The Rich History of Philanthropy

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There is a long history of rich people giving away their money. Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor of public affairs and philanthropic studies at the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University, says that philanthropic foundations flourished in America in the late 19th century.


If you step back a bit and take the long view of rich people and the good they've tried to do with their excess cash, you discover a few interesting facts.


First, as ambitious as Bill and Melinda Gates are in tackling disease and hunger and poverty, history tells us that at least one big-time philanthropist of the past had even loftier ambitions.

Dr. LESLIE LENKOWSKI (Indiana University): When John D. Rockefeller created the Rockefeller Foundation, its purpose was to improve the wellbeing of mankind throughout the world.

BLOCK: That's Leslie Lenkowski. He studies what the insanely rich have done with their wealth. He teaches at the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University and he's run some foundations himself.

NORRIS: Lenkowski says that foundations can be traced back to the time of Socrates. In this country, foundations blossomed after the Civil War, when new wealth was being accumulated and there were new problems to fix.

BLOCK: Millionaire George Peabody used his and others' money to help newly-freed slaves. By the beginning of the 20th century, the first truly modern foundation was created.

Dr. LENKOWSKI: A woman named Margaret Olivia Sage inherited money from her husband Russell, who was a notoriously stingy man, and she used that money for charitable purposes.

NORRIS: The Sages were soon imitated by the Rockefellers, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie.

Dr. LENKOWSKI: Carnegie actually didn't intend to create a foundation. He had hoped to give away all his money in his lifetime, but he failed at that.

BLOCK: And while we know of Carnegie today from his name on libraries and other institutions - and in NRP funding credits - another millionaire of his day has vanished from our memories. Julius Rosenwald was a merchandising genius. In 1917, he set up a foundation to educate blacks in the south.

Dr. LENKOWSKI: Rosenwald also provided that his foundation wouldn't go on forever and he felt very strongly that when foundations become very big and are set up to exist forever, the tendency is for them to become stale and bureaucratic.

NORRIS: Leslie Lenkowski of the Center for Philanthropy at Indiana University.

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