People have an amazing capacity for kindness, compassion and generosity. This is true whether they come from the poorest of areas and barely get by or occupy a place among the richest echelons of society. Those from every economic status, such as Bill Malloy III, Christopher Reeve and countless others, and every country are often willing and even eager to gift time, effort and money to those in need. Given the opportunity to do good, they often choose to take it.
According to the National Philanthropic Trust, in America alone, people’s charitable efforts added up to almost $450 billion in 2019, with the largest source actually being individual givers. Furthermore, the organization also reports that 90% of households with high net worth donate to charity and the average value of adult volunteer work in 2017 (8.8 billion hours) had an estimated value of $195 billion. Those with more wealth obviously have more to give (and this does not render others’ contributions any less significant or valuable). Here are five of history’s biggest philanthropists, remembered as much for their charity as their achievements.
- Andrew Carnegie
A steel giant and titan of industry, Andrew Carnegie was the richest man in the entire world when he retired in 1901 at the age of 66 with a massive fortune. In the years before his death, he again made history by giving almost 90% of it away. He donated $350 million, which was worth approximately $5.2 billion in 2020, to various charitable organizations, universities and foundations, including $10 million towards scientific research and a pension fund for educators.
- The Gates
You’ve probably heard of Bill and Melinda Gates. Though they are no longer together, while they were, they gave liberally of their largesse. The Gates Foundation that they established is literally the largest of its kind on the whole globe. Its endowment is actually worth more than the GDP of certain countries. Between 1994 and 2018 the couple themselves contributed over $36 billion of their personal funds. They also made other donations not related to the Foundation.
- Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet, the investing king, is another man with great wealth and a bigger heart. He has donated $55.9 billion just since 2000. His goal and personal pledge are to give even more, 99% of his wealth by the time he passes.
- George Peabody
George Peabody is considered the literal father of philanthropy. He started out poor but worked his way up, first going into dry goods then banking, and eventually even took on J.P. Morgan the banking giant as his partner. As he aged, he gave away millions of dollars of his personal wealth — it hit him that his desire was not to die wealthy. His generosity was so renowned that he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal among other honors for it.
- William Wilberforce
William Wilberforce was born into a wealthy family. His philanthropic gifts to society were more than just money, though he donated vast amounts to charitable causes. Wilberforce devoted a large portion of his life to fighting slavery. He also missionary and animal rights organizations.
While these are not the only philanthropists in history (not even close) and certainly not the only ones who gave a lot, their contributions are forever set in history.