Famous Firsts by Asian Americans

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

From politicians to professional athletes

by Shmuel Ross
Norman Mineta, Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, Patsy Takemoto Mink, Anna May Wong, and Ellison Onizuka

Notable Asian Americans »

Asian-American Firsts: Government

  • U.S. representative: Dalip Singh Saund, 1956, representative from California. The first female Asian American elected to Congress was Patsy Takemoto Mink, elected in 1964 as a representative from Hawaii.
  • U.S. senator: Hiram Fong, 1959, one of Hawaii's first two senators.
  • U.S. female senator: Mazie Hirono,2013, was elected to the U.S. Senate from Hawaii, making her the first Asian American female senator. Also the country's first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate. In addition, she's the first U.S. senator born in Japan-and the second woman of color to serve in the Senate.
  • Federal court judge: Herbert Choy, 1971, appointed to the U.S. court of appeals for the ninth circuit.
  • U.S. ambassador: Julia Chang Bloch, 1989, appointed ambassador to the Kingdom of Nepal.
  • State legislator: Wing F. Ong, 1946, elected to the Arizona House of Representatives.
  • Governor: George R. Ariyoshi, 1974, governor of Hawaii. The first on the mainland was Gary Locke, elected governor of Washington in 1996.
  • Mayor of a major U.S. city: Norman Yoshio Mineta, 1971, in San Jose, California.
  • Member of presidential cabinet: Norman Yoshio Mineta, 2000, appointed secretary of commerce. In 2001, he became the first cabinet member to switch directly from a Democratic to Republican cabinet—becoming secretary of transportation—and the only Democrat in George W. Bush's cabinet. The first female Asian-American cabinet member was Elaine Chao, appointed secretary of labor in 2001.
  • Vietnamese-American member of Congress: Anh Cao won a special election for a seat in the House of Representatives, representing New Orleans, Louisiana, in December 2008.

Asian-American Firsts: Aviation

  • Female aviator: Katherine Sui Fun Cheung, licensed in 1932.
  • Astronaut (in space): Ellison Onizuka, first spaceflight in 1985. Died in the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Asian-American Firsts: Science and Medicine

  • Isolated epinephrine (adrenaline) from the suprarenal gland: Jokichi Takamine, 1901.
  • Invented pulse transfer controlling device leading to magnetic core memory: An Wang, 1949.
  • Cloned the AIDS virus: Flossie Wong-Staal, 1984.

Asian-American Firsts: Film and Television

  • Movie star: Anna May Wong, who starred in the 1921 film Bits of Life and many other movies.
  • Academy Award winner: Haing Ngor, Best Supporting Actor of 1984 for his role in The Killing Fields
  • Host of own network TV series: Anna May Wong, 1951, The Gallery of Madame Liu Tsong
  • Star of own network sitcom: Pat Morita, 1976, Mr. T and Tina

Asian-American Firsts: News Reporting

  • First network news reporters: Ken Kashiwahara and Connie Chung, 1974. In 1993, Chung became the first Asian American to be a nightly news anchor for a major network (CBS).
  • First anchor of a national radio program: Emil Guillermo, 1989, host of NPR's All Things Considered.

Asian-American Firsts: Other

  • First to command a combat battalion: Young Oak Kim, of the 100th Infantry Battalion, 1943.
  • First selected in the first round of NFL draft: Eugene Chung, 1992, selected by New England.