Born in Smyrna, Turkey, in 1901, Alex Manoogian travels alone to the United States when he is just 19 to escape the horrors of the Armenian genocide. He enters the country on May 20, 1920, through the turnstiles of Ellis Island with two suitcases, $50 cash and an identification tag hanging from his neck. He also brings with him unbounded enthusiasm and an extraordinarily formal education for the time. He reads and speaks five languages—none of them English.
He settles in Bridgeport, Connecticut, working first in a tobacco shop, then as a school bus driver, and later in a confectionery store and silver polishing factory. As he works, he becomes consumed with the idea of bringing the rest of his family to the U.S.