The Italian American Experience

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The Italian American Experience

Italian Americans

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Francesca Cabrini

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Fiorello LaGuardia

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Enrico Fermi

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Vince Lombardi

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Joe DiMaggio

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Frank Sinatra


John Basilone

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Dean Martin

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Mario Lanza

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Lee Iacocca

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Anne Bancroft


Mario Cuomo

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Geraldine Ferraro

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Antonin Scalia

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Nancy Pelosi

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Al Pacino

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Frank Zappa

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Robert De Niro

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Rudy Giuliani

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Bruce Springsteen

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Sylvester Stallone

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Samuel Alito

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Lady Gaga

Total population


5.9% of the U.S. population .

2000[2] — 15,723,555
1990[3] — 14,664,550
1980[4] — 12,183,692

Regions with significant populations

New York City, New Haven, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Providence, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas


  • American English

  • Standard Italian

  • Italian dialects

  • Sicilian

  • Neapolitan


72% Roman Catholic; 14% Protestant, 2% Christian – unspecified; 14% other[5]

Related ethnic groups

Italians, Italian Canadians, Italian Argentine, Italian Brazilian, Italian Mexican, Italian Australian, Italian Briton, Sicilian American

Italian Americans (Italian: Italoamericani) are an ethnolinguistic group of Americans of Italian ancestry. Italian Americans are the fourth largest European ethnic group in the United States (not including American ethnicity, an ethnonym used by many in the United States; overall, Italian Americans rank seventh, behind German, Irish, African American, English, American, and Mexican American).

About 5.5 million Italians immigrated to the United States from 1820 to 2004.[7] The greatest surge of immigration, which occurred in the period between 1880 and 1920, alone brought more than 4 million Italians to America. About 80% of the Italian immigrants came from Southern Italy, especially from Sicily, Campania, Abruzzo and Calabria. This was a largely agricultural and overpopulated region, where much of the populace had been impoverished by centuries of foreign misrule, and the economic measures imposed on the South after Italian unification in 1871.

After unification, the Italian government initially encouraged emigration to relieve economic pressures in the Sout. After the American Civil War, which resulted in over a half million killed or wounded, immigrant workers were recruited from Italy and elsewhere to fill the labor shortage caused by the war. In the United States, most Italians began their new lives as manual laborers in Eastern cities, mining camps and in agriculture.

Italian Americans gradually moved from the lower rungs of the economic scale in the first generation (1890s–1920s) to a level comparable to the national average by 1970. By 1990, more than 65% of Italian Americans were managerial, professional, or white-collar workers.

The Italian-American communities have often been characterized by strong ties with family, the Catholic Church, fraternal organizations and political parties. Today, over 17 million Americans claim Italian ancestry, third only to Brazil and Argentina, which has 31 million and 20 million people of Italian descent, respectively.

Italians and their descendents in America helped shape the country, and were in turn shaped by it. They have gained prominence in politics, sports, the media, the fine arts, the culinary arts, and numerous other fields of endeavor.

Verrazzano's voyage of 1524.

Italians and their descendants played a key role in the discovery, exploration and settlement of the Americas. Christopher Columbus, the explorer who discovered the Americas, was of Italian origin. Another notable Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci, is the source of the name America. The fact that English is the language spoken in the United States can be directly attributed to England's claims in North America, based on the voyages of the Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot). The Italian explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano was the first European to enter New York Bay. The first Italian to reside in America was Pietro Cesare Alberti,[13] a Venetian seaman who, in 1635, settled in what would eventually become New York City. A group of 200 Waldensians arrived from Italy in 1640 in search of a more hospitable place to practice their religion. The Taliaferro family, originally from Venice, was one of the first families to settle in Virginia.

These were joined by a small but steady stream of new arrivals, some of whom had been invited to come to America because they possessed much needed skills in agriculture and the making of glass, silk and wine. Others came because of their musical abilities as teachers and performers, such as the group of Italian musicians Thomas Jefferson invited to come to form a military band, which later became the nucleus of the U.S. Marine Band. Still others came as adventurers, explorers, military engineers, missionaries and political refugees.

These early arrivals settled in many different areas, but constituted a relatively small part of the American population as a whole. However, their contributions were very significant in the founding and settling of the country. Filippo Mazzei, a physician and promoter of liberty, was a close friend and confidant of Thomas Jefferson. He published a pamphlet containing the phrase: "All men are by nature equally free and independent", which Jefferson incorporated essentially intact into the Declaration of Independence. Italian artists and sculptors were brought to Washington to work on the new Capitol building and to create some of its major monuments.

