How Many Creative Geniuses Would an Immigration Ban Turn Away?
NOTE: This is the full text of my article that was quoted in the San Jose Mercury.
Here is the story of one possible effect of an immigration ban.
Do you know which creative immigration genius was nearly turned away from Ellis Island in 1889?
Not my grandfather. He cruised through Ellis Island from Russia because he was in excellent health and speaking English — becoming a skilled translator for US Army forces in Siberia.
However, Charles Proteus Steinmetz, who would go on to become one of the most creative (and unknown) minds of his time, was not so lucky.
Steinmetz, a man of such loyalty that a blank check from Thomas Edison would not buy him away from his original employer.
This is the type of person we might loose with Trump’s immigration/travel ban.
Steinmetz is probably one of the most amazing and interesting people that no one knows about.
Steinmetz arrived at Ellis Island on June 1, 1889, from Switzerland, barely speaking English, standing only four feet tall with hip dysplasia and severe curvature of the spine (they used the term hunchback at that time).
When he limped up to the immigration officer at Ellis Island, Steinmetz was immediately denied admission to our country.
A traveling companion appealed to the officer with the argument that Steinmetz was a creative genius who would make American great. The officer scoffed and waved Steinmetz through the door.
I teach corporate creativity, and I repeatedly see how immigration produces the type of diversity that propels teams to the highest level of creative problem solving and innovation.” — Curtis Panasuk
Standing here with Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla (all immigrants), Steinmetz was christened the father of Electrical Engineering in America.
Without Steinmetz’s innovations, America’s power grid and electrification (think, billions of motors – our electrical muscles) would have been delayed by decades.
Thomas Edison offered Steinmetz a blank check to come work for him. However, fiercely loyal to his original employer, Steinmetz refused every offer, until in frustration, Edison’s General Electric Corporation purchased the entire company (with Steinmetz) lock, stock, and barrel.
As an example of Steinmetz’s wit, when Henry Ford complained about a $10,000 bill involving a chalk mark to redesign a massive generator, Steinmetz provided an itemized statement that read, “Putting the chalk mark on generator, $1, and knowing where to put the chalk mark, $9,999.”
Steinmetz had solved the equations to locate the faulty wiring, then climbed a ladder to the top of the generator and marked a chalk X where the Ford engineers should fix the wiring.
Steinmetz even made himself a target for his own wit when he changed his middle name to Proteus (the shape-shifting sea god who could assume any form or size) for reasons of his hunched over posture.
Pictured here working with Edison at General Electric, Steinmetz coupled his own creative genius and exceptional mathematical ability to greatly extend the usefulness of many of Edison’s inventions.
There are no foolish questions, and no person becomes a fool until they have stopped asking questions.” — Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Creative Innovator
His physical impairments did not slow him down. Steinmetz delighted in life and cared deeply about the condition of his fellow humans. He was passionate about applying his talents to improve the human condition.
He was not a recluse confined to the lab, and he was out and about in the public eye daily. After adopting a son, he later became a grandfather and endlessly entertained the kids with fantastic stories and spectacular scientific demonstrations.
This is the type of person we might lose with Trump’s immigration ban.