Aluminum-clad Asian Education

  • Overseas
  • 1928

Charles Hall, a son of overseas missionaries, worked in a shed behind his family home in Oberlin, Ohio, to develop a smelting process that eventually reduced the cost of aluminum to just a two-hundredth of its previous price. He eventually founded the ALCOA company and became quite wealthy. In his will he left nearly all of his money to charity.

Hall shared the Protestant missionary zeal for promoting education in the less Christianized regions of the world, and stipulated that a third of his funds (about $235 million in current dollars) should be used to promote college education in Asia. The trustees of his estate eventually created an independent charitable trust closely connected to Harvard University and affiliated with China’s Yenching University. The Harvard-Yenching Institute developed the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard, created an Asian-language library, launched a Journal of Asiatic Studies, helped Yenching University expand its teaching of humanities, and built up five other colleges in China plus one in India.

More recently, the institute has supported Asian students and faculty with fellowships and sent American scholars overseas to study Asian culture at Asian universities. Hall’s institute has supported major translation projects, funded conferences, and published new works in China, Vietnam, and other countries. It has endured for most of a century as one of the premier academic organizations established with a single donation.