The place of Russian emigration in US science and technology

The place of Russian emigration in US science and technology

The place of Russian emigration in US science and technology

«Each wave of immigration has left its own imprint to American society, each brought its own distinctive “contribution” to the formation of nation and the evolution of the American way of life».[Kennedy J.F. Nation of Immigrants. N.Y., 1964. p. 64.]

These words of President John F. Kennedy in full can be attributed to the three waves of mass immigration of Russians in the United States, because each of them has also contributed to the economic and cultural progress of the trans-Atlantic republic.


As immigrant of the first wave, journalist M. Vilchur, noted in 1918 by this time, «the majority of immigrants from Russia have chosen the USA the second homeland. Their children and grandchildren completely belong to America. They all were grateful for its generous hospitality. They make their own contribution to the construction of America, to its industry and agriculture, science and art. Representatives of the political and intelligentsia emigration almost entirely entered the mainstream of the USA life. They took place alongside the American professors and the academic world. So there is almost no university or college in the USA, where among academics there are no names of Russian immigrants». [Vilchur M. Russian in America. New York, database, pp. 136-137]

The special and unique was the role played by the intellectual component of the second wave of Russian immigration. Thousands of Russian  engineers, doctors, artists, hundreds of professors and scientists, who arrived in the USA in 1920-1930-ies, found there the use of their knowledge, abilities and talents, that was expressed in the outstanding achievements and brilliant discoveries, they enriched American science, technology and culture. Newspapers and journals were full of names of these people and about two hundred of these names appeared in the prestigious annual «Who's Who?» in America on the eve of the Second World War. But an even more important role in these decades, according to American historians, was played  by the work of Russian immigrants, their sons and daughters as farmers, diggers, construction workers, dockers, miners, seamen and railroad workers, metallurgists and workers of different industries, as well as the service.[Miller K.D. Peasant Pioneer: An Interpretation of the Slavic Peoples in the United States. N.Y., 1925. P. 179; Adamic L. A Nation of  Nations. N.Y., 1945. P. 165; Govorchin G.G. From Russia to America with Love: A Study of the Russian Immigrants in the United States. Pittsburgh, 1993. P. 386, 389.]

Among the Russian immigrants of the third wave who arrived in the USA mostly from displaced persons' camps and from the Far East there also proved to be quite a high proportion of engineers, technicians and various other professionals with higher and specialized secondary education. Apparently, this fact facilitated and accelerated further their social integration into the American society and allowed one of the emigration leaders of those years, professor  Znamensky to state in a speech on the radio that «now in America there is no field of the human spirit, in which the Russian genius and Russian talent does not play a prominent role.» [Renaissance (Paris). 1950. №51. p. 135]. In the second half of the XX century the third wave of immigrants and their children also contributed to the further development of economy, science and culture of the United States.

Already in the late XIX - early XX century Russian and “Little Russian” peasants who came to the virgin lands of America, including sectarians - Stundists, Molokans, Doukhobors and Germans-Mennonites - brought from the Russian Empire not only a long standing experience of farming, but also the seeds of many crops, perfectly pressed to local soils and climatic conditions. Especially popular and widely used in the XX century in Kansas, North and South Dakota, and in other Midwestern states there proved varieties of wheat known as «beardless five» – «arnautovka», «krymka», «kubanka», «malakhovka», «kharkovka» - and also «krasnovka». Oats quickly settled down on in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, southern Wisconsin, rye - in Michigan and many other states, sunflower - especially in the north-western states. Nowadays still cultivated in the prairies of the Midwest brought from the banks of the Volga and Kuban in Russia varieties of millet and clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, watermelons and cantaloupes, apples, cherries. By the time of the Second World War, as reported by I.K. Okuntsov, all these cultures had gradually become «American» and had ceased to be Russian».[Okuntsov I.K. Russian emigration in North and South America. Buenos Ayres, 1967. pp. 195-197]

Among the first wave of pre-revolutionary Russian immigrants who settled in the USA were many citizens, including engineers and other professionals, with higher education and even scientists. In the 70-ies of the XIX century there was working Russian electrical engineer Ladygin. In the 80-ies - railroad builder and founder of the city of Saint-Petersburg in Florida businessman and a future senator of California, P.A. Dementiev. Russian agronomist M.I. Volkov and the famous in the future, entomologist A.I. Petrunkevich were working there at the beginning of the XX century. [Borodin N.A. Ideals and reality. Berlin; Paris, 1930. p. 80; Okuntsov I.K. Mentioned work. pp. 370-382.]

