Joseph Newton Pew Sr PA conservation figure

Joseph N. Pew and the Pew Family

July 20, 1848 - October 12, 1912

Joseph Newton Pew was born into a Mercer County farming family, and followed a brief teaching career with a longer stint as a real estate broker. With several partners, Joseph invested in oil fields, piped natural gas, and incorporated Sun Oil (later Sunoco) in 1880. In 1881, he developed the Keystone Gas Company, and by 1889 was delivering gas as far away as Pittsburgh. Eventually he would go on to develop the Peoples Natural Gas Company, along with Edward O. Emerson. And while Joseph was a wealthy man, he was also very generous donating to numerous charities, including Grove City College.

Upon his death in 1912, management of the Pew companies passed to sons J. Howard and Joseph, Jr. and the companies thrived. Their commitment to their employees was evident during the Great Depression, when they didn’t lay off a single employee. They also established one of the first employee stock-sharing plans. The brothers also founded the largest private shipyard and biggest producer of oil tankers in America by World War I: Sun Shipbuilding.

The elder Pew’s giving nature likewise rubbed off on his children. Howard, Joseph and their two sisters, Mary Ethel and Mabel, joined forces to found The Pew Charitable Trust. If you are a viewer of public television or listener to NPR, you’ve probably heard of that organization. The trust is one of the nation’s wealthiest foundations, working on global research and public policy in a non-partisan manner. Its mission is to “solve today’s most challenging problems.” It gives funding to a wide range of causes including historically black colleges, the arts, healthy school meals, and land conservation.

The legacy of the Pew family continues to impact the world, through energy production and philanthropy.