Wharton School and Economic Education

  • Prosperity
  • 1881

Writing to the trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia metals manufacturer Joseph Wharton expressed disillusionment with the state of higher education. Citing his own experience in having to learn the ins and outs of business on the job, after leaving school at the age of sixteen, Wharton complained that there was no methodical training available for careers in commerce. He offered to begin to remedy this with a gift of $100,000 for the establishment of a “School of Finance and Economy.” And so in 1881, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania opened its doors—the first in the world of its kind.

In the coming years other donors followed Wharton’s lead. John Rockefeller gave several million dollars in 1898 to found the College of Commerce and Administration at the University of Chicago. New York University’s School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance was started by a handful of New York businessmen who supplied not only funds but also instructional expertise. In 1900 the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration at Dartmouth was born of a family benefaction. Banker-industrialist George Baker gave $5 million to start Harvard’s graduate program in business administration. Like the philanthropists who preceded them in pushing scientific education into university curricula (notably Stephen Van Rensselaer—see 1824 entry), the donors to business education saw even before most academics did the need for new educational paradigms to meet the demands of an increasingly complex U.S. economy.