Constantino Brumidi created the frescoed interior of the Capitol dome, and spent the rest of his life executing still other artworks to beautify the Capitol.

Numerous Italians in the employ of Spain and France, whose territorial claims in America were based on the voyages of Italian navigators, were involved in exploring and mapping these territories, and in establishing settlements. Alessandro Malaspina explored and mapped much of the west coast of the Americas, from Cape Horn to the Gulf of Alaska. The southwest and California were explored and mapped by Eusebio Kino (Chino), an Italian priest. Henri de Tonti (Enrico de Tonti), together with the French explorer LaSalle, explored the Great Lakes region. De Tonti founded the first European settlement in Illinois in 1679, and in Arkansas in 1683. With LaSalle, he co-founded New Orleans, and was governor of the Louisiana Territory for the next 20 years. His brother Alphonse de Tonty (Alphonso de Tonti), with French explorer Antoine Cadillac, was the co-founder of Detroit, and its colonial governor for 12 years. The headwater region of the Mississippi was explored by Giacomo Beltrami in the territory that was later to become Minnesota, which named a county in his honor.

Since France and Spain were Catholic countries, many missionaries were sent by the Catholic Church to convert the native population to Christianity and to provide for the spiritual needs of the settlers. Among these were numerous Italians. Alessandro Geraldini was the first Catholic bishop in the Americas. Father Francesco Bessani labored among the Algonquin and Huron Indians in the early 17th century. Later, Italian missionaries of the Jesuit and Franciscan orders, were active in many parts of America, and especially in the west.

Italian Jesuits founded numerous missions, schools and five colleges in the west, subsequently to become Jesuit universities (San Francisco, Seattle, Gonzaga, Santa Clara and Regis). The Italian Jesuits also laid the foundation for the wine-making industry that would later flourish in California. In the east, the Italian Franciscans founded hospitals, orphanages, schools, and a college that later became St. Bonaventure University. Samuel Mazzuchelli, a missionary and expert in Indian languages, ministered to whites and Indians in Wisconsin and Iowa for 34 years and, after his death, was declared Venerable by the Catholic Church. Joseph Rosati was named the first Catholic bishop of St. Louis in 1824. Father Charles Constantine Pise, a Jesuit, served as Chaplain of the Senate from 1832 to 1833,[16][17] the only Catholic priest ever chosen to serve in this capacity.

Italian Americans served in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, both as soldiers and officers. Francesco Vigo aided colonial forces during the American Revolutionary War by being one of the foremost financiers of the Revolution in the Northwest. Later, he was a co-founder of Vincennes University in Indiana. Six Italian Americans received the Medal of Honor during the Civil War, among whom was Colonel Luigi di Cesnola, later to become the first director of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York.

The early arrivals were scattered throughout the country, with the largest concentration of Italian Americans being in the northeast. It was there that recognition of their common Italian roots and culture was the greatest. Filippo Traetta established the nation's first conservatory of music in Boston in 1801.[18] The first opera house in the country opened in 1833 in New York through the efforts of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart's former librettist, who had immigrated to America. The first Italian American newspaper, "L'Eco d'Italia" was published in New York in 1849 by Francesco de Casale. The first Columbus Day celebration was organized by Italian Americans in San Francisco in 1869. Italian American involvement in politics was already underway, with John Phinizy (Finizzi) becoming the mayor of Augusta, Georgia in 1837 and Anthony Ghio becoming the mayor of Texarkana, Texas in 1880. Francis Spinola, the first Italian American to serve in Congress, was elected in 1887 from New York. An immigrant, Antonio Meucci, brought with him in 1845 a concept for the telephone. He is credited by many researchers with being the first to demonstrate the principle of the telephone; however, considerable controversy existed relative to the priority of invention, with Alexander Graham Bell also being accorded this distinction. (In 2002, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution (H.R. 269) declaring Antonio Meucci the true inventor of the telephone).

The main period of immigration (1880-1914)[

Mulberry Street, along which New York City's Little Italy is centered. Lower East Side, circa 1900.

