History & Legacy

The Duke Endowment seeks to fulfill the legacy of James Buchanan Duke, one of the great industrialists and philanthropists of the 20th century.

1856 Duke Homestead 2 1
December 23, 1856

Birth of James B. Duke

James Buchanan “Buck” Duke is born on December 23 to Washington and Artelia Roney Duke on a North Carolina farm. He has a sister, Mary, a brother, Ben, and two half-brothers, Sidney and Brody. The Duke Homestead near Durham, North Carolina, is now preserved as a historic site. The home consists of four rooms with a kitchen addition.

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library.

1857 family portraits Washington Duke 2 1
1857

Instilling Good Values

James B. Duke’s father, Washington, instills in his children a sense of responsibility and perseverance. The son of a farmer, Washington was influenced as a boy by Methodist circuit riders who preached near his home and visited his family.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1858 family portraits Artelia Roney Duke
1858

Death of Artelia and Sydney Duke

When James B. Duke is just 2 years old in 1858, his half-brother Sydney and his mother, Artelia, die from typhoid fever. “Telia” Duke is remembered as a beautiful woman, full of kindness and integrity. With no mother to raise him, James is taken in by relatives after his father is conscripted into military service during the Civil War.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1863

New Home in the Civil War

While his father is fighting in the Civil War (a Unionist conscripted in the Confederate Navy), young James and his siblings go to live with their maternal grandparents in Alamance County, North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1865 Washington Duke First Tobacco Barn Homestead 2 1
1865

Modest Beginnings of a Family Business

James B. Duke’s father, Washington, returns from the Civil War, walking 130 miles back to his beloved homestead. He possesses only his farm, two blind mules, a storehouse of dried tobacco and 50 cents. Washington and his sons, young James and his older brother, Benjamin Newton Duke, launch a small family business selling tobacco.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1866 tobacco bag 2 1
1866

Growth of a Family Business

The business grows slowly at first, with the Dukes selling small pouches of tobacco from the back of a wagon. Gradually it prospers and the Duke family moves to the growing city of Durham to open an expanded tobacco processing factory.

1881 James B Duke Family in Courtyard
1881

A Family Name

In 1881, James B. Duke and his brother, Ben, form the W. Duke Sons and Company tobacco enterprise.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1883

Durham, North Carolina

In the Durham plant, cigarettes were “made by the millions.”

Photo courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Durham County Library

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1884

Expansion to New York

After running the Durham factory, James B. Duke expands the business to New York and opens a small tobacco factory near the Bowery.

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1885

Pioneering Mass Production

The Bonsack cigarette machine, invented by a man in Virginia, helps W. Duke Sons and Company increase production after it is installed in the company’s Durham factory. The Dukes are the first to shift production from hand-rolled cigarettes to mechanized mass production. James B. Duke establishes the American Tobacco Company in 1890, which becomes the largest tobacco company in the world.

James B Duke Benjamin N Duke in Garden 2
1888

Rejecting the “White Man’s Party”

The Duke family voted Republican while most other white Southerners aligned with the Democrats. In the late 1800s, the Democratic Party called itself the “white man’s party” and spurned Southern white Republicans.

1890 Expanding Business and Philanthropy 2
1890

Expanding Business and Philanthropy

James B. Duke and his brother, Ben, work together in business and in philanthropy. Their sister, Mary Duke Lyon, is an early partner in the family endeavors.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1891 Leisure
1891

Leisure

During his rare times away from the office, James B. Duke enjoys an interest in horticulture and landscaping. On his farm in New Jersey, workers dug nine lakes, installed 35 fountains and constructed 45 buildings.

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1892

Trinity College Expands

With the family’s influence and support, Trinity College relocates its campus to Durham, North Carolina. Trinity College is later to become Duke University.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1893 Mary Duke Lyon 2 1
1893

Mary Duke Lyon 1853-1893

James B. Duke’s sister, Mary Duke Lyon, possessed strong business capabilities and contributed to the family business. She died in 1893 at the age of 39.

