he invented the famous space-saving sofa that even a child could open.
  • Chef Boyardee, the man behind the nation's leading brand of spaghetti dinners, pizza mix, sauce and pasta, was really Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant from Emilia Romagna. Boiardi, who began as a chef's apprentice at age 11, eventually opened a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio in 1924 and began packaging pasta and sauce for his customers to take home. In the 1930s, he began selling his pasta and sauce in cans. A food distributor convinced him to change the spelling of his name to make it easier for Americans to pronounce. During World War II, the company was the largest supplier of rations for the U.S. and Allied Forces.
  • The Big Mac, McDonald's sandwich classic, was invented by Jim Delligatti owner of a McDonald's franchise in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Since its introduction in 1967, more than 14 billion Big Macs have been sold, making it the most popular sandwich in the world.
  • Antonio Meucci invented the telephone in 1871, five years before Alexander Graham Bell, but the impoverished inventor did not have the funds (about $25.00) to file a patent.
  • The popular Radio Flyer red wagon was created by Antonio Pasin, an immigrant Italian carpenter in 1917. Pasin began making the wagon he called the Liberty Coaster, after the Statue of Liberty, one of his first sights in America. Today, his grandson, Robert Pasin is the president of the Chicago-based Radio Flyer Inc, which he runs with his brothers, Antonio and Paul. The company's 100 employees manufacture about 8,000 wagons a day.
  • The chocolate bar exists today in part thanks to Domenico Ghirardelli. In 1867, he perfected a method to make ground chocolate. Today, Ghirardelli chocolate is sold all over the world, including the square in San Francisco named after him, where his chocolate factory - now a shopping center -- still stands.
  • Mr. Peanut and the Planters Peanut Company were created by Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi, two Italian immigrants. Obici, who came to America from Oderzo in 1889, began selling five-cent bags of peanuts on the street. In 1897, he took Peruzzi as his partner. By 1930, the two had four huge factories, and raked in over $12 million annually. Today the Planters Peanut Company has over 5,000 employees.
  • The cough drop was created by Vincent R. Ciccone, who began his career in the 1930s as a janitor at the Charms Candy Co. and retired as the company's president and chief executive officer. Ciccone secured 20 patents, including the "Blow Pop," a lolly pop with a bubble gum center. He died at age 81 in 1997.
  • Charles Atlas, born Angelo Siciliano, invented the body-building technique called "Dynamic Tension" in 1921 and was dubbed "America's Most Perfectly Developed Man" by Physical Culture magazine.  By the 1950s, the former Coney Island janitor, had over one million followers.  He died in 1972 at age 79 while jogging too soon after a heart attack.
  • The ice cream cone was invented by an Italian immigrant to New Jersey named Italo Marcioni in 1896.
  • The three-way light bulb was invented by Alessandro Dandini, who patented more than 22 inventions, including the rigid retractable automobile top and the spherical system, which concentrates and extracts solar energy. Dandini came to the U.S. in 1945, and taught at the University of Nevada in Reno. He held degrees in science, languages, hydraulic engineering and classical literature. He died in 1991 at age 88.
  • Bernard Cousino (1902-1994) held more than 76 patents on audiovisual equipment, including the eight-track tape player and the automobile tape deck.  In 1994, just days before his death, he filed a patent for a continuous loop video cassette that allows VCRs to play tapes repeatedly without rewinding.


For generations, Italian Americans have played major roles as law officers in the U.S.

  • The man who pursued Billy the Kid was Charlie Angelo Siringo (1855-1912), a famous Pinkerton detective, who also went after such legendary outlaws as the Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy and their Hole-in-the-Wall gang, which he infiltrated "undercover." He authored several books, including A Texas Cowboy and A Cowboy Detective, that chronicle the once-wild west.

  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation was founded in 1908 by Charles J. Bonaparte, who was appointed attorney general by Theodore Roosevelt. Previously, he was Secretary of the Navy and the first Italian American in the U.S. Cabinet. In 1993, Louis Freeh, whose mother's name is Bernice Chinchiola, became director of the FBI.

  • The first Italian American detective in New York City and the first New York police officer killed abroad in the line of duty was Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino. He was shot in Palermo March 12, 1909 while investigating the Mafia. Petrosino is credited with sending over 500 criminals to prison.

  • John Sirica was the judge who presided over the Watergate case for five years and ordered the enforcement of the subpoena, which obliged President Richard Nixon to turn over the infamous tapes. Judge Sirica's decision ultimately led to President Nixon's resignation in 1974.

  • U.S. Congressman Peter Rodino chaired the House Judiciary Committee in 1974. Under his leadership, the bipartisan committee investigated President Richard Nixon's actions and recommended that he be impeached. It would have been the second impeachment trial of a sitting president in U.S. history. Instead Nixon resigned. Elected to Congress in 1948, Rodino helped introduce the law which made Columbus Day a national holiday in 1973.