The Italian unification in 1861 caused economic conditions to considerably worsen for many in southern Italy and Sicily. Heavy taxes and other economic measures imposed on the South made the situation virtually impossible for many tenant farmers, and small business and land owners. Multitudes chose to emigrate rather than try to eke out a meager living. Often, the father and older sons would go first, leaving the mother and the rest of the family behind until the male members could afford their passage

From 1880 to 1920, an estimated 4 million Italian immigrants arrived in the United States, the majority from 1900 to 1914. Once in America, the immigrants faced great challenges. Often with no knowledge of the English language and with little formal education, many of the immigrants were compelled to accept the poorest paying and most undesirable jobs, and were frequently exploited by the middlemen who acted as intermediaries between them and the prospective employers.[19] Many sought housing in the older sections of the large northeastern cities where they settled, that became known as "Little Italies", frequently in overcrowded substandard tenements which were often dimly lit with poor heating and ventilation. Tuberculosis and other communicable diseases were a constant health threat for the immigrant families that were compelled by economic circumstances to live in these dwellings. Other immigrant families lived in single-family abodes, which was much more common in areas outside of the enclaves of the large northeastern cities, and other parts of the country as well.

About a third of the immigrants, so-called "birds of passage", intended to stay in the United States for only a limited time, followed by a return to Italy with enough in savings to re-establish themselves there.[20] While many did return to Italy, others chose to stay, or were prevented from returning by the outbreak of World War I.

The Italian male immigrants in the Little Italies were most often employed in manual labor, heavily involved in public works, such as the construction of roads, sewers, subways and bridges being carried out at the time in the northeastern cities. The women most frequently worked as seamstresses in the garment industry or in their homes. Many established small businesses in the Little Italies to satisfy the day-to-day needs of fellow immigrants. In spite of the economic hardship of the immigrants, civil and social life flourished in the Italian American neighborhoods of the large northeastern cities. Italian theater, band concerts, choral recitals, puppet shows, mutual-aid societies, and social clubs were available to the immigrants.[21]

An important event, the "festa", became for many an important connection to the traditions of their ancestral villages in Italy and Sicily. The festa involved an elaborate procession through the streets in honor of a patron saint or the Virgin Mary in which a large statue was carried by a team of men, with musicians marching behind. Followed by food, fireworks and general merriment, the festa became an important occasion that helped give the immigrants a sense of unity and common identity.

To assist the immigrants in the Little Italies, who were overwhelmingly Catholic, Pope Leo XIII dispatched a contingent of priests, nuns and brothers of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo. Among these was Sister Francesca Cabrini, who founded schools, hospitals and orphanages. She was canonized as the first American saint in 1946. Hundreds of parishes were founded by the St. Charles missionaries to serve the needs of the Italian communities. By 1910, Italians had founded 219 Italian Catholic churches and 41 parochial schools, served by 315 priests and 254 nuns, 2 Catholic seminaries and 3 orphanages.[

A New York Times article from 1895 [23] provides a good source of information regarding the status of Italian immigration at the turn of the century. The article states:

Of the half million Italians that are in the United States, about 100,000 live in the city, and including those who live in Brooklyn, Jersey City, and the other suburbs the total number in the vicinity is estimated at about 160,000. After learning our ways they become good, industrious citizens.

The destinations of many of the Italian immigrants were not only the large cities of the East Coast, but also more remote regions of the country, such as Florida and California. They were drawn there by opportunities in agriculture, mining, railroad construction, lumbering and other activities underway at the time. Many of the immigrants had contracted to work in these areas of the country as a condition for payment of their passage. In many cases, especially in the South, the immigrants were subject to economic exploitation, hostility and sometimes even violence.[24] Many of the Italian laborers who went to these areas were later joined by wives and children, which resulted in the establishment of permanent Italian American settlements in diverse parts of the country.

In time, the Italian immigrants and their descendants adjusted to life in their adopted country, and began making contributions to mainstream American life and culture. Many of the immigrants had brought with them specialized skills and knowledge, and an entrepreneurial spirit.

A significant number of business innovations were brought about by Italian Americans. Amadeo Giannini originated the concept of branch banking to serve the Italian American community in San Francisco. He founded the Bank of Italy, which later became the Bank of America. His bank was also instrumental in providing financing to the film industry developing on the west coast at that time. Other companies founded by Italian Americans – such as Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Progresso, Planters Peanuts, Contadina, Chef Boyardee, Italian Swiss Colony wines and Jacuzzi – became nationally known brand names in time. An Italian immigrant, Italo Marciony (Marcioni), is credited with inventing the earliest version of an ice cream cone in 1898. Another Italian immigrant, Giuseppe Bellanca, brought with him in 1912 an advanced aircraft design, which he began producing. It was Charles Lindbergh's first choice for his flight across the Atlantic, but other factors ruled this out; however, one of Bellanca's planes, piloted by Cesare Sabelli and George Pond, made one of the first non-stop trans-Atlantic flights in 1934.[25] A number of Italian immigrant families, including Grucci, Zambelli and Vitale, brought with them expertise in fireworks displays, and their pre-eminence in this field has continued to the present day.