1896 Trinity College 2 1
1897

Trinity College is Open to Women

The Dukes establish an endowment for Trinity College with the requirement that women be admitted “on equal footing with men.” At the time, the idea of co-education had not yet taken hold in much of the country.

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1900

Family of Philanthropy

James B. Duke learns a great deal about philanthropy from his older brother, who guided much of the family’s charitable giving based on patterns established by their father, Washington.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1901 Lincoln Hospital 1912
1901

Lincoln Hospital Established

When Durham’s first African American physician asks James and Ben to help establish a hospital for African American patients, the brothers agree — and their support for Lincoln Hospital continues for years. It is another example of the family’s intent to help people regardless of their race.

Durham Historic Photographic Archives

1904 tour of Lake St John Saguenay 2 1
1904

New Business Interest

James B. Duke and Ben Duke become intrigued by the potential of the fledgling hydroelectric power industry. The brothers acquire land and water rights along the Catawba River and build the Great Falls generating plant. In 1904 and 1905, Catawba Power Company and Southern Power Company (known today as Duke Energy) are founded.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1905 Great Falls Hydro Plant 2 1
1905

A New Beginning

The inauguration of the Duke Power Company plant at Great Falls, South Carolina, in 1905. Today, Duke Energy delivers electric power to about four million customers in the United States.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1905

Washington Duke 1820–1905

On May 9, 1905, Washington Duke, the patriarch of the Duke Family, dies. Both James and Ben are in Durham with him at the time of his death. Factories and businesses in the city close in his honor. “His death has cast a gloom over the entire city,” writes one reporter.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1907

Marriage

In 1907, in a summer ceremony, James B. Duke marries Nanaline Holt Inman, a widow from Georgia.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1910

Building Hydroelectric Power

A view of the Mountain Island Power Plant near Charlotte. Duke Power Company builds the dam at Mountain Island to power electricity through the station, which is still operating today. The Dukes also invest in banking, textiles and railways.

1911 Tabacco Durham plant 2 1
1911

Changing Interests

In 1911, the American Tobacco Company is broken into several companies through anti-trust action and the Duke brothers shift their interests to the electric power industry.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1912 Doris Duke Portrait 1913 2 1
1912

Doris Duke is Born

In 1912, Doris Duke is born, the only child of James B. Duke and Nanaline Duke. A new father at 55, Mr. Duke dotes on his blond-haired daughter. “You certainly are the dearest little girl that any daddy ever had,” he writes to her in the summer of 1923.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1924 Chair James B Duke Portrait 2 1
December 11, 1924

James B. Duke Establishes The Duke Endowment

On December 11, 1924, James B. Duke signs an Indenture of Trust, establishing The Duke Endowment with an initial gift of $40 million. His philanthropy builds on the giving begun by his father, Washington, and carried on by his older brother, Ben. Mr. Duke is Chair of The Duke Endowment’s Board of Trustees from 1924 to 1925.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1925

Indenture of Trust

The original Indenture of Trust, bronzed in 1925.

1924 Chronicle J B Duke Dies 2 1
October 10, 1925

James Buchanan Duke 1856–1925

James B. Duke dies unexpectedly on October 10, 1925, after suffering from pernicious anemia, a disease for which there was no known cure at the time. He would have been 69 years old on December 23. In his will, he leaves the Endowment an additional $67 million.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1928 Doris Duke cornerstone 2 1
1928

Cornerstone Set by Doris Duke

The Duke University West Campus cornerstone is set by Doris Duke, only child of James B. Duke. The stone was moved across the quad to the General Library tower shortly after, as it had been cut too large for the West Campus Union space.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1929 Ben Duke Sarah Pearson Angier 2 1
1929

