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In 1898, immediately after disembarking at New York's Ellis Island, Czech-born Stefan Dangosbiblichek is marked for deportation because he doesn't have enough money to pay the entrance fee. When he realizes that he is about to be shipped back, Steve starts to protest loudly in Czech and convinces a sympathetic interpreter to sign his entrance papers. The nearly penniless Steve then walks from New York to the Mesabi Range in northeast Minnesota, where his cousin, Anton Dubechek, works in an iron ore mine. After the cousins happily reunite, Anton gets Steve a job as a miner and gives him tips on how to act and talk like an American. Now known as Steve Dangos, the ambitious immigrant then asks Anna O'Rourke, the local schoolteacher, to teach him how to read so that he can learn about the iron and steel industry. Steve and Anna soon fall in love, and during the warm months, while the miners dig ore above ground, Steve teaches himself how to operate a steam shovel. Later, when Steve offers to work indefinitely in the Mesabi mines to be near her, Anna reminds him of his ambitions and encourages him to seek his fortune elsewhere. The following autumn, Steve leaves Mesabi for Chicago and tricks his way into a job at a steel mill. Although he is quickly promoted to section foreman, Steve misses Anna and is depressed. He writes to her, asking her to come to Chicago, and to his delight, she appears on the next boat. Once married, Steve and Anna move into a modest but attractive house that Steve has bought, and soon become the parents of a baby girl named Tina. Over the next several years, Steve receives many promotions at the steel mill, and his family expands to include four sons--George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt Dangos. In 1917, the Dangos family attends George's high school graduation and proudly listen as he delivers a moving valedictorian speech. Soon after, Tina prepares to marry her childhood sweetheart, and George announces to Steve that he is enlisting in the Army. Before leaving, George makes his father promise he will take the U.S. citizenship test during his absence. On the day of the test, Steve and Anna are notified of George's death, and although grief-stricken, Steve goes through with the test and earns his citizenship. Later, Howard Clinton, one of George's teachers, drops by the Dangos house to give Steve some poems that George had written for his class. Touched by the gesture, Steve, who has dismantled and reassembled the family car in an attempt to improve it, offers to take Howard for a ride. Steve's "adjustments" to the car enable it to go eighty miles an hour, and the two are arrested for speeding. While in jail, Howard, who is also a car "buff," suggests that he and Steve race the car at Indianapolis. Although they crash during the race, their experience gives them the idea to start their own auto company and build safer, faster cars. Anna accepts the move to Detroit without complaint, and the Danton Auto Works is soon opened with Steve and Howard's savings. Using his knowledge of mechanics and steel production, Steve then undertakes to design a car with a steel top and a suspension-mounted engine. After a rough prototype is completed, Steve demonstrates the car to a representative of a large manufacturing company, who then presents the design to the company's board of directors. The board offers to buy the innovative design, but declare that the company will not put the car into production until forced to do so by the competition. Disgusted by the board's attitude, Steve refuses to sell the design, then convinces his devoted staff to build a polished prototype for an upcoming New York auto show in exchange for a partnership in the company. At that moment, Anton shows up at the factory and offers to invest his entire savings in the project. The car is the hit of the auto show, and Howard gleefully informs Steve that various investors have offered five million dollars to manufacture it. Sometime later, college-educated Teddy, who wants to learn the auto industry from "the ground up," takes a low-level job at the company. Although thrilled to have his youngest at Danton, Steve becomes distressed when Teddy gets involved in a campaign to organize the workers. Maintaining that he has always taken good care of his employees, Steve is unsympathetic when they go on strike. During a meeting between a workers' group and Danton's board of directors, Teddy, Anton and Howard all vote to allow the workers to organize, and the defeated Steve condemns them as traitors. Anna then suggests that Steve retire and travel, and the couple eventually settles in California. Just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Steve, who has become bored and listless, learns that the government has asked Danton to build airplanes in San Diego. Putting aside his pride, Steve reconciles with Teddy, Howard and Anton, and together they figure out ways to increase Danton's productivity and turn out thousands of airplanes for the war effort.