Following in the footsteps of Constantino Brumidi, other Italians and their descendants helped create Washington’s impressive monuments. An Italian immigrant, Attilio Piccirilli, and his five brothers carved the Lincoln Memorial, which they began in 1911 and completed in 1922. Italian construction workers helped build Washington's Union Station, considered one of the most beautiful in the country, which was begun in 1905 and completed in 1908. The six statues that decorate the station's facade were sculpted by Andrew Bernasconi between 1909 and 1911. Two Italian American master stone carvers, Roger Morigi and Vincent Palumbo, spent decades creating the sculptural works that embellish Washington National Cathedral.

Italian Americans became involved in entertainment and sports. Rudolph Valentino was one of the first great film icons. Dixieland jazz music had a number of important Italian American innovators, the most famous being Nick LaRocca of New Orleans, whose quintet made the first jazz recording in 1917. The first Italian American professional baseball player, Ping Bodie (Giuseppe Pezzole), began playing for the Chicago White Sox in 1912. Ralph DePalma won the Indianapolis 500 in 1915.

Italian Americans became increasingly involved in politics, government and the labor movement. Andrew Longino was elected Governor of Mississippi in 1900. Charles Bonaparte was Secretary of the Navy and later Attorney General in the Theodore Roosevelt administration, and founded the Federal Bureau of Investigation.[27] Fiorello LaGuardia was elected from New York in 1916 to serve in the US Congress. Italian Americans, such as Arturo Giovannitti, Carlo Tresca and Joseph Ettor were at the forefront in fighting for worker's rights in industries such as the mining, textiles and garment industries.

World War I and the Interwar period

World War I, together with the restrictive Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and Immigration Act of 1924, effectively put an abrupt end to the large flow of Italian immigrants into the country. By 1920, the Little Italies had stabilized and grown considerably more prosperous as workers were able to obtain higher-paying jobs, often as skilled workers. English was now the language most commonly heard on the streets of the Little Italies.[28] The passage of child labor laws required children to stay in school at least through the eighth grade, which assured a better future for Italian American children as they entered adulthood.

The Italian American community wholeheartedly supported the war effort, and its young men enlisted in large numbers.[29] It was estimated that Italian American servicemen made up approximately 12% of the total American forces in World War I, a disproportionately high percentage of the total.[30] An Italian American infantryman, Michael Valente, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his service.

In the post-war years, jobs as policemen, firemen and civil servants became available to Italian Americans; while others found employment as plumbers, electricians, mechanics and carpenters. Women found jobs as civil servants, secretaries, dressmakers, and clerks. The changing employment prospective occasioned large numbers to move to neighborhoods outside of the Italian enclaves. The Great Depression (1929–39) had a major impact on the Italian American community, and temporarily reversed some of the earlier gains made. Many benefitted from New Deal work programs, such as the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corp.

Italian Americans of the post-war years contributed significantly to American life and culture. In politics, Al Smith (Ferrara) was the first Italian American governor of New York, and a candidate for president in 1928. Fiorello LaGuardia became mayor of New York City in 1931. Angelo Rossi became mayor of San Francisco in the same year. Vito Marcantonio was elected to Congress in 1934 from New York. Ferdinand Pecora led a Senate investigation of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, which exposed major financial abuses, and spurred Congress to rein in the banking industry.[31] Italian Americans continued their significant involvement in the labor movement. James Petrillo became president of the American Federation of Musicians, a position he held for 18 years.

There were numerous Italian Americans involved in music, both classical and popular. Under the leadership of Giulio Gatti-Casazza, the Metropolitan Opera became an internationally known musical organization. Many Italian operatic singers and conductors were invited to perform for American audiences, including the tenor Enrico Caruso.

The conductor Arturo Toscanini introduced many Americans to classical music through his NBC Symphony Orchestra radio broadcasts. Rosa Ponselle, a daughter of Italian immigrants, made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918, and subsequently became an international performer. Ruggiero Ricci, a child prodigy born of Italian immigrant parents, gave his first public performance in 1928 at the age of 10, and had a long international career as a concert violinist. Popular singers included Russ Columbo, who established a new singing style that influenced Frank Sinatra and other singers that followed. On Broadway, Harry Warren (Salvatore Guaragna) wrote the music for 42nd Street, and received three Academy Awards for his compositions. Other Italian American musicians and performers, such as Jimmy Durante, who later achieved fame in movies and television, were active in vaudeville. Guy Lombardo formed a popular dance band, which played annually on New Year's Eve in New York City's Times Square.