  • Antonin Scalia is the first Italian American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. The son of Sicilian immigrants, he was appointed in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.
  • Before becoming mayor of New York City in 1992, Rudolph Giuliani (b.1944) had a remarkable career as a crime-fighter in the U.S. Department of Justice for 25 years.  Between 1968 and 1992, he put drug traffickers and organized crime bosses behind bars, ending his Justice career as associate deputy attorney.  Since becoming mayor, he has reduced New York's crime rate, making the city one of the safest in the country.
  • Frank Serpico was a New York City undercover policeman whose exposure of police corruption led to the formation of the Knapp Commission.  His life and work were the subject of a book by Peter Maas and a movie, starring Al Pacino.
  • Before becoming the first woman ever to run for national office, former U.S. Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro served as assistant district attorney in Queens, New York (1974).  Four years later, in 1978, she headed the Special Victims Bureau, which she helped create.  There she prosecuted cases of child abuse, domestic violence and rape.
  • The lead prosecutor in the government's case against crime boss John Gotti was Assistant U.S. District Attorney Diane Giacolone.  She presented a strong case during the 61/2 month trial in 1987, but Gotti was acquitted.  Ten years later, Gotti's henchman Sammy "The Bull" Gravano revealed that he had fixed the jury.


October is Italian American Heritage Month, celebrating the contributions of an estimated 20 million Americans of Italian descent -- the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States.
  • Two signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Italian descent: Maryland's William Paca and Delaware's Caesar Rodney.

  • Four Italians were at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876: John Martini, a trumpeter and the last man to see Custer alive; Augusto De Voto, Giovanni Casella, and Lieutenant Charles De Rudio. All four survived the massacre.

  • The Planter's Peanut Company and its familiar logo, Mr. Peanut, were created by Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1908.

  • "Chattanooga Choo-choo," "Lullaby of Broadway," and "An Affair to Remember" were some of the songs written by Harry Warren, born Salvatore Guaragna.

  • The ice cream cone was invented in 1896 by Italo Marcioni in New Jersey. Two generations later, in Pittsburgh Jim Delligatti invented the Big Mac.

  • The only enlisted Marine in U.S. history to win the nation's two highest military honors -- the Navy Cross and the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor -- was John Basilone, a U.S. Marine sergeant, who died at the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II.

  • The suburban shopping mall was developed by William Cafaro and Edward J. DeBartolo. Cafaro pioneered the enclosed shopping mall with his American Mall in Lima, Ohio in 1965. DeBartolo built the first American shopping plaza in the 1940s.

  • Between 5,000 and 10,000 Italians fought in the Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy. Four were Union generals, including General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who received the Medal of Honor and was later the first director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.

  • Susan Sarandon, Bruce Springsteen, and Ann Bancroft are Italian American.


From the Revolutionary War through modern times, Italian Americans have fought to protect the United States.

  • During the American Revolution, three Italian regiments totaling 1,500 men assisted the colonists. Also, Italian names are found on the rolls of colonial American regiments.

  • An estimated 5,000 to 10,000 Italians fought in the American Civil War for both the North and the South. The exact number is not known since many names were Americanized.

  • Giuseppe Garibaldi, who led Italy to unification in 1861, was offered a command as Major General in the Union Army by President Lincoln. Garibaldi declined, but to honor him, the 39th New York Infantry was known as the Garibaldi Guard. About 150 of its 850 men were Italian. It fought in the Union Army from Bull Run to Appomattox.

  • More than 100 Italian Americans served as officers in the Union forces during the Civil War including 4 generals; 2 naval commanders; 11 naval officers; 9 colonels and lieutenant colonels; and 28 majors and captains. The exact number is unknown because of the Americanization of Italian surnames and mixed marriages.

  • Four Italian Americans became generals during or following their Civil War service: Luigi Palma di Cesnola; Enrico Fardella; Eduardo Ferrero; and Francis Spinola. Gen. Ferrero of the 51st N.Y. Regiment, was among the first Union officers to command black troops. Col. di Cesnola, commander of the 4th NY Cavalry, received the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor. It was awarded in 1897.

  • Among the handful of survivors of the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 were four Italian Americans: Lieutenant Charles De Rudio, and enlisted men Augusto De Voto, Giovanni Casella (listed as "John James") and John Martin, (born "Martini").

  • Bancroft Gerardi was the first Italian American to attain the rank of U.S. Admiral. He and Louis Sartori were U.S. naval commodores during the U.S.-Mexican War.

  • Over 300,000 Italian Americans, including 87,000 Italian nationals, served in the U.S. military during World War I. Among them was Lieutenant Fiorello La Guardia, one of the first soldiers in the new U.S. Army Air Service, the forerunner of the Air Force.

