Benjamin N. Duke

Benjamin Newton Duke (1855–1929) was the primary philanthropist in the Duke family and a son of Washington Duke. He held a leadership role in several of the family companies, and was instrumental in founding Duke University.

Biographical History

1855 Apr 27
Benjamin Newton Duke is born.
B.N. Duke (1855-1929)

Ben's mother dies of typhoid fever.

He was the eldest son (middle child) of Washington and Artelia Roney Duke with two full siblings, Mary (older sister) and James Buchanan (J.B., younger brother). Something of a sickly child, he was very close with his brother J.B. from a young age. Artelia Roney was Washington Duke's second wife. His first wife died in 1847 and the couple had two sons together, Sidney and Brodie.

The Duke children go to live with their grandparents.
The Roney house in Alamance County, North Carolina.

When his father goes off to fight in the Civil War (a Unionist conscripted in the Confederate Navy), Ben and his siblings go to live with their maternal grandparents in Alamance County, North Carolina.

Washington Duke starts growing tobacco.
Washinton Duke's first cigarette factory.

Upon his return from the Civil War, Washington Duke, Ben and J.B.'s father, begins to grow tobacco on the family farm in Orange County, North Carolina. It is still several years before he incorporates a company and starts to sell the crop.

Ben and Mary Enroll at the New Garden School.
A letter written to J.B. Duke about the New Garden School.

Along with sister Mary, Ben enrolled at the New Garden School (later, Guilford College) near Greensboro. He left after one year.

Washington Duke moves to Durham.
The Washington Duke Homestead in Durham.

Washington Duke moved his tobacco operation to Durham, where he built a tobacco factory and began to concentrate on selling, rather than growing, the crop. This company would later become the W. Duke & Sons Tobacco Company.

1877 Feb 21
Ben marries Sarah Pearson Angier.
Sarah Duke's wedding portrait.

Angier, a Durham native, and Ben Duke wed in 1877. In the early 1880s, they had a son, George Washington Duke, who died at the age of 2.

W. Duke, Sons, and Company incorporates in Durham.
The W. Duke, Sons, and Company factory in Durham.

Washington Duke incorporated his company formally as W. Duke, Sons, and Company in 1878 with Ben named as a partner in the new company. Although Ben played an important role in the family business, his role was frequently overshadowed by his brother J.B.'s prominence.

The New York office of Duke and Sons opens.
Letterhead showing the Durham and New York offices of W. Duke, Sons, and Company.

With business booming in Durham, J.B. Duke moved to New York to open a new office of W. Duke, Sons, and Company devoted to manufacturing cigarettes using machines.

1884 Dec 08
Angier Buchanan Duke is born.
Angier Buchanan Duke as a child.

Angier Buchanan Duke, Sarah and Ben's son only surviving son, was born on December 8, 1884. He went on to graduate from Trinity College in 1905.

Ben Duke makes the family's first contribution to Trinity College.
The faculty of Trinity College in 1878.

It was over a decade (in 1898) before he made his first individual contribution, but this event maked the beginning of the Duke Family's involvement with Trinity College, which would later become Duke University.

1887 Nov 16
Mary Lillian Duke is born.
Mary Lillian Duke as a child.

Mary Lillian Duke, Ben and Sarah's only daughter, was born on November 16, 1887. She went on to graduate from Trinity College in 1907.

Ben Duke takes over the Duke family's philanthropic roles.
A celebration in honor of a donation made by the Duke family.

Never as keen a businessman as his brother J.B., Ben Duke instead focused his primary efforts on charitable giving and philanthropy. A survey done near the end of his life indicated that he gave financial aid to at least five hundred churches, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other organizations throughout his life, either personally or through the Duke Endowment.

1889 Dec 04
Ben Duke is elected to the Trinity College Board of Trustees.
Excerpt from Ben Duke's eulogy regarding his role as a trustee at Trinity College.

This event marked the beginning of the long and storied direct relationship between Ben Duke and Trinity College (later Duke University).

1890 Jan 01
The American Tobacco Company is formed.
W. Duke, Sons, and Company cigarette cartons.

W. Duke, Sons, and Company, becomes part of the American Tobacco Company, a conglomerate tobacco monopoly. Ben becomes a director of the company and serves for several years as the treasurer of American Tobacco.

Trinity College begins its move from Randolph County.
The Trinity College Class of 1891, the last class to attend Trinity College solely in Randolph County.

Washington Duke donated the money necessary to move Trinity College from Randolph County, North Carolina to Durham.

Trinity College has officially moved to Durham.
An image of Trinity College's campus in Durham before 1902.  The campus is still under construction.

Ben Duke sat on the executive committee of the Trinity Board of Trustees and saved it from bankruptcy following its move. He remained Trinity's primary benefactor and the principal link between the Duke Family and the school. He later endowed several professorships and maintained close personal and professional relationships with several of the College's presidents, including John F. Crowell, John C. Kilgo, and William Preston Few.