The film industry of this era included Frank Capra, who received three Academy Awards for directing. Italian American cartoonists were responsible for some of the most popular animated characters: Donald Duck was created by Al Taliaferro, Woody Woodpecker was a creation of Walter Lantz (Lanza), Casper the Friendly Ghost was co-created by Joseph Oriolo, and Tom and Jerry was co-created by Joseph Barbera. The voice of Snow White was provided by Adriana Caselotti, a 21-year-old soprano.

In public art, Luigi Del Bianco was the chief stone carver at Mount Rushmore from 1933 to 1940.[32] Simon Rodia, an immigrant construction worker, built the Watts Towers over a period of 33 years, from 1921 to 1954.

In sports, Gene Sarazen (Eugenio Saraceni) won both the Professional Golf Association and U.S. Open Tournaments in 1922. Pete DePaolo won the Indianapolis 500 in 1925. Tony Lazzeri and Frank Crosetti started playing for the New York Yankees in 1926. Tony Canzoneri won the lightweight boxing championship in 1930. Lou Little (Luigi Piccolo) began coaching the Columbia University football team in 1930. Joe DiMaggio began playing for the New York Yankees in 1936. Hank Luisetti was a three time All American basketball player at Stanford University from 1936 to 1940. Louis Zamperini, the American distance runner, competed in the 1936 Olympics, and later became the subject of the bestselling book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, published in 2010.

In business, Italian Americans were the nation's chief supplier of fresh fruits and vegetables, which were cultivated on the large tracts of land surrounding many of the major U.S. cities.[33][34] They cultivated the land and raised produce, which was trucked into the nearby cities and often sold directly to the consumer through farmer's markets. In California, the DiGiorgio Corporation was founded, which grew to become a national supplier of fresh produce in the United States. Also in California, Italian Americans were leading growers of grapes, and producers of wine. Many well known wine brands, such as Mondavi, Carlo Rossi, Petri, Sebastiani, and Gallo emerged from these early enterprises. Italian American companies were major importers of Italian wines, processed foods, textiles, marble and manufactured goods.

World War II and the post-war decades

As a member of the Axis powers, Italy declared war on the United States in 1941. Any concerns about the loyalty of Italian Americans were quickly dispelled. At least half a million Italian Americans served in the various branches of the military in World War II. According to the National Italian American Foundation, the actual number may be closer to 1. 5 million, based on a comment the late Vice President Nelson Rockefeller made in a speech to the Italian American War Veterans of America on August 25, 1961. Rockefeller said that Italian Americans constituted "more than 10 percent of the might of the American forces in World War II"

In spite of this display of loyalty, hundreds of Italians viewed as a potential threat to the country were interned in detention camps, some for up to 2 years. As many as 600,000 others, who had not become citizens, were required to carry identity cards identifying them as "resident alien". Thousands more on the West Coast were required to move inland, often losing their homes and businesses in the process. A number of Italian-language newspapers were forced to close because of their past support of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Two books, Una Storia Segreta by Lawrence Di Stasi[36] and Uncivil Liberties by Stephen Fox; and a movie, Prisoners Among Us, document these World War II developments.

John Basilone in his Marine Corps uniform. He was the only enlisted Marine in World War II to receive the Medal of Honor and the Navy Cross.

Italian Americans served with distinction during the war, and 14 were awarded the Medal of Honor. Among these was Sgt. John Basilone, one of the most decorated and famous servicemen in World War II, who was later featured in the HBO series The Pacific. Colonel Henry Mucci led the raid by Army Rangers in 1945 that freed 500 survivors of the Bataan Death March from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines. In the air, Capt. Don Gentile became one of the war's leading aces, with 25 German planes destroyed. At home, the work of Enrico Fermi was crucial in shortening the war. Fermi, a Nobel Prize laureate nuclear physicist, immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1938. He led a research team at the University of Chicago that was able to produce the world's first sustained nuclear chain reaction, which clearly demonstrated the feasibility of an atom bomb. After the first sustained nuclear chain reaction was achieved, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt received the message: "The Italian navigator has landed in the new world". Fermi later became a key member of the team at Los Alamos Laboratory that developed the first atom bomb. He was subsequently joined at Los Alamos by Emilio Segrè, one of his students from Italy, who was also destined to become a Nobel Prize laureate in Physics. Fermi's work on the nuclear chain reaction laid the foundation for the nuclear power industry which began developing after the war.

