History

History of the Foundation

18871887

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.

1909

1909

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.

1914

1914

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.

1945

1945

Otto and Phoebe create the Phoebe Waterman Foundation to support relief in postwar Europe, scholarships for fatherless children, and medical and educational institutions.

1960

1960

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.

1974

1974

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.

1992

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.

2009

2009

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.

2013

2013

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.

2014

2014

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.

Photo Credit 1945: iStock; 1974: Michael Branscom; 2013: Photo courtesy United Way; 2014: Jonathan Kolbe; All other images courtesy WPF