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FUN FACTS FROM ITALIAN AMERICAN HISTORY


October is Italian American Heritage Month, celebrating the contributions of an estimated 20 million Americans of Italian descent -- the fifth largest ethnic group in the United States.

  • Two signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Italian descent: Maryland's William Paca and Delaware's Caesar Rodney. 
     
  • Four Italians were at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876: John Martini, a trumpeter and the last man to see Custer alive; Augusto De Voto, Giovanni Casella, and Lieutenant Charles De Rudio. All four survived the massacre.
     
  • The Planter's Peanut Company and its familiar logo, Mr. Peanut, were created by Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania in 1908.
     
  • "Chattanooga Choo-choo," "Lullaby of Broadway," and "An Affair to Remember" were some of the songs written by Harry Warren, born Salvatore Guaragna.
     
  • The ice cream cone was invented in 1896 by Italo Marcioni in New Jersey. Two generations later, in Pittsburgh Jim Delligatti invented the Big Mac.
     
  • The only enlisted Marine in U.S. history to win the nation's two highest military honors -- the Navy Cross and the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor -- was John Basilone, a U.S. Marine sergeant, who died at the Battle of Iwo Jima in World War II. 
     
  • The suburban shopping mall was developed by William Cafaro and Edward J. DeBartolo. Cafaro pioneered the enclosed shopping mall with his American Mall in Lima, Ohio in 1965. DeBartolo built the first American shopping plaza in the 1940s. 
     
  • Between 5,000 and 10,000 Italians fought in the Civil War for both the Union and the Confederacy. Four were Union generals, including General Luigi Palma di Cesnola, who received the Medal of Honor and was later the first director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
     
  • Susan Sarandon, Bruce Springsteen, and Ann Bancroft are Italian American.
  • Antonio Meucci invented the telephone in 1871, five years before Alexander Graham Bell, but the impoverished inventor did not have the funds (about $25.00) to file a patent.

     
  • The chocolate bar exists today in part thanks to Domenico Ghirardelli. In 1867, he perfected a method to make ground chocolate. Today, Ghirardelli chocolate is sold all over the world, including the square in San Francisco named after him, where his chocolate factory - now a shopping center -- still stands.

     
  • The three-way light bulb was invented by Alessandro Dandini, who patented more than 22 inventions, including the rigid retractable automobile top and the spherical system, which concentrates and extracts solar energy. Dandini came to the U.S. in 1945, and taught at the University of Nevada in Reno. He held degrees in science, languages, hydraulic engineering and classical literature. He died in 1991 at age 88.

     
  • Robert De Niro (1922-1993) has paintings in the Metropolitan and Brooklyn Museums and other major institutions. Admired for the unusual "physicality" of his painting, he is the father of the famous film actor who bears his name.

     
  • Attilio Piccirilli and his five brothers carved the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC along with the famous lions guarding New York's Public Library, statues in Rockefeller Center, and many other works. The studio that he and his brothers established in New York in 1889 became the largest sculpture studio in the country. 

     
  • John Rapetti (1862-1936), worked in Paris with Frederic Bertholdi on the Statue of Liberty and his name in engraved in the crown as one of its creators.

     
  • Onorio Razzolini was the first Italian American ever to hold public office. He was the U.S. Armourer and Keeper of Stores in Maryland between 1732 and 1747, a duty which essentially put him in charge of defense for the Colony of Maryland.

     
  • Dan Marino, who played for the Miami Dolphins, was the highest rated quarterback in the NFL in 1984. He passed for an amazing 47 touchdowns in his first 20 games, a record it took Joe Namath three seasons to match.

     
  • With a pregnant wife and only $100 in the bank, Sylvester Stallone wrote the script for Rocky in three and a half days. The screenplay found a buyer, but Stallone, age 30, refused to sign the contract unless he were allowed to play the lead. The film received an Oscar for Best Picture in 1976. Stallone is one of the highest-paid actors of all time.

     
  • Vaudeville legend and early television star Jimmy Durante, born in New York City in 1893, insured his enormous nose, which he called his "schnozzola," for a million dollars. During the 1940s, this Emmy-winner's radio program was a Friday night fixture and he became famous for songs like "Inka Dinka Doo" and "Umbriago."

     
  • Penny Marshall (nee Carole Penny Masciarelli) has made a remarkable transition from star of the hit TV series Laverne & Shirley to one of the few women directors in Hollywood. Her second film, Big in 1988 made her the first woman director in American history to direct a film that earned $100 million. Her other films include Jumping Jack Flash, Awakenings, and A League of Their Own.

     
  • Artist Georgia O'Keeffe was of Italian descent. Her mother was Ida Totto and the artist was named for her maternal grandfather, Giorgio Totto, who was born in Italy.
 
 

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