Wong Tsu was born in Beijing, China in 1893. When he was a teenager, China was going through a period of unrest. He was able to go to England to study naval engineering and then to the U.S. to study aeronautical engineering.
In the early 1900’s, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to restrict Chinese immigrants to the U.S. Wong was able to attend MIT because students weren’t included in the Act. While at MIT, Wong gained experience using one of the first wind tunnels in the country. When he graduated, he was one of the first aeronautical engineers in the U.S.
At the same time, William Boeing, the owner of a successful lumber company, turned his attention to aviation. Boeing felt that he could build a better plane than existed at the time. After some early struggles with the initial design, Boeing sought out Wong to help him.
Wong was reluctant to join Boeing because Boeing was located in Seattle, Washington. Chinese were not accepted in the Pacific Northwest but Boeing gave Wong assurances for his safety.
Wong was vital in developing the Model C training seaplane with several important innovations. The plane basically launched the Boeing Airplane Co. and the Model C was used in World War I. After the war began it was used in passenger travel as well as in the delivery of mail.
Wong was with Boeing for only 10 months, but was vital in establishing the aerospace industry in America. He returned to China and became the lead aerospace developer in China. Wong eventually moved to Taiwan when China became Communist.
We tend to forget the role of immigrants in advancing American society. Wong Tsu’s role in enabling the aerospace industry in America is little known today. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is one of the highest honors in America. A surprising number of those honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom have been immigrants to America or children of immigrants to America.
Just imagine American without the music of Irving Berlin, an immigrant from Russia. Or what would we have missed without the comedy of Bob Hope, an immigrant from England? Or the Vietnam Memorial, designed by Maya Lin, whose parents were immigrants from China.
Immigrants to America have enriched the lives of all of us, but that’s a reality we often don’t want to acknowledge.
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“When you get to know a lot of people, you make a great discovery. You find that no one group has a monopoly on looks, brains, goodness, or anything else. It takes all the people – black and white, Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant, recent immigrants, and Mayflower descendants – to make up America.” – Judy Garland