History of the Foundation
After his father’s death, German-born Otto Haas goes to work as a bank clerk at age 15, learning English language skills that will help him create one of the world’s largest manufacturers of specialty chemicals.
Otto partners with chemist Otto Röhm to form the German corporation Rohm and Haas Company, a maker of leather tanning materials. Over the next half-century, Otto Haas creates a successful American corporation; the first branch opens in 1909 in Philadelphia.
Otto marries a dynamic and influential partner in Phoebe Waterman Haas. She earns degrees in mathematics and astronomy from Vassar College and the University of California, Berkeley, and is among the first women to earn a Ph.D. in astronomy.
Otto and Phoebe create the Phoebe Waterman Foundation to support relief in postwar Europe, scholarships for fatherless children, and medical and educational institutions.
Otto passes away, and the Foundation receives the bulk of his estate; Phoebe continues regular gifts to the Foundation until her death in 1967.
Otto and Phoebe’s sons, F. Otto and John C. Haas, take leadership roles at both the chemical company and the Foundation.
To recognize its range of grantmaking interests—arts and culture, human development, education, and the environment—the Foundation renames itself to commemorate William Penn, a 17th-century Quaker whose pursuit of an exemplary society led to the establishment of Philadelphia.
Foundation board chairman John Haas steps down after 32 years of service. John’s son David becomes chair of the board and the third generation of the Haas family takes over leadership of the Foundation.
A few months short of its 100th anniversary, the Rohm and Haas Company is acquired by the Dow Chemical Company. In December, John directs a significant portion of the family’s charitable assets from that sale to the Foundation.
In January, the Foundation announces a new strategic vision, which focuses grantmaking on three principle objectives: advancing high-quality learning opportunities for children from low-income families; protecting the region’s water quality; and fostering a dynamic and diverse cultural community in Greater Philadelphia.
In April, the Foundation announces a $35 million grant in seed funding to launch the Delaware River Watershed Initiative.
In September, the Foundation makes a $25 million grant—the largest in its history to a single institution—to the Free Library of Philadelphia to launch the 21st Century Libraries Initiative.