Henry Buhl, Jr. built his fortune in the retail industry with his partner, Russell Boggs. In its day, the Boggs and Buhl Department Store on the North Side of Pittsburgh served the carriage trade of the western Pennsylvania region.
Louise C. Buhl
Henry Buhl, Jr. died June 11, 1927 and the Buhl Foundation was created, as a memorial to "my beloved wife, Louise C. Buhl."
Buhl, the first multipurpose foundation in Pittsburgh, was endowed with $11 million, which made it then one of the ten largest of such foundations in the country. Mr. Buhl wanted the Foundation to be especially concerned with the "well-being of the citizens of the City of Pittsburgh, and the County of Allegheny." He hoped the Foundation would be free in vision and purpose and capable of adaptability and usefulness. His foresight caused the then president of the Carnegie Corporation to refer to the Foundation as "a model for an endowment broadly conceived as to purpose, but with special reference to the needs of a given locality."
The Early Years
The Foundation's grant program was just beginning at the onset of the Great Depression. With the Depression came the need for model projects, which could also put people to work, and so Chatham Village was conceived. Chatham Village became a renowned project, studied and visited to this day by planners and architects from all over the world; it offered residents low rents while providing aesthetically pleasing individual housing units for families seeking homes that they had been otherwise unable to afford. The Board of Managers emphasized a long-term rental policy over ownership because of the volatile economy of the day. Chatham Village offered families the opportunity to "ride-out" the Depression until a more buyer-friendly economy emerged. The Chatham Village project was turned into cooperative housing in 1960. In 2005, it was designated a National Historical Landmark, taking its place alongside unique historic treasures such as the Allegheny County Courthouse and Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece.
As the 1930's rolled on, the Buhl's interest in data collection and planning to justify its grantmaking initiatives began. In 1937, the Foundation financed a survey of Pittsburgh's social condition. The results were outlined in a book by Philip Klein, A Social Study of Pittsburgh, and the publication did not produce the rosy picture that most industrialists in Allegheny County perceived. But, the Buhl Foundation had always been interested in improving the condition of Pittsburgh. As Professor Donald J. Lisio of the University of Wisconsin, in his book "Investing in Pittsburgh's Progress: The History of the Buhl Foundation," noted in 1964:
“Many other civic agencies contributed heavily, but foremost among the leaders in the drive for a better Pittsburgh between 1928 and 1945 were the Managers and Directors of the Buhl Foundation.”
In the belief that carefully collected data should inform public policy and private philanthropy, grants were made to build up social sciences in Pittsburgh. The Foundation supported social research by establishing the Bureau of Social Research. It initiated a program of economic research at the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Pittsburgh. It supported historical research by funding the Western Pennsylvania Historical Society, and government research in the Western Pennsylvania Economy League. Most of these organizations still continue to serve the community under original or evolved forms.
Allegheny Regional Library
Foundation grants helped establish Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Western Pennsylvania; the School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh; the Pittsburgh Foundation; the University of Pittsburgh Press; Western Pennsylvania Conservancy; Pittsburgh Child Guidance Center; Psychological Services of Pittsburgh (now PSP Human Resource Development); and the Economy League of Western Pennsylvania. In 1937, the Foundation provided an initial grant to the Pittsburgh Symphony Society toward the establishment of a symphony orchestra. While at Psychological Services of Pittsburgh, Frederick Hertzberg published his management classic Motivation to Work, with support from the Foundation.
An early grant went to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh to encourage adult continuing education. Another was for the study of the social needs of the Hill District by the National Urban League.
Original Zeiss projector at Buhl Planetarium
Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science, 1939
In 1939, the Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science was opened, another major construction project. Conceived in 1935, the Planetarium was only the fifth of its kind in the United States and the Foundation initially appropriated $750,000 for construction and start-up costs. Donated to the city, the Buhl Planetarium represented a major commitment of the Foundation which provided funding of nearly $6 million until the Planetarium's merger with the Carnegie Science Center in 1991. It was succeeded by a new Henry Buhl, Jr. Planetarium in the Carnegie Science Center and in 2006 by the Buhl Digital Dome. Characterized by advanced production technology, the programs engineered at the Buhl Digital Dome are translated into 15 different languages and are shown regularly in 20 foreign countries.
To further advance science in the region, the Foundation established professional chairs at Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). One chair was in Electrical Engineering (1944) and one in Theoretical Nuclear Physics (1950). In 1998, a chair was established at the University of Pittsburgh in another frontier of science in the School of Library and Information Science. To mark the 75th anniversary of the Foundation, the Foundation endowed a chair at Carnegie Science Center known as the Henry Buhl, Jr. Chair, to be held by the director of the Science Center. Over the years, the Foundation funded several higher education laboratories, including one in which the Salk vaccine to prevent polio was developed.
A more recent focus by the Buhl Foundation was the encouragement and introduction of information technology to libraries. It began in the 1990's with the support of automation within college and university libraries, followed by leadership grants introducing information technology as an asset for public libraries, thereby helping to give access to the internet to all citizens in the region. The Foundation further supported the establishment of the Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) which has proved an effective advocate for member libraries. The Foundation also addressed the needs of the nonprofit service sector by enabling new technologies to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
Quality of Life
Civic improvement has also been of interest to the Foundation as the Pittsburgh region transitioned from a steel-based economy. Buhl has frequently supported the region's parks and recreational opportunities. The Art Cinema, a pornographic blight within the heart of the Cultural District, was renovated to become a lively cultural gem now known as the Harris Theater. In the 1990's, a system of wayfinding signage was funded to make the city more accessible to residents and visitors. During that same period, the Foundation began its funding of the WQED History Series produced by Rick Sebak; these engaging videos have increased civic pride in the region and helped market Pittsburgh throughout the Public Broadcasting System.
The Foundation has always been sensitive to its roots, remembering that Henry Buhl, Jr. lived, worked and is buried on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Particular emphasis has been given to projects located there. Its cultural assets, such as the National Aviary, the Pittsburgh Children's Museum, The Mattress Factory and Carnegie Science Center have all received support. Civic and neighborhood enhancements have also been funded there as have been certain human services and youth development programs serving the North Side.
A Family of Funds
In his will, Henry Buhl, Jr. provided that if any person were disposed to make gifts or bequests to the Buhl Foundation, the Board of Directors had the power to receive them and manage them for the purposes of the Foundation. Therefore, the Foundation was willing to incorporate both the McCreery Memorial Fund and the Frick Educational Fund into the work of the Foundation. Each retains its original mission, is separately identified and receives the benefits of efficiencies in overhead and financial management. The Buhl Foundation has been honored to serve the community in this way.
The Foundation looks back with gratitude to the region which it serves and to all those who have worked with it for the well-being of Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania in fulfillment of its founder's hopes.