Pew Legacy

Joseph Newton Pew Legacy

​The Pew Legacy

The following excerpts are reprinted from the publication A History of the Pew Charitable Trusts with permission by The Pew Charitable Trusts who enlisted Joel R. Gardner to gather archival materials and to document the evolution of the organization. Additional information was added from Faith and Freedom - A Biographical Sketch of a Great American - J. Howard Pew by Mary Sennholz. The significance of the lives of Joseph Newton Pew and J. Howard Pew to the birth, growth and continued success of Grove City College is worthy of our acknowledgment.

Joseph Newton Pew

Joseph Newton Pew was born in 1848, the youngest of ten children born to John and Nancy Glenn Pew on a farm in Mercer, Pa. The family farm was said to be a station on the Underground Railway (a major route for slaves from the deep South seeking freedom). The family, devoted Presbyterians, left their church and helped to found a new one that embraced their ethical stand against slavery.

Joseph Newton excelled in Mercer area schools and at age 18 was asked to teach in a one-room schoolhouse in London, Pa., a few miles west of Grove City. He held the position from 1866-1869. One of his exceptional students was Isaac Ketler, who went on to found Grove City College. Joseph Newton attended the Edinboro Normal School for one year following his teaching experience and then he focused his interest on business.

In 1870, at age 22, J.N. Pew opened a real estate business in Mercer and shortly thereafter moved to the bustling town of Titusville where oil had been discovered a decade earlier along the banks of Pithole Creek. During the 1870s Pew met and married Mary Catherine Anderson.

In 1881, he developed the Keystone Gas Company which used the by-products of oil, such as natural gas, to provide heat and light for the community of Bradford. By the following year, he was delivering gas to Pittsburgh and owned the Haymaker gas well in Murrysville, then the largest in the world. Eventually, and in partnership with E.O. Emerson, he developed the Peoples Natural Gas Company.

In the late 1880s, J.N. Pew founded the Sun Oil Line Company, named after the largest of the heavenly bodies. It was during this time that he and his wife began to raise a family and to pass along those values that they believed were essential to leading a productive and faithful life. They guided their children's religious training, so that they would follow Christian ideals.

His most important philanthropic contribution was inspired by his former pupil Isaac Ketler, who sought to establish in western Pennsylvania a college with the highest of academic standards and religious commitment. In 1895, when the College reorganized as a non-profit institution, the board of trustees elected Joseph Newton Pew as its president. It was at that time that Mr. Pew began his generous support of the College.

Curiously, a gusher in Texas (Spindletop) led him to Philadelphia, Pa., at which time he sent his nephew to assess the new fields and to explore the feasibility of acquiring leases. He entered into a partnership with United Gas Improvement Company of Philadelphia to build a refinery along the Delaware River, and he purchased an eighty-two-acre site at Marcus Hook, Pa., near Chester. The first ocean-borne shipment of Texas crude arrived in Marcus Hook in 1902 on a converted Great Lakes ore carrier called the S.S. Paraguay.

J. Howard Pew

By this time, J.N. Pew was the father of five children. J. Howard Pew, the second son, had completed an undergraduate degree at the age of 18 from Grove City College and was attending MIT. He left school to join his father to develop the refinery in Marcus Hook. Upon the death of J.N. Pew in 1912, the family selected J. Howard to succeed his father as president of Sun Oil Company, a position he held for 35 years. During that period, Sun Oil expanded into shipbuilding, supporting American forces through two world wars, and built national and international enterprises.

J. Howard Pew's business and personal philosophies were closely linked, based on a strong Christian faith and commitment to democratic ideals. He strongly supported the political and religious freedoms that encouraged free competition in enterprise.

Joseph Newton Pew served as the president of the board of trustees of Grove City College from 1895 until his death in 1912. J. Howard Pew joined the board of trustees of Grove City College in 1912 and served as its president from 1931 until his death in 1971.


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