Our History

An evolving vision of philanthropy as opportunity

The Hillman foundations have partnered with people and organizations to improve the quality of life in Pittsburgh since 1951. For more than 65 years, Hillman philanthropy has helped to identify and support ways to make southwestern Pennsylvania a more competitive, innovative, and interesting place to live and work.

Historically, much of the foundations’ grantmaking has aimed to build and leverage Pittsburgh’s strengths: world-class research universities and medical institutions, innovative technology, a thriving cultural community, a high-performing social services sector, and livability.

“Pittsburgh is our home, and we love it. Our family has been here for over a hundred years now. Even beyond that, we see Pittsburgh as a city that ran into terrible problems—and has made a recovery. Pittsburgh’s foundations have been a steady rudder for saying, ‘Let’s keep moving ahead. Let’s try to get things done.’ ”
Henry L. Hillman


1951 Starting small

Pittsburgh businessman John Hartwell Hillman (1880–1959) establishes the Hillman Foundation, a small corporation for charitable purposes. He serves as president and appoints his son Henry L. Hillman as vice president.

During the 1950s, the Foundation makes smaller gifts for hospitals, schools, other needs of children, housing, and organizations such as the Boy Scouts and the United Way. The contributions go mainly to western Pennsylvania communities where The Hillman Company has mining or manufacturing interests.

1957 Growing support

Patricia Hillman Miller (1923–1968), a daughter of John Hartwell Hillman, establishes the Polk Foundation, chiefly to support Allegheny Valley School. Patricia Hillman Miller was a founder of this school. It started as a single site serving 10 children and has grown into a multifaceted life-care environment for more than 900 adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Hillman Foundation begins consistent and generous support of ACTION-Housing . Founded in 1957, ACTION-Housing has grown to become one of the nation’s leading producers of special-needs housing designed to help high-risk families and individuals achieve higher levels of independence and self-sufficiency.


1960 Building on the vision of a great research university

Henry L. Hillman and other members of the Hillman family agree to help construct a library at the University of Pittsburgh as a memorial to John Hartwell Hillman. The $3 million contribution is the Hillman Foundation’s first major, strategic gift.

Dedicated in 1968, Hillman Library has successfully strengthened the university’s vision to of becoming a nationally ranked research institution. Continuing Hillman support has kept pace with changing needs, as Hillman Library has become an international leader in the application of information technology to library services and collections.

1964 Augmenting Hillman philanthropy

Henry L. Hillman (1918-2017) forms the Henry L. Hillman Foundation to manage his own charitable giving and augment his generous personal giving, distinct from The Hillman Foundation.

1969 Recruiting full-time management

The Hillman foundations recruit Ronald W. Wertz (1937-2016) as their first executive director. The goal is to launch and manage a broader, more strategic giving program with Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania as the common denominator.

“Even then,” Mr. Wertz said, “Henry Hillman was looking for synergy and leverage — how one gift might build on another or generate additional giving to benefit the larger community.”


1972 Seeding cancer care

Mary Hillman Jennings (1921-1979), another daughter of John Hartwell Hillman, had established the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation  in 1968. In 1972, the Foundation makes a major gift to create a Radiation Oncology Center at Shadyside Hospital, in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh.

Today, this center is the hub for UPMC Hillman Cancer Center’s global network of radiation oncology facilities, drawing patients to Pittsburgh for highly advanced cancer care.



1980 Imagining something extra for Pittsburgh

The Hillman Hall of Minerals and Gems opens at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Henry L. Hillman, who had been a geology major at Princeton, first proposed the idea to the museum after he saw how much people enjoyed a display of minerals and gems at a Pittsburgh department store.

The Hillman Foundation worked alongside the museum to help develop Hillman Hall, augment the collection, and build and endow the exhibition. Today, the museum owns one of the world’s leading collections of minerals and gems — a collection that enriches education, builds Pittsburgh’s prestige, inspires additional giving, and attracts tourists who stimulate the local economy.

1984 A building full of light, art, and hope

The Hillman Foundation helps Manchester Bidwell Corporation construct a new home for its acclaimed arts and career training programs.

Manchester Bidwell was founded in 1968 by William E. Strickland, Jr., now a nationally known community leader, author, and visionary. Combining arts education for urban at-risk youth and vocational training for adults, the organization has become an international model for social innovation.

Built on a brownfield site, Manchester Bidwell’s campus has grown to help revitalize a struggling neighborhood … in addition to changing the lives of thousands of people.

1986 Attracting world-class faculty

The Hillman Professorship in Computer Science assists Carnegie Mellon University in attracting the best and brightest faculty. The School of Computer Science at CMU is currently ranked alongside MIT, Stanford, and UC Berkeley as the top four in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report.

1987 Building the family’s philanthropic assets

Henry L. Hillman endows foundations for each of his four children: Audrey Hillman Fisher, Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds, Henry Lea Hillman, Jr., and William Talbott Hillman.

