Stephen V. Harkness

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Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness
Stephen V. Harkness.png
BornNovember 18, 1818
DiedMarch 6, 1888(1888-03-06) (aged 69)
at sea off Punta Gorda, Florida
Resting placeLake View Cemetery, Cleveland
Laura Osborne
(m. 1842; died 1852)

(m. 1854; his death 1888)
ChildrenIsabella Harkness
David Harkness
Lamon V. Harkness
Charles W. Harkness
Florence Harkness
Edward S. Harkness
Parent(s)Dr. David M. Harkness, Martha Cook Harkness
RelativesHalf Brother - Daniel M. Harkness who was half brother of Henry Flagler

Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness (November 18, 1818 – March 6, 1888) was an American businessman based in Cleveland, Ohio. He invested as a silent partner with John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in the founding of Standard Oil and served as a director of Standard Oil until his death. The Harkness family has made a great impact worldwide due to their philanthropy, yet very few are aware of their contributions. In many ways this is what the family wanted. They were happy to share their wealth in positive ways but always endeavored to take a low profile.

Early life[edit]

Stephen Harkness was born on November 18, 1818, in Fayette, New York, to David M. Harkness and Martha Cook. His mother died before he turned two, and his father moved with Stephen to the Western Reserve region of Northeast Ohio. They settled in Milan. The widower David married Elizabeth Ann Caldwell Morrison. They had a son Daniel M. Harkness.

After David died in 1825, the widow Elizabeth took the two boys back to Seneca County, New York, where she had grown up. She married Isaac Flagler, a Presbyterian minister in Milton. They also had a son together, Henry Flagler.[1]


At age twenty-one, after finishing his apprenticeship as a harness maker, Stephen Harkness moved to Bellevue, Ohio with his paternal uncle Lamon G. Harkness. Stephen worked for a time in harness making but in 1855, he set up a distillery in Monroeville, Ohio and it became successful.

In 1864, Stephen Harkness formed a partnership with William Halsey Doan (grandson of one of the original settlers of Cleveland, Ohio) [2] to provide crude oil to refineries. He became quite wealthy through the profits from this industry.

Stephen sold his Monroeville businesses in 1866 and moved to Millionaires Row in Cleveland. There he organized The Euclid Avenue National Bank and was president of Belt Mining Company.

The Oil Business[edit]

Harkness invested heavily with his younger stepbrother Henry Flagler and John D. Rockefeller in Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler, the corporate forerunner to Standard Oil. Harkness became its second largest shareholder; the company's success made him enormously wealthy.[3] Although Harkness was a silent partner, he was a member of Standard Oil's Board of Directors until his death in 1888.[4][5]

Standard Oil Articles of Incorporation signed by John D. Rockefeller, Henry M. Flagler, Samuel Andrews, Stephen V. Harkness and William Rockefeller

Harkness was active in the development of Cleveland, Ohio. He collaborated with Charles F. Brush and Rockefeller to build the Cleveland Arcade, one of the first enclosed shopping malls in the United States, modeled after the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, Italy.

Medallion of S.V. Harkness on the entrance to The Cleveland Arcade

Personal life[edit]

In 1842, Stephen Harkness married Laura Osborne. They had three children; two of whom died in their first year. The third lived to the age of 65. Their children were:

Laura died on August 24, 1852, and was buried in Bellevue, Ohio. Two years after her death, Stephen married Anna M. Richardson. They had three children:

On March 6, 1888, Harkness died aboard his yacht.[13] Stephen and Anna Harkness are buried in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery.[14]


After Stephen's death, his widow Anna M. Harkness established the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation dedicated to the improvement of healthcare.[15] Under the guidance of their second son, Edward Harkness, the foundation made charitable gifts totaling more than $129 million, the equivalent of $2 billion in 2005 dollars. The fund was a major benefactor of the New York Public Library. Another gift established the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of ancient Egyptian art.[16]

In 1930 Stephen's son Edward Harkness established the Harkness Fellowships and the Pilgrim Trust in the UK 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."[17] The current priorities of the trust are preservation, places of worship, and social welfare.[18]

Other grants funded educational and medical needs such as: Harkness House, a student cooperative in Oberlin College; St Salvator's Hall at the University of St Andrews; Harkness Chapel at Connecticut College; Butler Library at Columbia University as well as the original portions of the Columbia University Medical Center (Mrs. Harkness, in memory of her husband, helped fund the hospital's Harkness Pavilion). Undergraduate dormitories and buildings at Brown University, Harvard University, Yale University, and Connecticut College were built through Harkness philanthropy.[19] At Yale, Harkness-donated buildings include the Memorial Quadrangle, Harkness Tower, and William L. Harkness Hall. Edward Harkness also made the gifts that established the Yale School of Drama and erected its theatre.[20]

Harkness funds went to several boarding schools, fostering introducing the revolutionary Harkness table method of instruction, starting with Phillips Exeter Academy, and spreading to St. Paul's School, The Lawrenceville School, and Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford, Connecticut. Harkness also gave to Taft School, The Hill School and Phillips Academy.[21]