  • Among the first U.S. casualties in World War I was John Eopolucci, an Navy guard, who perished after his steamer, "Aztec" was torpedoed near France on April 1, 1917.

  • The first Italian American to receive the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor was Luigi Palma di Cesnola, a Union general in the Civil War, who later became the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

  • At least 39 Italian Americans have received the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award given by the U.S. government for bravery "above and beyond the call of duty:" six in the Civil War; two in the Indian War; one for the Spanish-American War; one for the China Boxer Rebellion; one during peacetime service (1889-1911); one in World War I; fourteen for World War II; three for the Korean Conflict; and ten in the Vietnam War.

  • More than 1. 5 million Italian Americans served in World War II, according to the late Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. In a speech to the Italian American War Veterans of America August 25, 1961, Rockefeller said that Italian Americans constituted "more than 10 percent of the might of the American forces in World War II.

  • John Basilone is the only enlisted Marine in U.S. history to receive the nation's two highest military honors: the Navy Cross for valor and the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in World War II. Basilone, an Italian American Marine sergeant from New Jersey, fought at the Battle of Guadalcanal (1942), raised millions of dollars in war bonds, and was killed in action during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945.

  • Captain Don Gentile of the U.S. Army Air Force, shot down over 30 Nazi planes during World War II. Eisenhower called the 24-year-old pilot a "one-man Air Force" and personally pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on him. The "Ace of Aces" was born in Ohio and bought his first plane when he was 15. He died in a training accident after the war in 1950 when he was only 30.

  • Four-star General Anthony Zinni, a veteran Marine and the son of Italian immigrants, commanded Operation Desert Fox, the U.S. bombing of Iraq in 1998. It was the largest U.S. offensive since the Gulf War in 1991. A highly decorated officer, he is Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Central Command.

  • General Carl Vuono was the first Italian American to be appointed Army chief of staff.  He served from 1987-1991 and was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

Prepared by: The National Italian American Foundation
The NIAF thanks military historian Rudy A. D'Angelo for his assistance with this fact sheet.


From hockey and boxing to golf and figure skating Italian Americans have excelled in sports.
[*See separate Fact Sheets for Italian American contributions to baseball and football.]

  • Rocky Marciano is the only undefeated heavyweight boxing champion in history. He retired in 1956 with a 49-0 record that counted 43 knockouts. Marciano won the Heavyweight Crown in Philadelphia in 1952 and defended his title six times before retiring. He was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1959 and died in a plane crash ten years later, the day before his 46th birthday. His real name was Rocco Marchegiano.

  • Middleweight boxing champions include Carmen Basilio (1957); Rocky Graziano (1947); and Jake LaMotta (1949). In the Lightweight category, world champions include Tony Canzoneri (1930); Ray Mancini (1982); and Vinny Pazienza (1987 and 1991).\

  • In 1940 when Guglielmo Papaleo-- Willie Pep-- turned professional boxer when he was only 17 years old. He went on to win 53 fights in a row and then at age 20, beat Chalky Wright for the featherweight championship of the world. At 5' 5", he lost only one of his first 135 fights.

  • Boxing manager Angelo Dundee, born Angelo Merena, Jr. in 1921, trained and managed fifteen world champions, including Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, & Jimmy Ellis.

  • Bruno Sammartino came to the U.S. from Italy after World War II, suffering from malnutrition. By 1959 he had become a professional wrestler and in 1963 became the world champion, a title he held for twelve years. At 5'11" with a 58-inch chest, 21-inch biceps and a 38-inch waist, he was World Wrestling Federation champ for eight years.

  • In hockey, brothers Phil and Tony Esposito have set records. Phil once scored 76 netted goals in a single season. He played for the Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and New York Rangers for 18 years before retiring in 1981 and in 1984, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. A five-time winner of the Art Ross trophy as the NHL's top scorer, Esposito was general manager of the New York Rangers. Tony became one of the greatest goaltenders of all time. A 15-year veteran with the Chicago Blackhawks, he was nicknamed "Tony O" for his 76 shutouts. Voted National League All Star a record ten times, Esposito saw his number 35 retired by the Blackhawks in 1988.

  • Joe Amato was the 1990 National Hot Rod Association World Champion and the first driver to surpass 280 miles per hour.

  • At age 13, tennis player Jennifer Capriati became the first seeded player to win a match in Wimbledon.

  • At age 15, Linda Fratianne won the U.S. Ladies Figure Skating Championships in 1977 and 1980. Winner of the 1977 and 1980 World Figure Skating Championships, she capped her career with a silver medal from the 1980 Olympics. One of the few women skaters who routinely performed triple jumps, she won over 140 championships.

  • For three consecutive years from 1986 to 1988, then-22-year-old Olympic champion Brian Boitano won the men's singles title at the annual World Figure Skating Championships. During the 1988 Olympic he won the gold medal.

