Best migrant inventions

Ten amazing inventions by some amazing migrants

Uprooting your life, leaving your family behind and moving overseas is a daunting prospect. Doing all of the above and going on to change the world as you know it is awe-inspiring. 

Well, that’s what these inventors (and their inventions) did. Discover some of the most amazing inventions by migrants and imagine what your life would be like without them.

1. Blue Jeans

“Levi’s” isn’t quite a generic trademark like Sellotape and Kleenex but the name is synonymous with blue jeans. However, the invention of blue jeans is the story of two immigrants: Levi Strauss from Germany and Jacob Davis from Latvia. Davies, a tailor, had the idea of making riveted pants (or trousers) and shared his idea with Strauss, his fabric supplier. After securing the patent for these innovative blue pants, large-scale manufacturing of jeans began. The rest, as they say, is history. 

2. The first shoe-making machine

In the 19th century, a new pair of shoes was a bit of a luxury for the average person. That changed thanks to Jan Ernst Matzeliger, an immigrant from Suriname who worked in a Massachusetts shoe factory. Matzeliger invented an automated machine that attached a shoe’s upper section to its sole. The device could make 700 pairs of shoes each day compared to 50 by hand. Matzeliger’s creation led to lower shoe prices, making them more affordable for the average American.

3. The Mini Cooper

Sir Alec Issigonis left Turkey during the Greek-Turkish war in 1922 and emigrated to England at just 16 years old. Decades later, he created the iconic Mini Cooper, a best seller in the United Kingdom due to its practical design and affordable price. In fact, over 1.5 billion Minis have been sold since the car’s introduction. Additionally, the Mini Cooper was voted the second-most influential car of the 20th century – behind only the Ford Model T. Also credited with designing the Morris Minor, Issigonis was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1969. 

4. Radioactivity

Radioactivity was discovered in 1896 by scientists Henri Becquerel and Marie Curie, an immigrant from Poland. Radioactivity is used primarily in the medical and energy fields. In addition, radiation has useful applications in such areas as agriculture, archaeology (carbon dating), space exploration, and mining. Curie was the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes. A resident of France for most of her life, Curie, along with her husband Pierre, would also discover the element “polonium”. The element was named in honour of her homeland. 

5. The telephone

Best migrant inventions

​​Before texting, cameras, voice-recognition and the like, there was the humble telephone. And it was invented in America by a Scotsman. Indeed, Alexander Graham Bell was born in Scotland, moved to America in the 1870s where he gave the world the telephone. Italians and fans of the hit show The Sopranos may disagree and say the real inventor was Antonio Meucci. Until his death, Bell continued inventing and helping advance other scientific discoveries.

6. The kitchen blender

Juice and smoothie lovers have a Pole to thank for their favourite drink. That’s because Stephen Poplawski, an immigrant from Poland, invented the blender in 1922. Poplawski was the first to put a spinning blade at the bottom of a liquid container. In turn, the container could then be placed onto a stand containing the motor that drives the blades. His beverage mixer blender was developed for the Arnold Electric Company for which he later received the global patent.

7. HIV treatments

There was a time when a HIV diagnosis was a virtual death sentence. Thanks to Taiwan-born Dr David Ho, that’s no longer the case. The first doctor to be named Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’, it was his research into the AIDS pandemic that led to the invention of life-saving treatments. Still practising medicine till this day, Dr Ho is now involved in seeking additional treatments for Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.

8. The ATM

Best migrant inventions

The next time you can’t pay for your goods by contactless or chip and pin, spare a thought for Luther George Simjian. “Who?” He’s only the man from Armenia that invented the Automated Teller Machine (ATM) or cashpoint. A prolific and professional inventor, Simjian held over 200 patents, mostly related to optics and electronics. He is also credited with other pioneering innovations like the flight simulator and colour X-ray machine. 

9. Hamburgers and American cheese

These two items were invented separately but obviously go hand-in-hand. When the hamburger arrived on American shores is often disputed. There’s no question, however, of where this beloved American staple originated from. Indeed it was introduced by German immigrants serving Hamburg-style steaks in restaurants in the US. While ‘American cheese’ doesn’t sound as exquisite as brie de meaux or camembert, it’s just as popular, even in France. When James Kraft emigrated from Canada just after the turn of the century, Kraft American cheese began appearing in hamburgers, sandwiches and burritos across the country.

10. The pen

László József Bíró (or Ladislao José Biro) was an Argentine inventor born in Hungary who invented the “modern” ballpoint pen or biro. The first ballpoint pen had been invented roughly 50 years earlier by John J. Loud, but it was not a commercial success. Biro was working as a journalist when he noticed that fountain pen ink was easy to smudge because it needed time to dry, yet newspaper ink dried much faster. He tried using the newspaper printing ink in a fountain pen but found it was too thick to flow through the tip. Biro then worked on a pen design that included a ball that freely rotated in a socket and picked up ink from a reservoir and applied it to the page.