Benjamin Newton Duke 1855–1929

After his death on January 8, 1929, Benjamin Newton Duke leaves behind a lasting legacy of philanthropic giving. The Durham Sun writes that he died “at the conclusion of a life of noble accomplishment.” After the completion of Duke University’s Chapel in 1932, he is interred in its Memorial Chapel along with his father and brother, Washington Duke and James B. Duke.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1931 Duke Sarcophagus 2 1
1930

Duke Resting Place

James B. Duke dies in 1925 and is buried beside his father in the family mausoleum in Maplewood Cemetery in Durham. After Duke University Chapel was completed in the early 1930s, his remains, along with his father and brother, are moved to three sarcophagi in the church’s Memorial Chapel.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1930

Building Community Hospitals

During the Great Depression, The Duke Endowment funds the construction of dozens of community hospitals in North Carolina, establishing a national model for rural health care.

1930 HC St Agnes Hospital 2 1
1931

Increasing Access

Through his philanthropy, James B. Duke seeks to educate physicians, improve the quality of care, and increase access to health care in the Carolinas.

1932 Duke Chapel Commencement 1931 2 1
1932

Duke University School of Religion

James B. Duke says he owes his success to his “daddy and the Methodist Church.” “My old daddy always said that if he amounted to anything in life it was due to the Methodist circuit riders who frequently visited his home and whose preaching and counsel brought out the best that was in him,” Mr. Duke says.

Class of 1931-32. Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1933 9th Anni Outside 2 1
1933

The Duke Endowment Celebrates Nine Years

The Duke Endowment celebrates nine years since James B. Duke signed his Indenture of Trust and established The Duke Endowment with an initial gift of $40 million.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1940 childrens home 2 1
1940

Working on Behalf of Children

The Endowment begins to focus its child care efforts on placing “difficult-to-adopt” children. James B. Duke’s compassion for vulnerable children was shaped by his childhood, when his aunts and extended relatives cared for him after his mother died and his father was conscripted into military service.

Photo: Orphans at the Children’s Home in Winston-Salem eat in the Central Dining Room in the 1920s.

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1943

Surpassing $50 Million in Grants Distributed

In 1943, the Endowment’s total giving passes the $50 million mark.

1950 Duke U Commencement 1949 2 1
1950

Securing Opportunities for Higher Education

To celebrate James B. Duke’s centennial, the Endowment creates the James B. Duke Scholarship Fund for students at Duke University. Through the 1950s and 1960s, the Endowment provides critical funds to secure the future of Johnson C. Smith University, saving it from the closures that affected hundreds of other historically black colleges. The Endowment’s work in higher education stems from Mr. Duke’s belief that educating principled people in medicine, law, education and other fields would generate individual contributions that would, in turn, benefit society. Mr. Duke designated contributions that helped build Duke University and provided major support to Davidson College, Furman University and Johnson C. Smith University.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1956 James B Duke Centennial Celebration 2 1
1956

Centennial Celebration

Doris Duke with other Endowment Trustees in Durham in 1956 to celebrate the centennial of James B. Duke’s birth.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1957

Investing in Higher Education

The Endowment’s work in higher education stems from James B. Duke’s belief that educating principled people in medicine, law and other fields will benefit society. His philanthropy helps build Duke University and provides major support to Davidson College, Furman University and Johnson C. Smith University, an historically Black institution in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Johnson C. Smith.

1964 Endowment 40th anni 2 1
1964

The Duke Endowment Celebrates 40 Years

The Duke Endowment celebrates 40 years since James B. Duke signed the Indenture of Trust, establishing his foundation with an initial gift of $40 million.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

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1966

Funding Rural Church Ministries

Since its inception, the Endowment has helped construct and renovate church buildings, train clergy and support retired ministers. In 1966, the first special grants for rural churches begin to fund specific ministries and help churches expand services to the congregation and community.

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1966

Church Expansion

A rural church in Manteo, North Carolina expands with support from The Duke Endowment.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives

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1970

Partnering to Help Fund Health Care Programs

In the 1970s, the Endowment partners with other foundations to fund a health care program called Access to Health Care, helping to expand services and address the problems that prevent people in rural or underdeveloped areas from receiving care.