  • Charles Atlas, born Angelo Siciliano, invented the body-building technique called "Dynamic Tension" in 1921 and was dubbed "America's Most Perfectly Developed Man" by Physical Culture magazine. By the 1950s, the former Coney Island janitor, had over one million followers. He died in 1972 at age 79, while jogging too soon after a heart attack.

  • Eddie Arcaro's horse racing career spanned more than 24,000 races, of which he won an average of one out of every four for a total of 4,799 wins. A five-time Kentucky Derby winner, he also won the Belmont stakes at Preakness six times, earning $30,039,543.

  • During the 1940s and 1950s, Willie Mosconi was the world billiard champion 15 times, had a consecutive ball run of 526 in a 1954 exhibition and held many world records. He died in 1993.

  • Victor Romagna sailed on the crew of three winning America's Cup teams in 1958, 1962 and 1967. He also competed in 22 Bermuda races and two trans-Atlantic competitions. In 1994, the former sailing coach of the U.S. Naval Academy (1981-89) was inducted into the America's Cup Hall of Fame. He died in 1998 at age 80.

  • Golfer Ken Venturi won both the British and the U.S. Opens in 1956. In 1964 he won the U.S. Open and was named "Player of the Year" by the Professional Golf Association.

  • Golfer Donna Caponi, with the Ladies' Professional Golf Association won the U.S. Open in 1969 and 1970. She had five tournament wins in 1980 and most consecutive holes without a bogey-- 50.

  • Gene Sarazen, born Eugene Saracini in 1902, is the first golfer to win each of the modern Grand Slam Championships, beginning with the Professional Golf Association and U.S. Open titles in 1922. He won both again two more times each. During the 1973 British Open, he got a hole-in-one on the 126-yard eighth hole.

  • Mario Andretti won the Indianapolis 500 championship in 1969, with a new record of 157 miles per hour, and went on to win the 1978 Grand Prix world championship, three national championships and several victories at the Daytona 500 and Toronto 500.

  • Two earlier Italian Americans also won the Indianapolis 500: Ralph DePalma won in 1915 and help to design and build the Packard V-12, which he drove to a new land speed record of 149.87 m.p.h. in 1919, and Peter DePaola, in 1925. De Paola was the first man to exceed the 100 m.p.h. mark for average speed at the Indy 500 with 101.13 mph. Both were among the first to be inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame.

  • In 1990, Mary Lou Retton, born Mary Lou Rettoni, became the first female gymnast and the youngest athlete ever inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame. In the 1984 Olympics at age 16, she won the all-around gold medal in women's gymnastics.

  • Matt Biondi has set four World Records and is believed to be the fastest swimmer of all times. His 11 Olympic medals (8 gold, 2 silver and 1 bronze) tie him with Mark Spitz as the most decorated U.S. Olympian in history.

  • Jerry Colangelo, an astute judge of basketball talent, has guided the Phoenix Suns to prominence in the National Basketball League (NBA) for more than three decades. He became their first general manager in 1968 at age 28, making him the youngest general manager in sports. A native of Chicago Heights, Illinois, he also helped form Phoenix's major league baseball team, the Diamondbacks.

  • Hank Luisetti, three-time All-American, was the first basketball player to use a one-handed shot.  In 1936, he played for Stanford University, averaging 14 to 17 points per game.  During his three varsity seasons with the team, it won 68 of 79 games played.

  • Susan Notorangelo holds the fastest transcontinental record for cycling across the United States. She set the record in 1989 when it took her 9 days, 9 hours and 9 minutes to travel those 2, 950 miles at an average speed of 13.45 miles per hour.

  • Dan Biasone invented basketball's 24-second clock in 1954, an invention that many credit with creating the game we know today.  A native of Italy, he immigrated to the U.S. and founded the Syracuse Nationals (today the Philadelphia 76-ers), which he owned from 1946 to 1963.  Biasone died in 1992 and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in the year 2000.

  • In 1978, Chicago business man George Randazzo established the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago, Illinois. The NIASHF recognizes and promotes the achievements of Italian American athletes and their contributions to sports. Contact the NIASHF at 312/226-5566.


Italian Americans have helped shape American popular music as composers and performers.

  • In 1914, Domenick "Nick" La Rocca, a cornetist, and Anthony Sbarbaro, a drummer, formed the first jazz band, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band. In 1917, the quintet made the first jazz record, "Darktown Strutters Ball" which sold a million copies. La Rocca wrote the classic "Tiger Rag," now known as "Hold That Tiger," the official song of Louisiana State University. Born in 1889 in New Orleans, he died in 1961 at age 72.