Two United States World War II destroyers were named after Italian Americans. The USS Damato (DD-871) was named for Corporal Anthony P. Damato, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his valor during World War II. The USS Gherardi (DD-637) (later DMS-30) was named for Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi, who served during the Mexican–American and U.S. Civil Wars.

World War II opened up new employment opportunities for large numbers of Italian Americans in the factories producing war materiel. This included many Italian American women, such as Rose Bonavita, who was recognized by President Roosevelt with a personal letter commending her for her performance as an aircraft riveter.

She was subsequently known as "Rosie the Riveter", and came to symbolize all of the millions of American women workers in the war industries. Chef Boyardee, the company founded by Ettore Boiardi, was one of the largest suppliers of rations for U.S. and allied forces during World War II. For his contribution to the war effort, Boiardi was awarded a gold star order of excellence from the United States War Department.

The post-war period was a time of great social change for Italian Americans. Many aspired to a college education, which became possible for returning veterans through the GI Bill. With better job opportunities, and better educated Italian Americans entered mainstream American life in great numbers.

The Italian enclaves were largely abandoned by the younger generation, who more often chose to live in other urban areas and in the suburbs. Many married outside of their ethnic group, most frequently with other ethnic Catholics, but increasingly also with those of diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Italian Americans took advantage of the new opportunities that generally became available to all in the post-war decades. They made great strides in virtually all fields of endeavor:

Scores of Italian Americans became well known singers in the post-war years. Frank Sinatra continued his legendary career, and was joined by Mario Lanza, Perry Como, Dean Martin (Dino Crocetti), Tony Bennett (Benedetto), Frankie Laine (Francesco LoVecchio), Vic Damone (Vito Farinola), Don Cornell (Luigi Varlaro), Bobby Darin (Walden Cassotto), Johnny Desmond (Giovanni De Simone), Bobby Rydell (Ridarelli), Julius La Rosa, Connie Francis (Concetta Franconero), Joanie James (Giovanna Babbo), Madonna and a host of others.

Perry Como, a former barber, became a pioneer of early television, and one of the most popular entertainers of the second half of the 20th century. He hosted a number of musical/variety TV shows from 1949 to 1967. Other Italian Americans of the same era, who hosted popular musical/variety TV shows, were: piano virtuoso Liberace (1952-56), Jimmy Durante (1954-56), Frank Sinatra (1957-58) and Dean Martin (1965-74).

On Broadway, musical stars included Carol Lawrence (Laraia), Anna Maria Alberghetti, Sergio Franchi, Patti LuPone, Ezio Pinza and Liza Minnelli.

In music composition, Henry Mancini and Bill Conti received numerous Academy Awards for their songs and film scores. Classical and operatic composers John Corigliano, Norman Dello Joio, David Del Tredici, Dominick Argento, and Gian Carlo Menotti were honored with Pulitzer Prizes and Grammy Awards.

Many Italian Americans became involved in politics at the local, state and national levels.

Italian Americans who became mayors of major U.S. cities included:

Thomas L. J. D'Alesandro, Jr., elected mayor of Baltimore in 1947; Vincent Impellitteri, elected mayor of New York City in 1950; Anthony Celebrezze, elected mayor of Cleveland in 1953; Joseph Alioto, elected mayor of San Francisco in 1968; George Moscone, elected mayor of San Francisco]] in 1976; Richard Caliguiri, elected mayor of Pittsburgh in 1978; and Frank Fasi, elected mayor of Honolulu in 1969;

while those who became state governors included:

John Orlando Pastore, elected governor of Rhode Island in 1945; Foster Furcolo, elected governor of Massachusetts in 1957; Michael DiSalle, elected governor of Ohio in 1959; John A. Volpe, elected governor of Massachusetts in 1961; Ella T. Grasso, elected governor of Connecticut in 1975; Mario Cuomo, elected governor of New York in 1983; and Edward D. DiPrete, elected governor of Rhode Island in 1985;

with those active at the national level including:

John Pastore of Rhode Island, who became the first Italian American elected to the Senate in 1950; Pete Domenici, who was elected to the U.S. Senate from New Mexico in 1973, and served six terms; Patrick Leahy who was elected to the U.S. Senate from Vermont in 1973, and has served continuously since then; Alfonse D'Amato, who served as U.S. Senator from New York from 1981 to 1999; Anthony Celebrezze, who was appointed United States Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Kennedy administration; Peter Rodino, who chaired the House Judiciary Committee, and led the Nixon impeachment hearings; John Sirica, who presided over the Watergate hearings that ultimately led to Nixon's resignation; John Scali, who was the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 1973 to 1975; Geraldine Ferraro, who was the first woman vice presidential candidate in U.S. history; Joseph Califano, who was appointed Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1977; Benjamin Civiletti, who served as U.S. Attorney General from 1979 to 1981; and Frank Carlucci, who served as Secretary of Defense from 1987 to 1989.

