George Peabody, Philanthropist: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

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Wikimedia Commons

George Peabody

George Peabody, the philanthropist, was honored with a Google Doodle on May 15, 2018 for his lifetime of giving that furthered educational causes.

Google noted that the artwork was designed to celebrate the man known as “the father of modern philanthropy.” He earned that moniker because Peabody, a banker and merchant who was born in the late 1700s, “was almost certainly the first American who was known first and foremost for his charitable giving,” according to Philanthropy Roundtable.

Here’s what you need to know:


1. George Peabody Was Born Poor But Opened a General Store

george peabody, google doodle

George Peabody Google Doodle

Peabody was not born into means. “Born in 1795 to a poor family in Massachusetts, Peabody had only a few years’ worth of education before opening a local general store,” Google wrote with the Google Doodle.

“His experience in the dry goods business expanded and led to international trade in London, where he would eventually work as a banker and settle in 1837. In that role, Peabody accumulated great wealth and his involvement in both the American and English business and social scenes provided him widespread recognition.”

Peabody later founded an important bank. “Peabody was a merchant banker—indeed, he created one of the most important American banks of the 19th century. Headquartered in London, he helped channel desperately needed European and British capital into promising ventures in the United States,” Philanthropy Roundtable reports.


2. Peabody Devoted His Life & Fortune to Educational Initiatives

Wikimedia CommonsGeorge Peabody

george peabody

George Peabody

Peabody accumulated quite a fortune for his day, and he was interested in furthering educational causes.

“During his life, Peabody immersed himself in public causes, with a particular focus on educational initiatives,” wrote Google. “In fact, it was on this day in 1867 that he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal after donating $2,000,000 (upwards of $30,000,000 today!) for the advancement of education, an act of generosity made all the more impressive by the fact that he left school at the age of 11.

According to Brittanica, many charitable endeavors bore his mark. “His Baltimore institute provided a library, art gallery, and music academy. He also funded a historical museum and library in Peabody, Mass., a natural-history museum at Yale University, and a museum of archaeology at Harvard University; and he contributed to many other colleges and historical societies,” the site reports, noting that he tried to help children of all races.


3. Peabody Gave Away Half His Fortune

How generous was Peabody? “He’s believed to have given awaIt’s believed that Peabody gifted over $8,000,000 in the course of his lifetime, about half of his $16,000,000 fortune,” wrote Google.

Google noted that Google Doodle art for “George Peabody, philanthropist” was “the result of a Doodle team volunteer mural project at George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, California! The mural currently resides in the student cafeteria.”


4. Peabody Was Known for His Frugality, Almost Never Taking Off Work

george peabody

George Peabody

Peabody worked hard to build his fortune, and, although he was generous with other people, he did not give himself much of a break. “He routinely worked 10-hour days, every day of the week, and during one 12-year stretch he never took off three consecutive days. More visibly, he was frugal to the point of absurdity,” according to Philanthropy Roundtable.


5. Peabody Was Beloved on Both Sides of the Atlantic

george peabody

George Peabody

Peabody was revered in both American and Britain, and the British offered to have him buried in Westminster Abbey, a unique honor for an American. But he was not. He died in 1869 in London, England.