  • Louis Prima, a trumpeter, composer and band leader, successfully crossed the line between jazz to swing, then to R&B, and finally to rock n' roll. Some of his famous compositions are "Brooklyn Boogie" and "Oh Babe." His greatest achievement was his 1936 composition "Sing, Sing, Sing" which was later recorded by Benny Goodman and stands as the most powerful big band/ jazz hit of all time.

  • Three-time Academy Award winner Harry Warren (1893-1981), was born Salvatore Guaragna in Brooklyn and was the son of a Calabrian boot maker. One of Hollywood's most successful and prolific composers during the 30s, 40s and 50s, he wrote "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "A Love Affair to Remember," and "That's Amore," among many other songs. Between 1935 and 1950, he wrote more hit songs than Cole Porter, Irving Berlin or George Gershwin, three of which earned him Academy Awards: "Lullaby of Broadway," "You'll Never Know," and "Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe."

  • Sonny Dae, born Pascal Vennitti in 1931, recorded "Rock Around the Clock" in 1950, four years before Bill Haley & the Comets made it "Rock 'n Roll's" first big hit in 1954.

  • Musical arranger Al Caiola wrote the theme song for the 1950s TV series "Bonanza."

  • For nearly half a century, from 1929 to 1977, Guy Lombardo led his Royal Canadians band, which became an institution on New Year's Eve when millions of people crowded into Manhattan's Times Square while Lombardo's band played "Auld Lang Syne."

  • Frank Guida, song writer and music arranger, produced the 1960s gold records "New Orleans," "Quarter to Three," "Stand By Me," and "If You Wanna Be Happy." His "Norfolk Sound" is believed to have influenced the Beatles' "Liverpool Sound."

  • Born Alfred Cucozza in Philadelphia in 1921, Mario Lanza, took his mother's name as his stage name and became the first vocalist to sell 2.5 million albums and the first singer to receive a gold disc for his recording of "Be My Love." After a legendary recording career (he made 390 records), he went to Hollywood and made eight movies (1949-1959). Born the same year that Enrico Caruso died, like Caruso, Lanza died prematurely. An embolism struck him down in Rome at age 38 in 1959.

  • Sonny Bono achieved international fame in 1972 with his wife Cher, recording his composition, "I Got You, Babe."Another popular hit here and abroad was his song, "Little Man." After his recording and television career ended, he became a successful restauranteur, became mayor of Palm Springs, California in 1988 and in 1994 was elected to represent California in the U.S. Congress. Bono died during a skiing accident in Lake Tahoe in 1998. He was 62 years old.

  • Four-time Academy Award and 20-time Grammy and Gold Record winner Henry Mancini is remembered for his classic "Moon River" from Breakfast at Tiffany's. He also wrote the scores for 80 other movies, including the Pink Panther series, The Days of Wine and Roses and Victor-Victoria. Born in 1924 in Ohio, he was a child prodigy who mastered the piccolo, flute, and piano by the time he was 12. His break came when he scored the theme music to Peter Gunn, a popular TV series of the early1960s. Mancini died of pancreatic cancer in 1994. He was 70 years old.

  • Conductor and composer Bill Conti wrote the theme song, "Gonna Fly Now" to the classic movie Rocky in 1976. He has since scored more than 70 movies, including Rocky II, III, and V; Private Benjamin, The Karate Kid (I., II, and III), the James Bond film, For Your Eyes Only, and the astronaut epic, The Right Stuff , for which he received an Academy Award in 1983. He also has written the theme songs for 40 TV programs, including Dynasty, Falcon Crest and Life Styles of the Rich and Famous.

  • Among the many Italian Americans who popularized American songs here and abroad are Frank Sinatra; Vic Damone (Vito Farinola); Dean Martin ( Dino Crocetti); Tony Bennett (Anthony Benedetto); Frankie Laine (Frank Lo Vecchio), Perry Como, Frankie Avalon (Frank Avalone), Bobby Rydell (Roberto Ridarelli), Connie Francis (Concetta Franconero), Bobby Darin (Walden Cassotto), Joanie James (Joan Babbo) and Jon Bon Jovi.


Most Americans know that the District of Columbia is named after Christopher Columbus, but few realize how great a role other Italians and their descendants have had in building the city and its monuments. Italians helped create Washington's classic architecture and impressive monuments, and many of the city's schools, churches, and federal buildings.
  • THE LINCOLN MEMORIAL -- Neapolitan immigrant Attilio Piccirilli and his five brothers carved the statue of Lincoln, which they began in 1911 and completed in 1922. It is 19 feet high and made of 28 blocks of marble, carefully fitted together.   The gifted sculptors, working out of their studio/living complex in the Bronx, also carved the famous lions on the steps of the New York Public Library, and the facade of the Brooklyn Museum among many other works in New York and across America.  See Attilio Piccirilli's biography by Joseph V. Lombardo, published in 1944.

  • THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL -- Using techniques handed down by stone carvers since the Middle Ages, Italian artisans created the gargoyles and statues that decorate the facade of Washington's most famous place of worship.