Pyotr Alexeyevitch Dementyev

Pyotr Alexeyevitch Dementyev

However, since 1917, as it is known, thousands of highly educated people have left Russia, professionals in virtually all areas of natural, technical and humanitarian knowledge. Only engineers were about three thousands. In addition, for many, especially those who had already received some recognition for their work in the sphere of technology, the desire to settle it the USA was characteristic from the very beginning. [Borisov V.P. Russian scientific emigration of the first wave  // Russian scientists and engineers in emigration. M., 1993. p.11; Kozlov B.K. The creative heritage of Russian scientists and engineers in the context of national and world culture // Cultural heritage of Russian emigration, 1917-1940. M., 1994. Bk. 1. p. 416.] Not by chance in 1939 designer of engine cruisers and other ships of the Imperial Navy of Russia, General and Professor G.N. Pio-Ulsky, stated that after 1917 «many of those who managed to seep into the USA ... Russians occupied a prominent position in science and industry». [Pio-Ulsky G.N. Russian emigration and its importance in the cultural life of other nations. Belgrade, 1939. p. 43.]To some extent, this happened with the third wave of Russian emigration as well.

The examples of this kind are tens and hundreds. For example, electrical engineer Vladimir Karapetov, who was born in St. Petersburg and graduated from the Institute of Communications in 1897, became a professor at several universities in the United States and a consultant of the Naval Academy. He was awarded with medals and awarded of scientific societies, became an author of many books in the field of Electrical Engineering. Engineer A.M. Ponyatov contributed to the development of electronics in the United States and founded a large firm «Ampex» with 12 thousand workers. Civil Engineer G.P. Chebotarev became a professor at Princeton University, where he worked for 27 years. Mining engineer R.V. Malozemov, who became vice-president, chairman of the board, and then president of the firm "Newmont" and turned it into a world-class company, was awarded membership in the Chamber of Fame of  Mining Industry of the USA. Engineer shipbuilder V.I. Jurkiewicz, who was moved from Paris to the United, the designer of one of the largest ships of the XX century "Normandy." Engineers shipbuilders N.I. and I.N. Dmitrievs and engineer I.A. Avtamonov worked as designers in a number of major US firms. Engineer R.A. Nebol'sin became a famous hydraulics, water treatment specialist and businessman. Engineer M.T. Zarochentsev was a prominent specialist in the field of refrigeration, and engineer A.M. Tikhvin – a famous designer of submarines. [ Russian in America. New York, 1939. p.43; Russian American. 1995. № 20. pp. 118, 129, 138, 253-254; Pravda. 1989.  Nov 3rd ; Russian culture of XX century at home and abroad: Names, problems, facts. M., 2000, pp. 23-33.]

But perhaps the most striking  example is the list of names of well-known Russian engineers, designers, test pilots, inventors and organizers of production, who have contributed to the development of the American aircraft industry. “Pioneers” came to the USA in 1918. Among them were I.I. Sikorsky, A.N. Seversky and G.A. Botezat. However, only after Sikorsky managed to put together the core of its future firm, with such aircraft designers, engineers and test pilots as M.E. and C.E. Glukharevs, B.V. Sergius, I.A. Sikorsky, and collected via Russian immigrants the necessary financial resources in 1923, was finally founded company «Sikorsky Aviation Corporation» in Stratford, Connecticut. There, a lot of Russian engineers, designers and workers found jobs and trained. Among them were such big experts as Professor A.A. Nikolsky, N.A. Alexandrov, V.N. Gartsev.

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky

Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky

In 1926 G.A. Botezat founded the helicopter production firm «De Botezet Impeller Company». Most of its employees were Russians. In 1931 on the Long Island in New York, there was the agency «Seversky Aircraft»,  founded by A.N. Seversky, where worked such well-known aircraft designers and testers as A.M. Kartvelov (who after Seversky left the firm in 1939, became the head of the firm) and M.A. Gregor. Most of its workers were also Russian immigrants. In 1943 M.M. Strukov created his «Chase Aviation Company and Strukoff», where his sons A.M. and M.M. Strukovs worked. Finally, in 1953, there was another Russian company producing helicopters – «Bensen Aircraft Corporation», founded by aircraft designer V. Bensenom, where Russian immigrants of «third wave» worked. Also the glory of Russian aircraft designers in America clearly demonstrates the fact that at the creation of new aviation companies businessmen who financed them put a condition that «half of the engineers there should be Russians».

After the Second World War, the Society of Russian engineers  of the USA was renamed into the Society of Russian-American engineers. Its chairman at the turn of 70-80-ies was Ya.L. Mikheev.

