At 95 years of age, Henry L. Hillman is one of the world’s oldest billionaires. He inherited his fortune from his industrialist father, J.H. Hillman, Jr., of Pittsburgh Coke & Chemical. Henry Hillman diversified the fortune by investing in real estate, private equity, and venture capital. His net worth currently sits at $2.5 billion.
Last month, the Hillman Family Foundation gave a $5 million gift to the University of Pittsburgh in support of its Institute of Politics, a public policy and political forum for local civic leaders, as well as a resource for students and other aspirants. The gift will help fund the Civic Engagement Scholars Program and several other intitatives the institute hopes will help support students conducting independent public policy research.
The interesting thing about this gift is that Hillman didn’t go to the University of Pittsburgh. Hillman went to Princeton and has given to a number of different universities from PA-based Carnegie Mellon to Colgate University. What about Henry’s wife, Elsie Hillman, who also helps run the foundation? Well, she didn’t go to the Unversity of Pittsburgh either, but she has quite the political CV, which helps us start to understand this gift.
Here’s quick rundown: In the 1950s, Elsie Hillman campaigned for Ike Eisenhower. In the 1960s, she became an advocate for civil rights and served on the board of several historically African-American organizations. Later that decade, she became the chair of the Allegheny County Republican Party, the first woman ever to do so in an urban locale. Finally, in 1975, she began a two-decade tenure as a national committeewoman for the RNC. In other words, it makes sense that a former politico like Esie would want to cultivate political engagement.
Elise and her husband Henry mainly focus their giving on their state and especially the Western Pennsylvania region. The Hillman Family Foundation was set up in 1951 by Henry’s father and Henry took the reins of the foundation in 1964. In recent years, they’ve given money to everything from a start-up bike sharing company in downtown Pittsburgh to a photography initiative under their name at the Carnegie Museum of Art. The Hillmans dabble in everything from conservation to animal health.
The Hillman Family Foundation is under the umbrella of the larger Hillman Family Foundations, which has 17 other foundations underneath it. The foundations are spread throughout the country.