  • THE CAPITOL BUILDING -- A concrete symbol of American democracy, the Capitol bears the imprint of Italian talent. Between 1855 and 1870, the Italian artist, Constantino Brumidi decorated its interior dome, corridors, and the President's Room where Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

  • UNION STATION -- Italian construction workers helped build Washington's train station, which was begun in 1905 and completed in 1908, considered one of the most beautiful train stations in the United States. The six statues that decorate the station's facade were sculpted by Andrew E. Bernasconi between 1909 and 1911.

  • METRO -- Washington is justifiably proud of its quiet, modern subway system, but few of the thousands of commuters who ride it daily know that more than 60 percent of Metro's 764 subway cars are made in Italy. The DC Transit Authority purchased 466 cars from Breda Costruzioni Ferroviarie in Pistoia at a cost of about $1.3 million each.


Italian American women have led the way for women in business, politics, labor and many other fields.
  • The first American saint was Mother Frances Cabrini, who founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart and recruited over 4,000 sisters to aid her efforts. Mother Cabrini founded 14 American colleges, 98 schools, 28 orphanages and eight hospitals. She emigrated to the U.S. in 1889 and became a U.S. citizen in 1909. She died in 1917 and was canonized in 1946.

  • The first woman to run for national office was Geraldine Ferraro, who was the Democratic candidate for vice president in 1984. Mrs. Ferraro also served in Congress, representing a district in Queens, New York, from 1979 to 1985.

  • The first woman ever elected governor in her own right was Ella T. Grasso of Connecticut. Born in 1919, Ella Grasso was elected to U.S. House of Representatives in 1970. According to the Library of Congress, Mrs. Grasso was also the first Italian American woman elected to Congress. She served until 1975 when she was elected governor of Connecticut. She brought the state out of debt, personally organized a massive relief effort during a 1978 blizzard , and created an "open government," which gave ordinary citizens easier access to public records. Ella Grasso died of cancer in 1981 at age 62.

  • In 1998, Patricia Fili-Krushel became the president of ABC Television and the first woman ever to head a major network.

  • The first woman ever toedit The Journal of the AmericanMedical Association (JAMA) in its 116-year history is Catherine De Angelis, M.D. Vice dean at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, she became a nurse, then put herself through college and medical school.  A pediatrician and child advocate, she was born in Pennsylvania where her father worked in a silk mill.  Dr. De Angelis became JAMA editor in 2000.

  • Penny Marshall (nee Carole Penny Masciarelli) has made a remarkable transition from star of the hit TV series Laverne & Shirley to one of the few women directors in Hollywood. Her second film, Big in 1988 made her the first woman director in American history to direct a film that earned $100 million. Her other films include Jumping Jack Flash, Awakenings, and A League of Their Own.

  • The first American singer to perform at New York's famed Metropolitan Opera House without European training was Rosa Ponselle. Born Rosa Ponzillo in Connecticut, "the Cinderella of Opera," made her debut at the Met in 1918 when she was 21 in Verdi's La Forza del Destino, opposite Enrico Caruso after being discovered in vaudeville. She played over 20 roles in her 19-year career at the Met, retiring in 1936 to marry and teach. She died in 1981 at age 83.

  • Mary Lou Retton was the first American woman gymnast ever to win a gold medal. At the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Retton, then age 16, won a total of five medals. In 1985, she became the youngest inductee to the U.S. Olympic Committee Hall of Fame.

  • At age 24, Bonnie Tiburzi became the first woman pilot in commercial aviation history. She was hired by American Airlines in 1973. Her book Takeoff, tells her story.

  • Sister Blandina Segale founded the first public school in New Mexico in 1881. Her book At The End of the Santa Fe Trail, published in 1893, is believed to be the first published by an Italian American woman.

  • In the early 1900s, Angela Bambace, an 18-year-old Italian American woman who worked in a shirtwaist factory in New York, organized the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) in New York and Maryland. She was elected vice president of the ILGWU in 1956, becoming the first woman to penetrate the all-male leadership of the ILGWU. She retired in 1972.

  • California has a children's and maternity ward in every county hospital, thanks to "Dr. Crusade," Mariana Bertola, M.D. A teacher, obstetrician, political activist and social reformer in the early 20th century, Dr. Bertola was active in progressive political reform movements, founded women's clubs and settlement houses and lobbied to include maternity and children's wards in every public California hospital.

  • Fairleigh Dickinson University was co-founded by the late Sylvia (Sally) Scaramelli and her husband, Peter Sammartino. They established the New Jersey liberal arts college in 1942.

  • Rosie the Riveter, who represented the millions of American women who took men's places in factories during World War II was Rosie Bonavita of Long Island, New York.