1979 RC stain glass window 2 1
1979

Surpassing $500 Million in Grants Distributed

In 1979, the Endowment surpasses $500 million in total grants distributed since its inception. The Endowment supports a hospital-based community health project, a significant step in moving acute-care hospitals into prevention and wellness.

1980 HC little girl doctor 2 1
1980

Continued Grantmaking Supports Communities

The Endowment supports a hospital-based community health project, a significant step in moving acute-care hospitals into prevention and wellness. By the end of the decade, rural church grantmaking surpasses $20 million.

1982 Chair Mary DBT Semans Portrait 2 1
1982

Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans Chair of the Board of Trustees

Granddaughter of Ben Duke, Mary D.B.T. Semans continued the family’s charitable legacy by serving as an Endowment Trustee for 55 years and the first female Chair. She served as a Trustee for numerous institutions, including Duke University and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation. Mrs. Semans received the Duke University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service; the National Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews; and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities. She was a 2009 inductee in the North Carolina Women’s Hall of Fame. Mrs. Semans was Chair of The Duke Endowment’s Board from 1982 to 2001 and Chair Emerita 2002 until her death in 2012.

1985 Benjamin N Duke 2 1
1985

Supporting Higher Education

In 1985, the Benjamin N. Duke Scholarship at Duke University is created. Based on academic achievement, leadership and community service, it is awarded to outstanding seniors from North Carolina and South Carolina.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

1992 Children Accreditation Childrens Homes 2 1
1992

Family Practices in Children’s Homes

The Duke Endowment invests in pioneering work to enhance family-centered practices in children’s homes. It awards the first grants for child welfare and early intervention for children at risk of losing their families.

1992 Davidsone Gretchen Blake
1992

Exceeding $1 Billion in Grants Distributed

In 1992, the Endowment surpasses $1 billion in grants distributed since its inception.

1993 Doris Duke portrait 1930 1935 2 1
October 28, 1993

Doris Duke 1912–1993

On October 28, 1993, Doris Duke dies at age 80. Many of her philanthropic interests reflect the influence of her father. She left the majority of her estate to the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which has worked to improve the quality of people’s lives by supporting the performing arts, environmental conservation, medical research and the prevention of child maltreatment.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Archives.

2004 JB Duke
2004

Surpassing $2 Billion in Grants Distributed

In 2004, the Endowment exceeds $2 billion in total grants distributed since its inception 80 years earlier. Grantmaking includes several large, multi-year commitments, including $12 million to Duke University Divinity School to assess and improve the health of United Methodist clergy in North Carolina.

2005 Fellowship Progam Andrews Ireland Cochrane 2 1
2005

Cultivating Future Leaders

The Endowment’s Fellowship program begins, allowing emerging leaders to learn about philanthropy.

Supporting Clergy Health 02
2007

Addressing Clergy Health

Amid growing concerns about clergy well-being, The Duke Endowment awards a $12 million grant to Duke Divinity School to kick-start a seven-year effort to assess the overall health of United Methodist pastors in North Carolina and to develop a program that meets their needs. Spirited Life, a wellness intervention and holistic health study, will grow from that initiative.

2007 Duke U 2 1
2007

Helping Students Be Successful

A $75 million grant to Duke University supports financial aid for students.

2008 Thornwell home for children 2 1
2008

Expanding Nurse-Family Partnership

Nurse-Family Partnership expands in North Carolina and South Carolina through grants from The Duke Endowment and other private and public funders. The $45 million, seven-year effort is launched in 2008.

2011 Duke U West Union 2 1
2011

Duke University Receives $80 million for Renovations

The gift — the largest in Duke history — supports renovating West Union and Page and Baldwin Auditoriums.

Photo courtesy of Duke University Photography.

