The Early Years – 1930s
The year was 1931, the country was in the worst economic depression of its 155 years. The great immigration was over, but many Italians still struggled and strove to make the lives of their families better. Those that had jobs worked hard for little pay and, if they felt fortune if they were able to work long hours. Italian Americans – often first generation citizens, grew vegetables where ever they could, even in the cities, any spare plot of land was put to use to raise vegetables. It was in this environment that The Italian Tribune began, as a small weekly newspaper covering the Italian neighborhood in Newark, NJ.
The Italian Tribune’s first issue was published on July 31, 1931. The original owners were John Sileo and Fred Matullo. Within a few years after the papers fledgling beginnings, Italians flet a boost, as New York City elected its first Italian American Mayor – Fiorello La Guardia. He remained mayor up until 1945. Another New Yorker – Vito Marcantonio was first elected to Congress in 1934 and Robert Maestri began his ten year run as mayor of New Orleans in 1936. Beyond the political world, Italian and Italian Americans made their presence felt in the field of entertainment and sports. Importers opened shops that specialized in Italian products. The rich culture and heritage was never abandoned, never forgotten and as the Tribune grew, our readers remained loyal, savoring the stories and news of the humble paper. In 1968, it was purchased by well-known political and former White House Photographer, Ace Alagna and the paper has remained in the family ever since. We are proud to bring you our paper each week, though 85 years of change, one thing has remained the same, our readers are the most loyal in the world – Thank you!
ITALIANS AMERICANS IN ENTERTAINMENT, SPORTS AND BUSINESS DURING THE 1930S
Fiorello La Guardia became mayor of New York City only a few years after The Italian Tribune first began publication. The Metropolitan Opera flourished under the leadership of Giulio Gatti-Casazza during the decade of the 1930s. Rosa Ponselle and Dusolina Giannini, both of whom were daughters of Italian immigrants, performed regularly at the Metropolitan Opera and became internationally known. The decade also saw Arturo Toscanini return to the United States as the main conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. He is credited with introducing many Americans to classical music through his NBC Symphony Orchestra radio broadcasts, which lasted well into the 1950s. Ruggiero Ricci, a child prodigy born of Italian immigrant parents, gave his first public performance in 1928 at the age of 10, and had a long international career as a concert violinist.
Popular singers of the period included Russ Columbo, who established a new singing style that influenced Frank Sinatra and other singers that followed. On Broadway, Harry Warren (Salvatore Guaragna) wrote the music for 42nd Street, and received three Academy Awards for his compositions. Other Italian American musicians and performers, such as Jimmy Durante, were active in vaudeville and later achieved fame in movies and television. Guy Lombardo formed a popular dance band, which played annually on New Year’s Eve in New York City’s Times Square through the 1930s and 40s and continued his success all the way through to the 1970s. The voice of Snow White was provided by Adriana Caselotti, a 21-year-old soprano.
In sports, Joe DiMaggio, who was destined to become one of the most famous players in baseball history, began playing for the New York Yankees in 1936. Hank Luisetti was a three time All-American basketball player at Stanford University from 1936 to 1940. Louis Zamperini, the American distance runner, competed in the 1936 Olympics, and later became the subject of the bestselling book Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, published in 2010, and a 2014 movie of the same title.
In business, Italian Americans were one of the nation’s chief suppliers of fresh fruits and vegetables, which were cultivated on the large tracts of land surrounding many of the major U.S. cities. They cultivated the land and raised produce, which was trucked into the nearby cities and often sold directly to the consumer through farmer’s markets. In California, the DiGiorgio Corporation was founded, which grew to become a national supplier of fresh produce in the United States. Also in California, Italian Americans were leading growers of grapes, and producers of wine. Many well-known wine brands, such as Mondavi, Carlo Rossi, Petri, Sebastiani, and Gallo emerged from these early enterprises. Italian American companies were major importers of Italian wines, processed foods, textiles, marble and manufactured goods.