  • Celeste Lizio, who came to America during the 1930s and opened a restaurant with her husband in Chicago, founded Mama Celeste's Pizza, a line of frozen Italian foods that she later sold to Quaker Oats.

  • Debra DiMaio was the six-time Emmy-winning producer of the Oprah Winfrey show. She resigned in 1994 after serving as Oprah's executive producer since 1986.

  • In 1950, Dr. Margaret J. Giannini founded the Mental Retardation Institute in New York City, the first and largest facility for the mentally handicapped in the world.

  • The National Organization of Women (NOW) was turned around by Eleanor Cutri Smeal, who was elected president of the organization in 1970 and within two years made NOW the world's largest women's organization with 100,000 members.

  • In 1974, Betty Della Corte established one of the first battered women's shelter and treatment programs in the nation.  Her Faith House Agencies in Glendale, Arizona have helped more than 30,000 women and children.  Born in Brooklyn, New York of Neapolitan heritage, Della Corte chronicled her crusade in her book, "Shelter From The Storm."

  • Suzette Charles, born Suzette De Gaetano, was the first Italian American to win the Miss America title as the second runner up and replaced Vanessa Williams in the 1984 contest.

  • Maria Teresa Cafarelli de Francisi was the model for "Miss Liberty," which appeared on the one-dollar silver coins that circulated in the U.S. during the 1920s and 30s. The coins are now valued at about $100 each. [ Her husband, Antonio de Francisi was the coin's engraver. He emigrated from Palermo in 1903 at age 16.]

  • Maria Botto and her husband, Pietro opened their home in Haledon, New Jersey to 25,000 silk mill workers during the 1913 Paterson Silk Strike. The strike helped lay the groundwork for the eight-hour work day and better conditions for American workers. Today their 12-room Victorian is the American Labor Museum/Botto House, a national landmark.

  • Artist Georgia O'Keeffe was of Italian descent. Her mother was Ida Totto and the artist was named for her maternal grandfather, Giorgio Totto, who was born in Italy.

  • The Congress of Italian American Organizations (CIAO), based in New York, was founded by Brooklyn-born Mary Sansone in 1964. CIAO works to unite the Italian American community through various civic activities.

  • Patricia de Stacy Harrison (b. de Stasio) in 1997 became the first Italian American ever elected co-chair of the Republican National Committee.  A businesswoman, and author, de Stacy Harrison set as her mission bringing more women and minorities into the party.


Few people are aware that more than half a million Italians living in the United States during World War II suffered serious violations of their civil rights.

  • Shortly after the United States declared war on Italy in 1941, the federal government classified more than 600,000 Italians living in the United States as "internal enemies."

  • From February through October 1942, the United States imposed restrictions on these 600,000 Italians, most of whom had been living in the United States since the turn of the century.

  • As "enemy aliens," Italians were required to register at the nearest post office, carry identification cards, and report all job changes. They could not travel more than five miles from their homes, had to adhere to curfews, and were forbidden to own guns, cameras, and short-wave radios.

  • The Army forced more than 100 U.S. citizens of Italian birth to relocate from the east and west coasts and the Gulf of Mexico to "safe" inland zones.

  • The restrictions caused many Italians to lose their jobs and limited the freedom of movement of thousands of others, including a fisherman named Giuseppe DiMaggio, who could not visit the San Francisco restaurant owned by his son, Joe DiMaggio.

  • During World War II, an estimated 1.2 million Americans of Italian descent served in the U.S. military, constituting one of the largest segments of the US combat forces of about 12 million. However, elderly Italian mothers and fathers were not allowed to visit sons in the U.S. armed forces, who were assigned to military installations.

  • The Immigration and Naturalization Service held nearly 3,300 Italians in internment camps for varying lengths of time during the war.

  • During the same period, the mayors of two of America's largest cities were Italian Americans: Angelo Rossi of San Francisco and Fiorello LaGuardia of New York. Both were sons of Italian immigrants.

  • For more information, see "The Unknown Internment" by Stephen Fox. The book is available from the author in McKinleyville, California for $10.00. To order, call or fax 707/839-1919.


The strong American interest in Christopher Columbus has produced the largest number of Columbus monuments of any nation in the world, according to The Christopher Columbus Encyclopedia (Editor: Silvio A. Bedini; Simon & Schuster, 1992).
Other countries that also pay tribute to the 15th century Italian explorer are Mexico, nations in Central and South America, Spain, Italy, and several islands in the Caribbean.

  • The first mention of a Columbus monument in the United States was during the Revolutionary War. In 1782, Jean Baptiste Antoine de Verger, an officer with the French forces aiding the colonists, noted in his journal that he saw a statue of Columbus in Philadelphia's Independence Hall.

  • In New York City, the local Tammany Society in 1792 raised a Columbus monument to celebrate the tricentennial of his first voyage to the New World. It was a 14-foot obelisk of black marble and bore scenes from Columbus's life.

