Behind the book: What have the Irish ever done for America?
by Christopher Winn
Christopher Winn is an author and pub quiz master who knows everything there is to know about the history of the British Isles. In his new book, I Never Knew That About the Irish, Winn shares some of the lesser known facts about the country's storied past—including some of their contributions to our own country.
For a people from a quiet, windswept, dazzlingly beautiful little island on the western fringe of Europe, the Irish sure have made an impact. Here is my top 10 of Irish contributions to America.
Great Seal. Designed by Charles Thomson, born Upperlands, Co. Derry in 1730. He moved to the US aged 11 and became permanent secretary of the Continental Congress. As well as designing the deeply symbolic Great Seal of America, he also wrote and signed the first draft of the Declaration of Independence.
Dollar Sign. Designed by Oliver Pollock, born Coleraine, Co. Derry in 1737. He became a plantation owner in Spanish New Orleans and used his connections to supply and finance the Americans during the Revolutionary War. Business was conducted in Spanish pesos for which the abbreviation was a large 'P' with a small 's' above it to the right. Pollock adapted this to the upward stroke of the P running through the S, or $.
America's First National Hero. Richard Montgomery, born Raphoe, Co. Donegal in 1738. He left the British army to settle in New York and in 1775 joined the Continental Army as a Brigadier General. Led the invasion of Canada, capturing Montreal, but was killed during the assault on Quebec, the first American general to die in the Revolution. Gave his name to Alabama’s state capital.
White House. Designed by James Hoban, born Desart, Co. Kilkenny in 1762. He emigrated to America aged 27 and won the competition to design the new 'President's House' in Washington, which he based on Leinster House in Dublin, now home to Ireland's national parliament.
22 Presidents (23 with Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet). Half of the 44 US Presidents to date boast of Irish blood, including Barack Obama, whose maternal ancestors came from Moneygall, Co. Offaly.
Paddle Steamer. Invented by Robert Fulton, whose parents emigrated from Callan, Co. Kilkenny, just before he was born in 1765.
Submarine. Invented by John P. Holland, born Liscannor, Co. Clare, in 1841. He emigrated to Boston aged 30 and invented the world's first practical submersible, the Holland I, launched on the Passaic River, New Jersey in 1877. A later version, the Holland IV, was bought by the US Navy to form the world's first submarine fleet.
Coca Cola. John Pemberton’s tonic was made into the world’s most popular soft drink by the marketing genius of Asa Griggs Candler, whose ancestors emigrated from Callan, Co. Kilkenny.
Mickey Mouse. Walt Disney’s ancestors hail from Co. Kilkenny. His early partner Pat Powers, co-founder of Universal Studios and the man who enabled Mickey Mouse to speak, was born in Co Waterford in 1870.
Golden Gate Bridge. Financed by the Mellon Bank, founded in Pittsburgh by Thomas Mellon, born Cappagh, Co. Tyrone, in 1813. The Mellon Bank also provided the funds to found Gulf Oil, U.S Steel, Heinz, General Motors and the world’s biggest company, ExxonMobil (originally Standard Oil).
Bet you never knew that!