The impact of the second and third waves of Russian immigration on the American society was primarily intellectual and cultural. It is difficult to overestimate, in particular, the contribution of these people to the scientific and technological progress in their host country - so significant and visible are the traces left by them in the development of a variety of sectors of the American science and technology. For example, in the field of chemistry in the United States there worked: Academician V.N. Ipatyev, about whom Nobel prize winner P.M. Wohlstetter said that “never in the history of chemistry has appeared a greater man than Ipatyev»; G.B. Kistyakovsky - Vice-President of the Academy of Sciences of the United States and President Eisenhower's adviser on science; I.I. Ostromyslensky and others. In various fields of physics there worked V.K. Zvorykin, S.P. Timoshenko, G.A. Gamoff, A.A. Turkevich, N.N. Mitrofanov. Astronomers O.L. Struve, S.I. Gaposhkin and V.S. Zhardetsky; mathematicians Ya.V. Uspensky, Ya.D. Tamarkin; in the field of fluid dynamics: B.A. Bakhmetev, K.G. Belousov, I.V. Fedorov; geologists: P. Gudkov, P.D. Krynin and G.A. Alexandrov.

Vladimir Nikolayevich Ipatieff

Vladimir Nikolayevich Ipatieff

In the field of biology, biophysics, biochemistry, embryology, genetics: F.G. Dobrzhansky, zoologist M.M. Novikov, entomologist A.I. Petrunkevich, ichthyologists N.A. Borodin and I.P. Galtsev.

Not less is the significant contribution of Russian immigrant scientists to the field of social sciences. Dozens of peopleworked in American universities and colleges, research institutes and museums. Some of them headed the Department of Slavic Studies for many years, Russian history and literature at prestigious universities in the so-called Ivy League. Among Professor M.M. Karpovich’s students were well-known American historian Richard Pipes, George Fisher, Robert Daniel. Karpovich headed the department at Harvard University, there also worked G.V. Florovsky and Byzantinologist A.A. Vasiliev; G.V. Vernadsky headed the department at Yale University, there also worked prominent historian and archaeologist, academician M.I. Rostovtsev.

Mikhail Mikhailovich "Michael" Karpovich

Mikhail Mikhailovich "Michael" Karpovich

Former secretary of the Russian Provisional Government of A.F. Kerensky P.A. Sorokin founded the Department of Sociology at Harvard University and headed it for a long time. Among his students were future US president John F. Kennedy, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Advisor to the President - Walt Rostow, A. Schlesinger. Among other Russian sociologists who worked in the United States were N.S. Timashev, and E.V. Spektorsky.

Congress of Russian Americans was founded in 1973. Five years later, in order to honor the outstanding contribution of Russian Americans to science, literature and art of the United States, was also established the Russian-American Chamber of Fame. Among famous there were “the father of television” V.K. Zvorykin, writer, philanthropist and social activist  A.L. Tolstaya, Nobel prize winner economist V.V. Leontiev, ophthalmologist E.T. Fedukovich (1992), writer, historian and geographer V.P. Petrov and others.[New Russian word (New York). 1995. May 5th]

Congress of Russian Americans

Congress of Russian Americans

Realizing this long list of names and facts is not exhaustive, there is sufficiently convincing evidence, on the one hand, that the mass exodus in the XX century from Russia, particularly in the USA, of scientists, engineers and other professionals in various fields of culture inflicted very significant damage to the scientific-technical and cultural potential of our country. But at the same time it shows that the scientific, technical and cultural representatives of Russian immigration to the United States, was in general very successfully adapted by American scientific and other cultural communities. In this regard, the question arises: how should we, Russians, evaluate the results of the three historical waves of mass «overflow» to the USA of Russian creative staff? ..

One Soviet emigrant answered in 1995 to this kind of question, not without bitterness: «I am - an American citizen. Today, America receives humanitarian aid from Russia, which is not comparable to anything else. I have not made a lapsus linguae: America receives it with the inflow of Russian emigration, influence on American science, technology and culture is extremely high. There are tens of thousands of Russian intelligentsia representatives - scientists, doctors, engineers ... In America, they will be quite useful, and Russia lost them. Irrevocably».[ Russians in America. Book of fates/ Comp. V.Levin. Minsk; Smolensk, 1996 p. 190.]

In my view, we can be satisfied with understanding that Russian immigration has enriched not only America, but also world culture in general, and thus in the context of rapidly increasing globalization, objectively promoted the progress of mankind; or finally will teach Russia not to repeat old mistakes…

Alexander Golovkin

European Russians

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