2012 Mary DBT Semans 2 1
2012

Mary D. B. T. Semans 1920–2012

Granddaughter of Ben Duke, Mary D.B.T. Semans continued the family’s charitable legacy by serving as an Endowment Trustee for 55 years and the first female Chair. She served as a Trustee for numerous institutions, including Duke University and the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation. Mrs. Semans received the Duke University Medal for Distinguished Meritorious Service; the National Brotherhood Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews; and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities. She was a 2009 inductee in the North Carolina Women’s Hall of Fame. Mrs. Semans was Chair of The Duke Endowment’s Board from 1982 to 2001 and Chair Emerita 2002 until her death in 2012.

2012 HC 2220 2 1
2012

$3 Billion in Grants Distributed

The Duke Endowment surpasses the $3 billion mark in grants distributed since inception.

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2012

Summer Literacy Programs

The Endowment launches an effort to engage rural churches in a summer learning intervention to improve literacy among elementary school students in their communities. Piloted in 2013, the program serves nearly 1,000 students by 2021.

2014 Building Entry 2 1
2014

Grounded in Community

The Endowment’s first standalone headquarters opens in August in Charlotte with meeting space on the first floor and two levels of office space for staff. Neighbors, grantees and other partners help us celebrate this important milestone in Mr. Duke’s legacy.

2015 Blue Meridian Partners
2015

Blue Meridian Partners

The Endowment’s Board agrees to join Blue Meridian Partners, a pioneering philanthropic model that finds and funds scalable solutions to problems that limit economic mobility and trap America’s young people and families in poverty.

2016 Focus on Well Being
2016

Focus on Well-Being

The Duke Endowment announces its Healthy People, Healthy Carolinas initiative aimed at taking a community-based approach to addressing chronic health issues such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

2016 FURMAN Advantage chemistry lab 2 1
2016

The Furman Advantage

At Furman University, the Furman Advantage launches with $47 million from The Duke Endowment. It combines a liberal arts education with immersive experiences outside the classroom, creating a personalized pathway that prepares students for lives of purpose, successful careers, and community benefit.

2017 Philanthropic Approach
2017

Philanthropic Approach

The Endowment’s program areas begin to review their grantmaking strategies, seeking input from grantees and others, and making necessary revisions. The goal is to have greater clarity about our work and its impact.

2017 Child Family 2020 2 1
2017

A New Strategic Emphasis

Approved by Trustees in 2017, The Duke Endowment announces a strategic emphasis on early childhood issues. This Zero to Eight emphasis reinforces the Endowment’s belief that a good beginning for children bodes well for their lives as adults and for their communities.

2018 children Thornwel 2 1
2018

Get Ready Guilford

Through the Get Ready Guilford Initiative, The Duke Endowment is spearheading a multi-year strategy to improve and equalize opportunity in Guilford County, North Carolina, by making large, targeted investments in children and their caregivers.

2019 Children high five 2 1
December 31, 2019

$4 billion in Grants Distributed

The Duke Endowment has awarded more than $4 billion in grants since its inception, including over $1.5 billion to Duke University. With assets of $4.7 billion at the end of 2020, it is one of the nation’s largest private foundations.

2020 roots for growth
2020

Roots for Growth

Amid social distancing and social unrest, the Endowment begins to take a deeper look at its grantmaking and organizational culture, reviewing its work through a racial equity, diversity and inclusion lens. Our leaders believe this is essential to achieving greatest impact in the Carolinas.

2020 RC Community Support 2 1
2020

Our Work Continues during the COVID-19 Crisis

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, the Endowment helps organizations in North Carolina and South Carolina address critical community needs with grants totaling more than $35 million. The funding is aimed at providing services and resources for demographic groups that have been disproportionately affected by the crisis.

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2022

Looking Ahead

As we look ahead to the Endowment’s 100-year celebration in 2024, we are committed to pursuing our mission to strengthen lives and communities in the Carolinas.