THE 1940S – WORLD WAR II
As a member of the Axis powers, Italy declared war on the United States in 1941. Any concerns about the loyalty of Italian Americans were quickly dispelled. At least half a million Italian Americans served in the various branches of the military in World War II. According to the National Italian American Foundation, the actual number may be closer to 1.5 million, based on a comment the late Vice President Nelson Rockefeller made in a speech to the Italian American War Veterans of America on August 25, 1961. Rockefeller said that Italian Americans constituted “more than 10 percent of the might of the American forces in World War II.”
In spite of this display of loyalty, hundreds of Italians viewed as a potential threat to the country were interned in detention camps, some for up to 2 years. As many as 600,000 others, who had not become citizens, were required to carry identity cards identifying them as “resident alien”. Thousands more on the West Coast were required to move inland, often losing their homes and businesses in the process. A number of Italian-language newspapers were forced to close because of their past support of Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
Italian Americans served with distinction during the war, and 14 were awarded the Medal of Honor. Among these was Sgt. John Basilone, one of the most decorated and famous servicemen in World War II, who was later featured in the HBO series The Pacific. Army Ranger Colonel Henry Mucci led one of the most successful rescue missions in U.S. history that freed 511 survivors of the Bataan Death March from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines, in 1945. In the air, Capt. Don Gentile became one of the war’s leading aces, with 25 German planes destroyed.
The work of Enrico Fermi was crucial in developing the atom bomb. Fermi, a Nobel Prize laureate nuclear physicist, who immigrated to the United States from Italy in 1938, led a research team at the University of Chicago that achieved the world’s first sustained nuclear chain reaction, which clearly demonstrated the feasibility of an atom bomb. Fermi later became a key member of the team at Los Alamos Laboratory that developed the first atom bomb. He was subsequently joined at Los Alamos by Emilio Segrè, one of his colleagues from Italy, who was also destined to receive the Nobel Prize in physics.
Three United States World War II destroyers were named after Italian Americans: USS Basilone was named for Sgt. John Basilone; USS Damato was named for Corporal Anthony P. Damato, who was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his valor during World War II; and USS Gherardi was named for Rear Admiral Bancroft Gherardi, who served during the Mexican–American and U.S. Civil Wars.
World War II opened up new employment opportunities for large numbers of Italian Americans in the factories producing war materials. This included many Italian American women, such as Rose Bonavita, who was recognized by President Roosevelt with a personal letter commending her for her performance as an aircraft riveter. She, together with a number of other women workers, provided the basis of the name, “Rosie the Riveter”, which came to symbolize all of the millions of American women workers in the war industries.
Chef Boyardee, the company founded by Ettore Boiardi, was one of the largest suppliers of rations for U.S. and allied forces during World War II. For his contribution to the war effort, Boiardi was awarded a gold star order of excellence from the United States War Department.
Director Frank Capra made a series of wartime documentaries known as Why We Fight, for which he received the U.S. Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, and the Order of the British Empire Medal in 1962.
THE POST WAR YEARS
Scores of Italian Americans became well known singers in the post-war period, including: Frank Sinatra, Mario Lanza, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Frankie Laine, Bobby Darin, Julius La Rosa, and Connie Francis.
In music composition, Henry Mancini and Bill Conti received numerous Academy Awards for their songs and film scores. Classical and operatic composers John Corigliano, Norman Dello Joio, David Del Tredici, Paul Creston, Dominick Argento, and Gian Carlo Menotti were honored with Pulitzer Prizes.
Many Italian Americans used the post-war years to gain a college education under the GI Bill. This helped that generation and the generations that followed gain further entry into politics and business.
Top of page left to right: unemployment raged in the 1930s; Italian Americans supported FDR; traditional 7 Fishes dinner (2nd row) Broad and Market streets in Newark, NJ; GI enjoys gelato during liberation of Italy; Italian American specialty shops grew during this period; John Basilone poster to sell war bonds (3rd row) St. Lucy’s Catholic Church in Newark, NJ; band leader Guy Lombardo; creator of the “Italian Hot Dog,” Mary Racioppi who, with her husband, opened Jimmy Buff’s; Russ Columbo, popular baritone; Nobel prize winner, Enrico Fermi who helped develop atom bomb