By David Meyer
March 16, 2018

The Google Doodle on Thursday honored George Peabody, specifically the 151st anniversary of him being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

So who was he?

For a start, he built a bank—Peabody, Morgan & Co.—that was the ancestor of today’s JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. An American living in London for much of his life, he was also a prominent lobbyist for the reestablishment of credit lines to U.S. states, notorious in the mid-19th century for defaulting on their debts. Before moving into financial services, Peabody made his money in trading, and he got very rich off the advent of the railroads.

Peabody is considered the first modern-day philanthropist. Print Collector/Getty Images
Print Collector Getty Images

But Peabody is most remembered as the father of modern philanthropy, being responsible for more than $8 million in donations (at the time, an astonishing amount of money).

In the U.K., the Peabody Trust is still one of the British capital’s largest affordable-housing associations. Peabody founded it in 1862 (as the Peabody Donation Fund), aiming to “ameliorate the condition of the poor and needy of this great metropolis, and to promote their comfort and happiness.”

In the U.S., Peabody’s philanthropy was generally aimed at education. The Peabody Education Fund was intended to educate “the destitute children of the Southern States.” The Peabody Institute in Baltimore (today known as the Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University,) is the oldest conservatory in the U.S. He also set up the Peabody Academy of Science in Salem, Massachusetts (today called the Peabody Essex Museum.)

Thursday’s Google Doodle was actually created by students at George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, California.

Apart from being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal—one of America’s highest civilian awards—Peabody was also made a Freeman of the City of London. Queen Victoria tried to make him a knight or baronet, but he refused—although she did manage to honor him in death, allowing a temporary burial in Westminster Abbey before his remains sailed stateside, according to his wishes.

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