Harkness' sons Charles and Edward, along with their cousin William L. Harkness, also helped found and sustain The Third Society in 1883 at Yale. This was later known as Wolf's Head Society.[10] (Their Yale classes were: William, 1881; Charles, 1883; Edward, 1897.) The Harkness family donated funds for the society's second hall, on York Street, New Haven, Connecticut.[22]


  1. ^ "FLAGLER SUCCUMBS TO INJURIES OF FALL; Standard Oil Capitalist and Railroad Builder Hurt Last February". The New York Times. 21 May 1913. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  2. ^ Doans Early settlers of Cleveland |
  3. ^ "ELEVATED ROADS SUED; MR. HARKNESS DEMANDS THE ANNULMENT OF A LEASE". The New York Times. 16 April 1885. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  5. ^ "HENRY FLAGLER LEFT $75,000,000 ESTATE; Transfer Tax Report Shows He Spent $50,000,000 on Florida Enterprises. HAD NO AUTO OR JEWELRY Appraiser Reveals the Loss of a List of Personal Effects in Summer Home, Valued at $2,304. Some Articles Excluded. Clerk in Grocery Store". The New York Times. 20 November 1917. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  6. ^ "L. V. HARKNESS DIES.; Racing Man Was Early Associate of John D. Rockefeller". The New York Times. 18 January 1915. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  7. ^ "HARKNESS EVIDENCE CONTAINS 700 PAGES; Surrogates' Court Gets Testimony on Residence of Rockefeller Associate. TAX MAY BREAK RECORD Value of Estate Not Announced, but Schedules Show Large Blocks of Stock". The New York Times. 21 April 1916. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  8. ^ "C. W. HARKNESS. OF STANDARD OIL, DIES; Third Largest Holder, with Brother, of Company's Stock a Victim of Apoplexy at 56. A DIRECTOR IN RAILWAYS Member of Many Clubs and Owner of the Yacht Agawa Was Educated for a Lawyer". The New York Times. 2 May 1916. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  9. ^ "C.W. HARKNESS LEFT $170,000,000 ESTATE; Standard Oil Holdings to Brother, Edward S., Make Him Third Largest Holder. $500,000 BEQUEST TO YALE Presbyterian Hospital Gets $350,000 ;- Widow and Brother Share Residuary Estate". The New York Times. 9 May 1916. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  10. ^ a b "CHAS. W. HARKNESS LEFT AN ESTATE OF $60,000,000; Tax Appraisal Shows Oil Financier Was One of the World's Richest Men. UP $15,000,000 SINCE DEATH Began as a Young Man, Lately Out of School, with $1,500,000 Inherited from Father. HELD LITTLE REAL ESTATE Fortune Nearly All in Stocks and Bonds -- Died 15 Days Before State Tax Was Advanced. C.W. HARKNESS LEFT $60,000,000 ESTATE". The New York Times. 8 December 1916. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  11. ^ "Edward S. Harkness Dies at 66; Gave $100,000,000 to the Public; Devoted His Lifetime to Distributing Vast Wealth of His Family to Educational and Welfare Organizations". The New York Times. 30 January 1940. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  12. ^ "EDWARD STEPHEN HARKNESS". The New York Times. 31 January 1940. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  13. ^ "DIED ON BOARD HIS YACHT". The New York Times. 9 March 1888. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  14. ^ "Mrs. Harkness Buried". The Plain Dealer. March 31, 1926. p. 20.
  15. ^ "$2,009,685 GRANTED FOR HEALTH WORK; Commonwealth Fund's Awards Covered Research, Education and Public Health $135,000 FOR WAR RELIEF Report Says Difficulty Lies in Aiding Nazi-Occupied Lands but Not Germany". The New York Times. 20 January 1941. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  16. ^ "MRS. HARKNESS BUILT $50,000,000 ESTATE UP TO $85,000,000; Inventory Reveals the Great Increase in Fortune She Inherited From Husband. $16,000,000 INHERITANCE TAX Most of Huge Holdings Were in Gilt-Edge Securities -- Son Gets About $60,000,000. SHE GAVE MUCH TO CHARITY When St. Paul Bonds Slumped She Recalled Them as Gifts and Gave Good Ones in Return. HARKNESS ESTATE UP TO $85,000,000". The New York Times. 17 October 1926. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  17. ^ Trust Deed, quoted on the Pilgrim Trust website; accessed 4 December 2006.
  18. ^ "HOSPITAL RECEIVES NEW HARKNESS GIFT; $250,000 From Mrs. Stephen V. Harkness Completes the Fund for Nurses' School. HAS DONATED $800,000 Plans for the Edifice Are Now in the Hands of Architect -- Entire Building Fund is $3,704,297". The New York Times. 9 July 1925. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  19. ^ "Grad Center Commons to Be Named After Harkness". The Harvard Crimson. 3 October 1950. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  20. ^ "$500,000 Gift to Yale". The New York Times. 16 October 1917. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  21. ^ The Exeter Bulletin, Fall 2006, p.28
  22. ^ Times, Special To The New York (2 March 1951). "$61,547,405 IS PAID IN HARKNESS GIFTS; Hospital, Public Library, Art Museum, Colleges, Charity Share in Distribution". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 July 2017.

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