Edward Harkness

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Edward Stephen Harkness
Edward S. Harkness.jpg
Born (1874-01-22)January 22, 1874
Cleveland, Ohio
Died January 29, 1940(1940-01-29) (aged 66)
Citizenship American
Net worth USD $155 million at the time of his death (approximately 1/643rd of US GNP)[1]
Spouse(s) Mary Stillman
Parents Stephen V. Harkness, Anna M. Richardson (Harkness)
Relatives Charles W. Harkness brother, Florence, sister, Lamon V. Harkness half brother

Edward Stephen Harkness (January 22, 1874 – January 29, 1940) was an American philanthropist.

In 1918, Edward was cited in Forbes magazine in their first "Rich List" as the 6th "richest" person in the United States just behind John D. Rockefeller, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Carnegie, George Fisher Baker and William Rockefeller.


Edward Stephen Harkness was born in Cleveland, Ohio, one of four sons to Stephen V. Harkness, a harness-maker who invested in and was one of the five founding partners in the forerunner of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller's oil company. Harkness inherited a fortune from his father and his brother Charles W. Harkness.[2] His extensive philanthropies, many of them anonymous, were extended especially to colleges, hospitals and museums.[3][4]

Harkness was a very shy and retiring individual. He attended St. Paul's School and Yale University, Class of 1897 and Columbia Law School. Harkness and his brother Charles and cousin William were members of Wolf's Head Society at Yale.[5]

He was also member of the Jekyll Island Club (aka The millionaires Club) on Jekyll Island, Georgia from 1921-1923.

After graduating, Edward Harkness married Mary Stillman, daughter of wealthy New York attorney Thomas E. Stillman. Mary's maternal grandfather was George Greenman, a shipbuilder in Mystic, CT and founded George Greenman & Co. Harkness earned an LL.D from Columbia Law School.

Harkness made charitable gifts totaling more than $129 million, the equivalent of $2 billion in 2005 dollars. His philanthropic peers John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie gave respectively $550 million and $350 million over the course of their lives.[6]

Harkness and his mother, Anna Harkness, gave substantial sums to several important non-profit enterprises. They refashioned Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital. Mrs. Harkness, in memory of her husband, gave funds for the hospital's Harkness Pavilion. Harkness was a major benefactor of the New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum's initial art of Ancient Egypt collection was a gift from Harkness.

Harkness's elder full-brother Charles W. Harkness died in 1916, and left Edward approximately $170 Million in Standard Oil stock making Edward the 3rd largest stockholder.[2] In 1917 Anna Harkness, their mother, donated $3,000,000 to Yale University to build Harkness Memorial Quadrangle in Charles' memory.

In 1918 Anna Harkness established the Commonwealth Fund by an initial gift of $10,000,000, and Harkness was made its president.[7] Edwards home, Harkness House circa 1908 at 5th Avenue and 75th Street (just three blocks from Mary's childhood home at 9 E 78th St, New York, NY ) is now the offices of the Commonwealth Fund.

Edward and Mary Harkness had a number of homes in addition to Harkness House in New York. They spent summers at their Eolia mansion on Long Island Sound in Waterford, Connecticut near where Mary had visited her grandparents in the summers. The home and 230 acres (93 ha) of gardens and grounds are now maintained by Connecticut as Harkness Memorial State Park. Also, a home on Long Island called "Weekend" joined homes in North Carolina and California, and a camp in the Adirondacks.

Harkness House in New York, now home of The Commonwealth Fund
Harkness Eolia Mansion in Waterford, CT

The Harkness family made many contributions to education including St Salvator's Hall at the University of St Andrews; Harkness Chapel and Harkness Dormitory at Connecticut College; Butler Library at Columbia University as well as the original portions of the Columbia University Medical Center and the undergraduate dormitories at Brown University, Harvard University,[8] Yale University, and Connecticut College - all of these were built through his philanthropy or the philanthropy of Mary Stillman Harkness.

His philanthropy affected substantially several boarding schools, introducing the revolutionary Harkness table method of instruction, starting with Phillips Exeter Academy, and spreading to St. Paul’s, The Lawrenceville School, and Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. Harkness also made gifts to Taft School, Hill School and Phillips Academy.[9]

He established the Harkness Fellowships and founded the Pilgrim Trust in the UK in 1930 with an endowment of just over two million pounds, "prompted by his admiration for what Great Britain had done in the 1914-18 war and, by his ties of affection for the land from which he drew his descent."[10] The current priorities of the trust are preservation, places of worship, and social welfare.

He also made the gifts that established the Yale School of Drama and erected its theatre.

In the popular culture, Harkness, along with another wealthy neighbor, Edward Crowninshield Hammond, were the inspiration for Eugene O'Neill's off-stage character "Harker", the "Standard Oil millionaire", in Long Day's Journey into Night, and on-stage figure "T. Stedman Harder" in A Moon for the Misbegotten.[11]



  1. ^ Klepper, Michael; Gunther, Michael (1996), The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates—A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present, Secaucus, New Jersey: Carol Publishing Group, p. xii, ISBN 978-0-8065-1800-8, OCLC 33818143 
  2. ^ a b New York Times, May 9, 1916 - http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FA0B13FA3A5B17738DDDA00894DD405B868DF1D3
  3. ^ The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, pp. 1238, Columbia University Press, 2000
  4. ^ Philanthropists and Foundation Globalization, By Joseph C. Kiger (2008), pp 39
  5. ^ Phelps Association Membership Directory, 2006
  6. ^ Exeter Bulletin, Fall 2006, p. 27
  7. ^ see 1
  8. ^ The Half Opened Door,Marcia Graham Synnott, (1979), pp 9
  9. ^ The Exeter Bulletin, Fall 2006, p.28
  10. ^ Trust Deed, quoted on the Pilgrim Trust website, accessed 4 December 2006.
  11. ^ Dowling, Robert M. Critical Companion to Eugene O'Neill: a literary reference to his Life and Work pg. 614.Facts on File, New York ISBN 978-0816066759

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