In professional baseball, Joe DiMaggio continued his career with the Yankees. Other well-known players in the post-war years included: Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Carl Furillo, Sal Maglie, Vic Raschi, Roy Campanella, Dom DiMaggio, Ernie Lombardi, Joe Pepitone, Rico Petrocelli, Sal Bando, Rocky Colavito, Dave Righetti, and Tony Conigliaro. Well-known professional baseball coaches in the post-war decades included: Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Tony La Russa, Tommy Lasorda and Joe Torre.

In college football, Joe Paterno became one of the most successful coaches ever. Seven Italian American players won the Heisman Trophy: Angelo Bertelli of Notre Dame, Alan Ameche of Wisconsin, Gary Beban of UCLA, Joe Bellino of Navy, John Cappelletti of Penn State, Gino Torretta and Vinny Testaverde of Miami.

In professional football, Vince Lombardi set the standard of excellence for all coaches to follow. Numerous Italian Americans were outstanding players of the era, including: Alan Ameche, Leo Nomellini, Andy Robustelli, Franco Harris, Charley Trippi, Gino Marchetti, Joe Fortunato, Babe Parilli, Dan Pastorini, Dante Lavelli, Gino Cappelletti, Nick Buoniconti, John Capelletti, Mike Lucci, Brian Piccolo, Vince Ferragamo, Daryle Lamonica, Joe Montana, Dan Marino and Vinny Testeverde. Paul Tagliabue was Commissioner of the National Football League from 1989 to 2006.

In college basketball, a number of Italian Americans became outstanding coaches in the post-war decades, including: John Calipari, Lou Carnesecca, Rollie Massimino, Rick Pitino, Jim Valvano, Dick Vitale, Tom Izzo, Mike Fratello, Ben Carnevale and Geno Auriemma.

In boxing, Rocky Marciano was the undefeated heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956. Carmen Basilio, Rocky Graziano and Jake LaMotta were middleweight champions. Ray Mancini and Vinny Pazienza were lightweight champions. Willie Pep (Guglielmo Papaleo) was a featherweight champion. Angelo Dundee (Angelo Mirena) trained 15 world champion boxers, including Muhammad Ali.

In golf, Ken Venturi won both the British and U.S. Open championships in 1956. Donna Caponi won the U.S. Women's Open championships in 1969 and 1970.

In Olympic competition, Mary Lou Retton (Rotunda) won the all-around gold medal in woman's gymnastics. Matt Biondi won a total of 8 gold medals in Olympic swimming competition. Brian Boitano won a gold medal in men's singles figure skating. Linda Fratianne won a silver medal in woman's singles figure skating. Mark Lenzi won a gold medal in diving. Mike Eruzione was the captain of the 1980 olympic team that beat Russia in the Miracle on Ice game, in which he scored the winning goal, allowing the U.S. team to go on to win the gold medal.

In other diverse sports, Willie Mosconi was a 15-time World Billiard champion; Eddie Arcaro was a 5-time Kentucky Derby winner; and Mario Andretti was a 3-time national race car champion.

Many Italian Americans actors who became well known in movies and TV, included: F. Murray Abraham, Robert Alda, Alan Alda, Don Ameche, Armand Assante, Frankie Avalon (Avallone), Anne Bancroft (Anna Italiano), Ernest Borgnine (Ermes Borgnino), Nicolas Cage (Coppola), Lou Costello, Richard Conte, Richard Crenna, Beverly D'Angelo, Tony Danza, James Darren (Ercolani), Robert De Niro, Dom DeLuise, Danny DeVito, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jimmy Durante, Dennis Farina, Henry Fonda, Anthony Franciosa, Annette Funicello, Ben Gazzara, Paul Giamatti, Harry Guardino, Frank Langella, Robert Loggia, Joe Mantegna, Dean Martin, Victor Mature, Alyssa Milano,Sal Mineo, Liza Minnelli, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci, Bernadette Peters (Lazzara), Aldo Ray (DaRe), Isabella Rossellini, Rene Russo, Susan Sarandon, Frank Sinatra, Gary Sinese, Paul Sorvino, Mira Sorvino, Sylvester Stallone, Connie Stevens (Concetta Ingoglia), Marissa Tomei, John Travolta, Stanley Tucci, and John Turturro.

