Great ideas can come from anyone, anywhere. At the National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF), we are proud to share the stories and lessons of Inductees from a multitude of nationalities, backgrounds and experiences. Understanding how diversity and varying perspectives can improve everything — from school projects to world technological advancements — encourages children to share acceptance and empathy for those different from themselves.
To help you start sharing more inspiring immigrant experiences with the children in your life, we have gathered just a few of the unique stories of some of our world-changing Hall of Famers. See how immigrant experiences have shaped some of the greatest thinkers and problem solvers, and get to know the amazing solutions they have introduced to our society!
The work of Hall of Famer Ralph Baer is particularly inspiring for kids who love video games, but there is so much more to his story. While he is known as a pioneer in the field of interactive video games and is the inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey Home Video Game System introduced in 1972, his primary work was in developing military systems for defense contractor Sanders Associates.
Born in Germany, Baer’s formal education ended at the age of 14, after the Nazi regime introduced laws ending Jewish participation in all areas of German society. Their situation rapidly worsening, his immediate family escaped to the United States in 1938 with the help of American relatives.
Soon after arriving in New York City, Baer taught himself electronics through correspondence courses and began working by servicing radios as well as some of the earliest television sets that were sold to the public.
At age 21, Baer was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was sent to the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie in Maryland where he became one of the "Ritchie Boys" — a group composed primarily of German Jews who, like Baer, were forced to leave Germany as teenagers.
While many Ritchie Boys served in Europe as interrogators and translators, Baer instead helped educate and train troops as they prepared for the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944. He covered intelligence topics such as identification of German uniforms and aircraft, handling of enemy weapons and the psychology of the German soldier.
Because of Ralph Baer’s dedicated efforts, thousands of Allied soldiers received training, contributing to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Li gathered experiences across several countries before arriving in the United States and working with Bookbinder and Tandon. Born in 1959 and raised in Beijing, China, Li survived both the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution brought about by China’s communist dictatorship. One consequence of the Cultural Revolution was that Li didn’t start school until he was 8 years old.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in applied physics at Beijing Institute of Technology, Li left China and moved to France for his graduate studies in physics. Later, he went to Canada for a postdoctoral fellowship and stayed to work for a telecommunications company in Saskatchewan. Li then came to the United States as an adult in 1994 when he started working for Corning Inc. at a fiber plant in Wilmington, North Carolina.
He now shares several awards with Bookbinder and Tandon. Their innovations in bend-insensitive optical fiber have made great strides in connecting homes, businesses and individuals with reliable internet speed. This has allowed people to strengthen communication with others around the world.
Every time a delivery driver drops a package at your door, you can thank Hall of Famer Margaret Wu for keeping their engines running efficiently. Wu is recognized for her work with synthetic lubricants, which have been used in products from car engines to industrial machines. She holds over 100 U.S. patents!
Wu did not immigrate to the United States until adulthood. Her parents and older siblings were among the 2 million mainland Chinese who escaped to Taiwan in 1949 in advance of the communist takeover of China. Wu was born in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1950. Her parents stressed science as a means to move up the economic ladder.
Wu and all five of her siblings pursued STEM careers, with Wu becoming a chemical engineer. She came to the United States in 1971 for her graduate studies at the University of Rochester in New York. Wu said that the city “represents the best part of America.” Her classmates helped her overcome language barriers and the community was welcoming.
In 1977, Wu began her nearly 40-year career with ExxonMobil in New Jersey, where she was the first woman to achieve the highest technical rank within the company, the senior scientific adviser. She retired with this prestigious title in 2009.
Don’t let your exploration of our Inductees stop here! Check out our website to discover more than 600 world-changing Hall of Famers, many of whom are immigrants whose stories demonstrate ingenuity and perseverance.
For more ideas and support in encouraging healthy perspectives, promoting greater inclusivity in learning environments, and guiding our next generation of creators, innovators and leaders, we invite you to visit our blog.