William Erwin comes to Durham.
A bar-b-que at Erwin Mills in 1904.

Ben brought William Erwin to Durham for the purpose of opening Erwin Mills. This move solidified the Duke family's prominence in the textile industry in the New South. In subsequent years, the Dukes also made major investments in other textile enterprises throughout North Carolina. Ben Duke would serve as President of Erwin Mills for many years. Erwin Mills was, by and large, a family company. Among the shareholders were Mary Duke Biddle, Angier Duke, Ben Duke, J.B. Duke, Doris Duke, and Sarah P. Duke.

"A great, perpetual endowment" is first envisioned.

In a letter to his brother, J.B., Ben makes noted that he wished to see "a great, perpetual endowment" that would ensure Trinity College's success and longevity into the future. This vision was eventually realized when J.B. created the Duke Endowment in 1924.

Ben establishes the Duke Scholarships.
A letter accompanying football tickets for Ben Duke.  The students gave him the tickets as a token of their thanks for his support.

Beginning in 1893, Ben Duke donated $50 per year for tuition for sixty Trinity College students from North Carolina. Therequirements stated that students had to be deserving and show need. The scholarship fund continued for many years, and is thought to be the model that the Angier B. Duke Memorial Fund was based on.

1893 – 1901
Ben serves as director of the Oxford Orphan Asylum.
The St. John's Building at the Oxford Orphan Asylum ca. 1897.

This orphanage, located in Oxford, North Carolina, was one of Ben Duke's earliest causes. He contributed copious funds, and served as director for many years.

During tough economic times, Ben pays to keep William Preston Few at Trinity.
Excerpt from B.N. Duke's eulogy indicating the scope of his support for Trinity College.

Future Duke University President William Preston Few came to Trinity in 1896 when the College's only English professor took a year-long leave of absence. At the end of this year, Ben, so impressed by Few's abilities and talents, paid his salary, allowing Trinity to keep Few in its employ. Few would go on to become president for 30 years, beginning in 1910 and the two men maintained a close, personal friendship.

Ben makes his first individual contribution to Trinity.

In 1897, Ben Duke made his first individual contribution to Trinity. Like other financial contributions he made to the College in the years following its move, it is said that this gift of $24,000 helped the College to stay afloat in times of financial crisis.

1898 Mar 01
Memorial Hall at Elon College is dedicated.
An image of Memorial Hall at Guilford College.

One of the first major contributions to a North Carolina college by the Duke Family, Memorial Hall at Guilford College was dedicated in memory of Ben and J.B.'s late sister, Mary Duke Lyon, who died of pneumonia in 1893.

Ben makes a major contribution to Trinity.

In 1899, Ben Duke made a major, individual contribution to Trinity College, in the amount of $90,000. This gift helped save the college from shuttering its doors in the midst of a major financial crisis.

Ben and J.B. become interested in alternative energy production.
Excerpt from B.N. Duke's eulogy regarding his interest in hydroelectric power.

Around 1900, Ben and J.B., inspired by their family's prominence in textile manufacturing, became interested in hydroelectric power.

Ben steps down as President of Erwin Mills.
A letter showin the Erwin Cotton Mills letterhead.

When Ben Duke stepped down, William Erwin succeeded him. At its height, Erwin Mills employed 25,000 workers and operated over 1,000 spindels.

Lincoln Hospital in Durham is established.

Lincoln Hospital, Durham's first hospital for African-Americans, was founded with an $8,000 donation made by Ben Duke in 1901.

Ben endows several chairs at Trinity.

Beginning in 1902, Ben Duke pledged annual contributions earmarked to endow the chairs in political economy, French, German, and applied math. This amount increased to $20,000 in 1909.

Makes a contribution to the law school.
The exterior of the old law school buildin at niht in 1938.

In 1904, Ben pledged an annual contribution of $3,000 for the new law school at Trinity. This donation was matched by J.B. Duke.

Ben buys a mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York.

He continued to maintain a home in Durham called Four Acres. The current North Carolina Mutual building sits on the site of Four Acres.

1905 May 08
Washington Duke dies.
A portrait of Washington Duke.

Washington Duke, the patriarch of the Duke Family, died. Both Ben and J.B. were in Durham with him at the time of his death.

1905 Jun 22
Ben and J.B. launch Southern Power.
The Southern Power station opening in 1905.

Southern Power would later be renamed Duke Power, then Duke Energy, and is headquartered in Charlotte. This company played a major role in the industrialization of Piedmont region in both North and South Carolina.

Ben makes another major gift to Trinity College.
A photoraph of the expansion efforts on East Campus.

Ben Duke donated $250,000 to Trinity College in support of its operation.