Italian Americans were highly successful movie directors. Frank Capra directed the classic movie It's a Wonderful Life in 1946. Vincente Minnelli directed a number of major box-office successes, including Gigi and An American in Paris. Later in the century a new generation of directors arose, three of whom – Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Michael Cimino – became Academy Award winners.

Italian Americans founded many successful business enterprises, small and large, including:

Barnes & Noble, Tropicana Products, Zamboni, Transamerica, Subway, Blimpie, Castro Convertibles, Prince Pasta, American Italian Pasta Company, DeBartolo Corporation, Mr. Coffee, Conair Corporation, the Macaroni Grill and Carrabba's Italian Grill restaurant chains, and Jeno's, Totino's and Celeste's frozen foods. Other enterprises founded by Italian Americans were Fairleigh Dickinson University, the Eternal Word Television Network, and the Syracuse Nationals basketball team – later to become the Philadelphia 76ers.

Italians continued to immigrate after the war, and an estimated 600,000 arrived in the United States in the post-war decades. Many were well educated men and women who had come seeking greater opportunities in their chosen fields. Among these were five who were destined to become Noble Prize laureates: Salvatore Luria, Renato Dulbecco, Franco Modigliani, Mario Capecchi and Riccardo Giacconi.

Contemporary period

By the turn of the century, Italian Americans had achieved education, employment and income parity with Americans in general. They had excelled in all fields of endeavor, and had made substantial contributions in virtually all areas of American life and culture:

Italian Americans served with distinction in all of America's wars. Over thirty had been awarded the Medal of Honor, including Vincent Capodanno a Navy chaplain in Vietnam and, more recently, Jared Monti and Salvatore Giunta for service in Afghanistan. A number of Italian Americans were serving as top-ranking generals in the military, including Anthony Zinni, Raymond Odierno, Carl Vuono and Peter Pace, the latter three having also been appointed Chief of Staff of their respective services (Army in the case of Odierno and Vuono, and Marine Corps in that of Pace).

Over two dozen of Italian descent had been elected as state governors, most recently Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, John Baldacci of Maine, Janet Napolitano of Arizona, Donald Carcieri of Rhode Island, Joseph Manchin of West Virginia, Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Andrew Cuomo of New York.

A score or more Italian Americans, beginning with Charles Bonaparte in the Teddy Roosevelt administration, and continuing with Leon Panetta and Janet Napolitano in the Barack Obama administration, had been appointed to Cabinet positions. John Podesta and Leon Panetta had served in the capacity of White House Chief of Staff.

At the close of the 20th century, 31 men and woman of Italian descent were serving in the U.S. Congress and Senate – including Nancy Pelosi, who was the first woman in American history to become Speaker of the House.

Two Italian Americans, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, were serving as U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Over two dozen Italian Americans were serving in the Catholic Church as bishops. Four - Joseph Bernardin, Justin Rigali, Anthony Bevilacqua and Daniel DiNardo - had been elevated to Cardinals.

Italian Americans were responsible for major breakthroughs in engineering, medicine and science. Federico Faggin developed the first micro-chip and micro-processor; Robert Gallo led research that identified a cancer-causing virus, and also the AIDS virus; Anthony Fauci conducted significant research that led to the discovery of the AIDS virus; Riccardo Giacconi developed the X-ray telescope; and Enrico Fermi ushered in the nuclear age.

At the close of the 20th century, according to the National Italian American Foundation, 82 of the 1,000 largest U.S. cities had mayors of Italian descent, and 166 college and university presidents were of Italian descent.[39]

Eight Italian Americans, including a woman, had gone into space as astronauts: Dominic Antonelli, Charles Camarda, Michael Massimino, Richard Mastracchio, Ronald Parise, Mario Runco, Albert Sacco and Nicole Marie Passonno Stott.

Americans of Italian descent were well known television personalities. Talk-show hosts included Jay Leno, Kelly Ripa and Joy Behar (Josephina Victoria Occhiuto). Current-affairs and financial- show hosts included Maria Bartiromo and Neil Cavuto.

Italian Americans had changed the eating habits of America. An increasing number of Italian dishes were becoming known and enjoyed. Italian American TV personalities, such as Mario Batali, Giada DeLaurentiis, Rachael Ray and Lidia Bastianich were hosting popular cooking shows featuring Italian cuisine.

Within a century of the period of peak immigration, Italian Americans had risen into the highest ranks of politics, the judiciary, business, the professions, the military and the Catholic hierarchy. They were counted among the country's best known sports and entertainment figures.

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