An Armenian immigrant named Gabriel Kazanjian patented the first handheld hairdryer in 1911 in Chicago. German-born Levi Strauss invented jean pants in San Francisco in the early 1870s. In 1866 Pierre Lallement filed the earliest American patent for the bicycle a year after he arrived from France. These are just a handful of the ingenious immigrants whose inventions forever changed life in the United States. Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon and the son of a Cuban refugee, joins this group of world-changing innovators of immigrant heritage.
This week during a citizenship ceremony for new Americans, the Smithsonian Institution awarded Bezos the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal in recognition of his contributions to the American experience in the field of e-commerce and technological innovation.
The award, which was established in 1965 in honor of the 200th anniversary of James Smithson’s birth, has been given to 73 distinguished individuals, including Ralph Lauren, Clint Eastwood, Julia Child and Chuck Jones.
“You’re all Americans by choice and you help remind all of us what it means to be a citizen of this great nation, and the privilege and responsibility that brings,” Bezos said in addressing the 20 newly naturalized U.S. citizens who represented 17 countries.
The ceremony took place on the 100th anniversary of Flag Day in front of the entrance to the museum’s permanent exhibition “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag that Inspired the National Anthem.” The 20 candidates recited their oath of allegiance to the United States in the presence of the nation’s most important flag in June, Immigrant Heritage Month.
“This country, like no other, presents the change to be and the opportunity to become,” Alejandro Mayorkas, a naturalized citizen and the deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, reminded the new Americans.
Presented in partnership with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the naturalization ceremony was the first event for the museum’s participation in “America Now,” a program celebrating civic participation in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
In his final address to the newly-minted Americans, Bezos offered his support. “I will not stop cheering for you after today ends. I will always cheer as you go on to do amazing things. Thank you for letting me be a very small part of this very big day.”