  • The oldest tribute to Columbus still standing is in Baltimore, Maryland. It is a stone obelisk, erected in 1792 on his estate by Chevalier Charles D'Annemour, the French Consul to the city. In the 1960s, however, the monument was moved to the Samuel Ready Institute on North Avenue and Harford Road.

  • The newest monument to Columbus overlooks New York Harbor in Liberty State Park, New Jersey. Dedicated October 9, 1998, it is a three-storey sail of Columbus with bas-reliefs of scenes from his life. Made of travertine marble and bronze, it stands in the park's new Christopher Columbus Plaza. A gift of the Italian government, it was erected by the National Italian American Foundation and the Columbus Citizens' Foundation from private donations totaling $500,000.

  • Boston has the oldest statue of Columbus. It was raised in 1849 (circa) and believed to be sponsored by Marquis Niccolo Reggio, an Italian businessman and consul in Boston for the Papal States, Spain, and the kingdoms of Sardinia and of the Two Sicilies. It stands in Louisburg Square.

  • Philadelphia claims the first monument to Columbus entirely funded by public donations. The statue was erected in 1876 by Italian Americans in the city to celebrate the centennial of the Declaration of Independence.

  • The oldest monument to Columbus in the western states is in California. It is a marble statue group of Columbus explaining his theory to Queen Isabella while a page looks on. It was donated in 1883 by a wealthy businessman to the Sacramento State Capitol where it still stands today.

  • The largest and most imposing monument to Columbus stands in New York City's Columbus Circle at 59th Street. The 14-foot marble statue of Columbus rests on a granite column 61 feet high (total: 75 feet). It was erected in 1892 from contributions by Italian Americans across the country, led by the Italian American newspaper, Il Progresso

  • Among the most singular monuments are:

    • the Columbus Doors on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, which were cast in 1860 and modeled after Lorenzo Ghiberti's doors to the baptistry in Florence. Made of bronze, they show scenes from Columbus's life.
    • the Columbus Chapel in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, which has many Columbus relics, including his desk and the cross he used to claim the New World for Spain.
    • the Columbus statue in The Bronx, New York, which was created by Attilio Piccirilli, one of six Italian American  brothers who carved the Lincoln Memorial.
    • the statue of Columbus in Providence, Rhode Island, which was cast by Frederic Auguste Bertholdi, the French artist who also created the Statue of Liberty.

  • Most of the monuments to Columbus have been sponsored by Italian American groups and private individuals, usually with the help of Italian American newspapers. Many were erected in the late 19th century to commemorate the four hundredth anniversary of Columbus's first voyage. They were generally commissioned from Italian sculptors working in Italy.

  • Many American monuments to Columbus share stylistic traits and represent Columbus as young, with shoulder-length hair; wearing a short tabard, or sleeveless coat; holding a globe or a map and standing near an anchor.

  • The most unusual portrayal of Columbus is the gilt bronze larger-than-life statue of him with a beard in St. Louis, Missouri. It is the first bronze statue of Columbus in the US and was commissioned in 1886 by a wealthy businessman, who insisted on the facial hair. Objecting, the sculptor carved on the statue: "I knew he didn't have a beard."

Prepared by: The National Italian American Foundation

Suggested Bibliography on Italian American History

Amfitheatrof, Erik. The Children of Columbus. Boston: Little Brown, 1973. 360-page study, intelligently written study on what Italian immigrants found in "la Merica."

Handlin, Oscar. The Uprooted. Boston: Little Brown, 1951. Seminal work on immigration history in U.S.

Gambino, Richard. Blood of My Blood. New York: Anchor Books, 1975. Landmark study on what it means to be Italian American.

Iorizzo, Luciano J., and Mondello, Salvatore. The Italian Americans. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1980.

LaGumina, Salvatore J., and Frank J. Cavaioli, Salvatore Primeggia, Joseph Varacalli, eds. The Italian American Experience: An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1999.

Mangione, Jerre and Ben Morreale. La Storia. New York: HarperCollins, 1992. 500-page study of Italians in US; excellent and comprehensive bibliography .

Carl Pescosolido and Pamela Gleason. The Proud Italians. 193 pages with photographs on what world owes the Romans and Italians. (Available exclusively through the NIAF. $19.95 hardcover; $13.00 paperback.

Schiavo, Giovanni. Four Centuries of Italian American History. 328-page history of Italians in America from Christopher Columbus through WW II. (Available through Center for Migration Studies: 718/351-8800.)

Talese, Gay.  Unto the Sons. Knopf, 1982.
A comprehensive history of the conditions that prompted the author's family, along with millions of other Italians to emigrate to America as well as a personal memoir of what is meant to grow up Italian in America.

For prices and list of books sold through the NIAF, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to:

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