A Brief History of The 1787 Society
Pitt is among the oldest colleges and universities in the United States. The University of Pittsburgh was founded in 1787 as the Pittsburgh Academy by Hugh Henry Brackenridge. At that time the Pitt campus was comprised of a log cabin and a handful of students.
Since its founding, the University of Pittsburgh has benefited from the generosity of prominent philanthropists and the general public. The family of William Penn provided the original land for the University, and the first building was erected with the help of a public subscription.
In 1871, William Thaw, a trustee of the University, made what was probably the first matching gift. He asked the people of Pittsburgh to match his gift of $100,000. They raised the funds within four years. Toward the end of the century, John Brashear, another trustee, was successful in raising more than $50,000 from 100 community members.
The 20th century opened with Pitt’s first major fund drive to construct buildings on its new Oakland campus. The result was $250,000 in gifts from the public. The ensuing decades saw major gifts from such familiar names as Trees, Babcock, Mellon, Heinz, and Frick. During this period, Pitt also benefited from the tireless advocacy of Chancellor John Bowman. One of Bowman’s fund-raising initiatives included asking school children to donate 10 cents each to help construct the Cathedral of Learning. Nearly 100,000 children participated. Also during Bowman’s era, one of the first corporate gifts made to a university was presented to Pitt by U.S. Steel.
In the latter half of the 20th century, the University received gifts from prominent families such as Hillman, Katz, Falk, and Benedum. At the same time, Pitt saw a great increase in giving by alumni.
For more than two centuries, private philanthropy has nourished the University. The help of generous and thoughtful benefactors like you has enabled Pitt to become a leader in several areas ranging from organ transplantation to the history of Philosophy.