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ITALIAN AMERICAN BUSINESS LEADERS AND ENTREPRENEURS October 31, 2005 10:56 PM

Italian Americans have developed some of America's largest industries and corporations.

  • The Bank of America, the largest bank in the country,  was established in 1904 by Amadeo Pietro ("A.P.") Giannini (1870-1949) in San Francisco.  In 1919, he innovated the system of branch banking. Originally called the Bank of Italy, it changed names in 1928 and, in 1998 merged with NationsBank Corp.  Giannini financed the Golden Gate Bridge, and the fledgling film industry, including Cecil B. DeMille's "Ten Commandments," and Disney's "Snow White," as well as California's aerospace and agricultural industries.

  • The first Italian American millionaire was Generoso Pope, who came to America from Benevento in 1904. He began as a railroad laborer, later worked for a small construction firm, the Colonial Sand and Stone Company, which he bought out in 1925 and made into the largest supplier of building materials in the country. In 19298, he bought Il Progresso Italo Americano, the first Italian-language daily newspaper in the U.S., founded in 1880. Pope's son, Fortunato, became its publisher. His other son, Generoso, Jr. was the publisher of the National Enquirer, and one of Forbes' 400 wealthiest Americans.

  • Two Italian Americans developed the American shopping mall. William Cafaro began building and operating neighborhood shopping centers in the 1940s. When he died at age 84 in 1998, he was one of the richest men in America, leaving behind $800 million. Edward J. DeBartolo, Sr. began as a construction worker and ended with the largest real estate and development company in the nation. During the 1960s, DeBartolo Corporation began to develop shopping malls and suburban office parks.

  • The owner of the world's largest distributer of English-language comic books is Baltimore's Steve Geppi, who dropped out of high school to support his family. Today, Geppi's Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. delivers 1,300 of the 1,600 comic book titles, and has a 52 percent market share of this $500 million industry. Geppi is also a minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles and the publisher of Baltimore magazine.

  • The founders of both Blimpie and Subway Sandwich chains are Italian American. There are now over 2,000 Blimpies in the U.S. and 13 foreign countries with a net worth of $38 million, thanks to Anthony Conza, who founded the first Blimpie in New Jersey in 1975. Fred De Luca borrowed $1,000 at age 17 to start his first sandwich shop. Today, he counts 13,136 Subways in 64 countries and is worth $3 billion.
  • Mr. Peanut and the Planters Peanut Company were created by Italian immigrants Amedeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi in 1887 in Pennsylvania. By 1930, the partners had four huge factories, and raked in over $12 million annually.  Obici was called "The Peanut King".

  • Italian Americans are at the helm of the U.S. book industry. Leonard Riggio is the founder and CEO of Barnes & Noble, the largest book store in the nation while Borders, the second largest book store chain in the U.S., is chaired by Robert DiRomualdo.

  • Chef Boyardee, the man behind the nation's leading brand of ready-to-eat spaghetti dinners, pizza, sauce and pasta, was Ettore Boiardi, an Italian immigrant, who began as a chef's apprentice at age 11, eventually opened a restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio and in the 1930s, began selling his pasta and sauce in cans. During World War II, Chef Boyardee was the largest supplier of rations for the U.S. and Allied Forces.

  • When Prohibition was lifted in 1933, brothers Ernest and Julio Gallo took their entire savings of about $5,000, and began producing wine from the vineyards their father had owned in California. They made a profit of $34,000 in their first year of business and helped launch California's wine industry. Today more than 100 wineries in the U.S. are owned by Italian Americans.

  • The popular Radio Flyer red wagon was created by Antonio Pasin, an immigrant Italian carpenter in 1917. Today, his three grandsons run the Chicago-based Radio Flyer Inc. whose 100 employees manufacture about 8,000 wagons a day.

  • Mr. Coffee, the best-selling coffee maker in the world, was invented by Vince Marotta, who also invented the paper coffee filter and developed a better way to extract oil from coffee beans. Since 1972, more than 50 million Mr. Coffees have been sold. An estimated 10 billion Mr. Coffee paper filters are sold annually.

  • Jeno Paulucci founded Chun King Chow Mein, which he launched with a $2,500 loan in 1946, and sold 20 years later for $63 million in cash. He has also founded Jeno's Pizza Rolls, Luigino's Inc., a line of frozen pasta entrees, and Pasta Lovers Trattorias.

  • Prince Company, a $200 million-a-year pasta manufacturing business, was established by Joseph Pellegrino, who emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily at age 12. A former street hustler, Pellegrino only went to school through the eight grade. His son, Joseph, Jr. and granddaughter Carla, both work for Prince today.

  • Lee Iacocca, (born "Lido"), brought the Chrysler Corporation back from the brink of bankruptcy during the mid-1980s. The company was in the black within a month of his tenure as chairman. He resigned in 1992.
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 October 31, 2005 10:58 PM

  • Richard A. Grasso was elected chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Stock Exchange in 1995. He started at the Exchange in 1968 and steadily rose through the ranks. In 1988 he became president and chief operating officer; in 1991 he became executive vice chairman and was elected chairman and CEO June 1, 1995. He was the first member of the NYSE staff to be elected to any of those posts in the Exchange's 206-year history.

  • The world's largest beauty supply distributor was started in 1972 when Michael H. Renzulli took over six stores in New Orleans. Now CEO and president of Sally Beauty Company, Renzulli has 2,150 stores in North America, Europe and Japan with $1 billion in sales.

  • The man who put a hand-held hair dryer in every beauty salon and American home is Leandro ("Lee") Rizzuto, chairman and president of Conair Corporation in Connecticut. Rizzuto and his parents founded the company in 1959 with $100 and their invention of hot rollers. In 1971, Conair perfected the professional pistol-grip hair dryer. Today, Rizzuto is sole owner of this multi-million dollar corporation, which also owns Cuisinart, a leading name in kitchen appliances and cookware.

  • Tropicana was founded in 1947 by Anthony Rossi as a Florida fruit packaging company. In 1954, Rossi pioneered a pasteurization process for orange juice. For the first time consumers could have not-from-concentrate orange juice in a ready-to-serve package. In 1978, Rossi sold his company to Beatrice Foods. It is now owned by PepsiCo, which bought it in 1998. Today, Tropicana is the world's largest producer of fruit juices. They are sold in 23 countries with sales of $2.5 billion a year.
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