German Jewish Émigrés and U.S. Invention

By Petra Moser, Stanford University - CATO Institute

Immigration policy has been the subject of heated debate in the United States. Much of the contro-versy surrounds low-skill immigration, but high-skill immigration policy is also contentious. One key claim in support of high-skill immigration is that it spurs innovation, but existing evidence is mixed (Hunt and Gauthier-Loiselle 2010, Kerr and Lincoln 2010, and Borjas and Doran 2012).

Our research provides new evidence on this question by examining the impact on innovation of German Jewish scientists who fled from Nazi Germany to the United States after 1932. Historical accounts suggest that these émigrés revolutionized U.S. innovation. In physics, for example, émigréssuch as Leo Szilard, Eugene Wigner, Edward Teller, John von Neumann, and Hans Bethe formed the core of the Manhattan project that developed the atomic bomb. In chemistry, émigrés such as Otto Meyerhof (Nobel Prize 1922), Otto Stern (Nobel Prize 1943), Otto Loewi (Nobel Prize 1936), Max Bergmann, Carl Neuberg, and Kasimir Fajans “soon effected hardly less than a revolution. . . . Their work . . . almost immediately propelled the United States to world leadership in the chemistry of life” (Sachar 1992, p. 749).

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