Stephen V. Harkness

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Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness
Stephen V. Harkness.png
Born November 18, 1818
Fayette, New York
Died March 6, 1888(1888-03-06) (aged 69)
at sea off Punta Gorda, Florida
Resting place Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland
Residence Cleveland, Ohio New York City
Occupation Businessman
Spouse(s) 1) Laura Osborne
2) Anna M. Richardson
Children w/Laura:
Isabella (1845-1845)
David (1848-1848)
Lamon V. (1850-1915)

Charles W. (1860-1919)
Florence (1864-1895)
Edward S. (1874-1940)
Parent(s) Dr. David M. Harkness, Martha Cook Harkness

Stephen Vanderburgh Harkness (November 18, 1818 – March 6, 1888) was an American businessman from Cleveland, Ohio, who invested as a silent partner with oil titan John D. Rockefeller, Sr. in the founding of Standard Oil. He was a director of Standard Oil until his death.


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 the family to the Western Reserve region of Northeast Ohio. They settled in Milan, where David married Elizabeth Ann Caldwell Morrison, who bore a son, Daniel M. Harkness. After David died in 1825, Elizabeth and the family returned to Seneca County, New York, where she married Isaac Flagler, a Presbyterian minister in Milton, and had another son, Henry Flagler.

In 1842, Stephen Harkness married Laura Osborne. They had three children; two died very young, while the third, Lamon, lived to 65. Laura died on Aug. 24, 1852, and was buried in Bellevue, Ohio. Two years later, Stephen married Anna M. Richardson. They had three children: Charles W. Harkness, Florence Harkness and Edward S. Harkness.

Stephen and Anna Harkness are buried in Cleveland's Lake View Cemetery near J.D. Rockefeller.


At age twenty-one, after finishing his apprenticeship as a harnessmaker, Stephen Harkness moved to Bellevue, Ohio with his uncle Lamon. Stephen worked for a time in harnessmaking but in 1855 he set up a distillery in Monroeville, Ohio that was a success. In 1864 Stephen formed a partnership with Wm. Halsey Doan to provide crude oil to refineries and that made him quite wealthy.

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

Harkness invested heavily with 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. Although Stephen Harkness was a silent partner, he was a member of Standard Oil's Board of Directors until his death in 1888.

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

Stephen 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


After Stephen's death, his second wife Anna M. Harkness established the Commonwealth Fund, a foundation dedicated to the improvement of healthcare. 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.

Edward also established the Harkness Fellowships and 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."[1] The current priorities of the trust are preservation, places of worship, and social welfare.

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 at Brown University, Harvard University, Yale University, and Connecticut College were built through Harkness philanthropy. 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.

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, The Lawrenceville School, and Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. Harkness also gave to Taft School, Hill School and Phillips Academy.[2]

Stephen's sons Charles and Edward, along with their cousin William L. Harkness, also helped found and sustain The Third Society, later known as Wolf's Head Society, at Yale University in 1883. (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, CT.


  1. ^ Trust Deed, quoted on the Pilgrim Trust website, accessed 4 December 2006.
  2. ^ The Exeter Bulletin, Fall 2006, p.28

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