George Peabody: The Incredible Stats Behind ‘Father of Modern Philanthropy’

Peabody's donations are legendary.

Google celebrated the life of George Peabody on Friday, the American businessman dubbed the “father of modern philanthropy” for his huge financial contributions to education and other causes. A fact sometimes lost in these tales of generosity, though, is the sheer scale of these donations.

Peabody was an incredibly rich man. Born in February 1795 into a poor Massachusetts family, he was only able to attend school for a few years. He then worked in a dry goods warehouse in Washington, D.C., and became a senior partner by 1829. It was during his time at the warehouse where he began to negotiate deals on business trips, at one point organizing an $8 million loan to pull the state of Maryland from the brink of bankruptcy. Eight years later, he moved to London to work as a banker where he amassed a large fortune.

Peabody’s donations are even more impressive when considered through the lens of inflation. Here’s how his donations would look today:

  • In 1862, Peabody donated $2.5 million to construct housing for workers in London, which in today’s money is worth nearly $60 million. The Peabody Trust is still operating today, as one of the largest affordable housing associations. He was honored as a freeman of the City of London.
  • In 1867 he donated $2 million for the advancement of education, a figure today worth over $32 million. This act earned him the Congressional Gold Medal on March 16 of that year. Two years later, he donated more money to the Peabody Education Fund to bring the total donation up to $3.5 million. Today, that sum would be worth over $60 million.
  • Peabody is believed to have donated around half of his $16 million fortune over the course of his life. Had he made all of his donations in 1869, the year that he died, the sum would today be worth over $140 million.

Friday’s doodle was created as part of a mural project by the students at George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, California:

The final design.


It’s not the first time Google has commemorated a famous figure with a homepage doodle — previous creations have honored horticulturist Gertrude Jekyll, author Gabriel García Márquez, and the father of modern montage Sergei Eisenstein.

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