1912 Jan 01
American Tobacco is split up.
A subpoena from the American Tobacco Company dissolution case.

Following a Supreme Court antitrust injunction that came down in late 1911, the American Tobacco Company was split up. However, the Duke Family continued to play a major role in the tobacco industry after the dissolution.

1915 Apr 01
Angier Buchanan Duke weds.
A photoraph of Angier Duke's wedding to Cordelia Biddle.

Angier, Ben and Sarah's son, married Cordelia Biddle of Philadelphia in April.

1915 Jun 16
Mary Lillian Duke weds.
An invitation to Mary Duke Biddle's wedding.

Mary, Ben and Sarah's daughter, married Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., the brother of Angier's new wife Cordelia Biddle Duke. The wedding was held at Duke Farms, J.B. Duke's country estate in Sommerville, New Jersey. Doris Duke, J.B.'s only child, was the flower girl.

1915 Jul 12
Ben gives granite wall at Trinity.
Two shots of the granite wall surrounding East Campus.

Ben Duke gifted Trinity College (now Duke's East Campus) with the granite wall the surrounds the grounds.

Ben makes a $100,000 donation to Trinity College.
An ariel view of Southgate Hall.

This donation was earmarked for the construction of Southgate Building, which was to be a new dormitory for women on Trinity's campus.

Angier dies in a boating accident.
A portrait of Angier Duke.

His death struck a profound blow to an already-ailing Ben Duke.

Ground is broken on the Duke Building at Elon.
The cornerstone of the Artelia Roney Duke Science Building at Elon College (now Elon University).

Ben and J.B. donated money for the Artelia Roney Duke Science Building at Elon College (now Elon University) in memory of their mother. Elon had recently suffered a devastating fire, and most of the buildings needed to be rebuilt. The same year, Ben and J.B. commissioned a portrait of their mother, Artelia Roney Duke. The portrait still hangs at Elon.

Duke University is born.
A photograph of the Duke Chapel taken during the construction of West Campus, which occurred after Trinity College was renamed Duke University.

In recognition of the extraordinary contributions of the Duke Family to the school, Trinity College changed its name to Duke University.

1924 Dec 01
The Duke Endowment is established.
An excerpt from Ben Duke's eulogy extolling the breadth and depth of his philanthropy.

J.B. Duke established the Duke Endowment in December, 1924. Following this event, Ben Duke disbursed nearly $3 million to schools and colleges throughout the South, with a special emphasis on schools in the Carolinas. Aside from Trinity College and Duke University, other recipients included Davidson and Elon Colleges, many churches (for both black and white congregations), and the orphan asylum in Oxford, North Carolina.

Angier B. Duke Memorial established.
An excerpt from Ben Duke's eulogy regarding the A.B. Duke Scholars.

Established by Ben Duke in memory of his late son Angier, the fund continues to provide scholarships for students at Duke University to this day.

Over the course of the year, B.N. Duke gives $1,118,358 to southern colleges.
A parade at Limestone College in celebration of a major gift from the Duke Endowment.

This large sum represents individual gifts from B.N. Duke to colleges and universities around the south, separate and apart from the gifts of the Duke Endowment, the Duke family, or other groups. Among the schools that he contributed to were Wofford College, Limestone College, Wesleyan College, and the Peace Institute.

The B.N. Duke Endowment is established.
An excerpt from Ben Duke's eulogy regarding the B.N. Duke Endowment.

The fund was established by the Duke University Board of Trustees.

1928 Apr 27
B.N. Duke bust is unveiled.

On Ben's 73rd birthday, his bust is unveiled in the library on Duke's campus. An address is made by President Flowers, in which he said that "If Mr. Duke had not been born, Trinity College would never have been in Durham, but would have remained at the old site in Randolph County with resources insufficient to enable it to fill its mission; and Duke University would never have existed."

1929 Jan 08
Ben Duke dies at his home in New York.
A photograph from Ben Duke's funeral.

He left behind a profound and lasting legacy of philanthropic giving. The Durham Sun stated that he "fulfilled his destiny on earth. He builded well. He served well. He died at the conclusion of a life of noble accomplishment." He was interred at Maplewood Cemetary in Durham.

Ben's remains are moved to Duke Chapel.

Ben Duke was re-interred in the Memorial Chapel of the Duke University Chapel, alongside the remains of his father and brother, J.B. Duke.

1936 Sep 03
Sarah Pearson Duke dies.
A portrait of Sarah P. Duke.

Sarah Pearson Angier and Benjamin Newton Duke were married for over 50 years. The famous Duke Gardens (officially titled the Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens) were given as a gift to her mother's memory by Mary.

B.N. Duke Memorial Organ dedicated.
The B.N. Duke organ in Duke Chapel.

The large, main organ in Duke Chapel was dedicated to the memory of B.N. Duke.

A statue of Benjamin Newton Duke is unveiled.

The statue, located on Duke's East Campus, still stands today.