He previously established small charitable term trusts when the children were teenagers, to engage them in philanthropy at an early age.



1990s Seeing new opportunities

As Henry L. Hillman moves away from full-time management of The Hillman Company, his commitment to innovative philanthropy grows. Mr. Hillman endows foundations for each of his grandchildren, and also identifies new opportunities to improve the quality of life in Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region.

These opportunities include strengthening institutions that contribute to Pittsburgh’s competitive advantage:

  • research universities and higher education
  • health care institutions and medical research
  • leadership in computer science
  • advanced technologies

1994 Inspiring synergy

The Hillman Foundation invites the Women’s Center and Shelter to join with other similar emergency shelters to expand support for women and children fleeing violence in their homes. The result is an innovative education project to increase awareness and understanding of domestic violence among human service professionals throughout southwestern Pennsylvania.

1994 Linking people to information

A Hillman grant helps establish the Electronic Information Network (EIN) to connect public libraries in southwestern Pennsylvania and ensure equal opportunity for residents to access information electronically.

1996 Innovating in rehabilitation

Hillman support helps to construct a new alternative housing/administrative building for The PROGRAM, an innovator in rehabilitation services for nonviolent female offenders.

1997 Advancing gender equity in politics

A contribution to Chatham College (later Chatham University) institutes the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics. The gift supplements the Elsie Hilliard Hillman Professorship in American Politics, established in 1990 to recognize Mrs. Hillman’s lifelong service as a distinguished public leader.

Today, the Center for Women and Politics is a center of excellence at Chatham and is a cornerstone of the university’s Women’s Institute.


1998 Leveraging research funding

In a bid to gain ground in women’s health care and to attract top medical scientists to Pittsburgh, the Hillman Foundation contributes $1.5 million to support the research of Magee-Womens Research Institute.

Started in 1992, the institute would grow from four basic scientists and $1 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to $37.9 million in NIH funding for 101 faculty researchers by 2015.

1999 Integrating cancer research and treatment

The University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) is western Pennsylvania’s only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. Established in 1985, it quickly outgrew various temporary facilities.

UPCI needed its own building — one where scientists and caregivers could easily collaborate to translate new therapies from the laboratory to the bedside.

In 1999 Hillman philanthropy made this vision possible with the largest single donation in the history of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) to that time: a lead gift of $10 million from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation, the Hillman Foundation, and Henry’s and Elsie’s own personal contribution.

Over the subsequent years, patients would come to Pittsburgh from around the world for care at the Hillman Cancer Center — which also became the nucleus for UPMC Cancer Center, one of the largest integrated community networks of cancer physicians and specialists in the country. In 2017, UPMC Cancer Center’s entire network and UPCI were combined and renamed UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in honor of Henry and Elsie Hillman.

“Our involvement in the Hillman Cancer Center has brought us tremendous satisfaction. People stop me on the street and tell me how well their family member was treated there. It really makes you feel good.”

–Henry L. Hillman

1999 Feeding hungry people

Hillman philanthropy helps the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank construct a new headquarters to expand food distribution. Built on the site of a former steel mill, it is the first LEED-certified building in Pittsburgh.


2000 Sharing the arts, enriching a community

A lead grant from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation enables Shady Side Academy to build the Hillman Center for the Performing Arts. A gathering and teaching place for the entire Senior School, it is also home to a wide variety of arts performances for students and the public.

2005 Investing in promising researchers

A $20 million donation from the Hillman and Henry L. Hillman Foundations creates the Hillman Fellows Program for Innovative Cancer Research at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Like venture capital, the grants give promising young researchers the means to take their ideas to the next level — perhaps leveraging a larger NIH grant or commercializing a new product.

As of 2016, 100 UPCI cancer investigators had been supported through the Hillman Fellows Program.

“UPCI not only improves health care in Pittsburgh. It also is focused on science, which we like because something big can come out of efforts like that.”
–Henry L. Hillman

2005 Raising the bar for organ transplant innovation

To maximize a lead gift for Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the Hillman and Henry L. Hillman Foundations make a combined $10 million gift, creating the Hillman Center for Pediatric Transplantation.

The donation emphasizes scientific research at Children’s Hospital, one of the busiest and most experienced pediatric transplant centers in the United States.

2006 Creating the final Hillman foundation

Henry L. Hillman establishes the Elsie H. Hillman Foundation to honor his wife’s lifetime commitment to Pittsburgh and her extraordinary civic service.

2008 Accelerating a cycle of innovation and progress

Hillman foundations increasingly seek to drive initiatives that bring together experts from various disciplines in order to advance institutions and the quality of life in Pittsburgh. A $10 million gift for the Hillman Center for Future-Generation Technologies at Carnegie Mellon University provides a home for CMU’s School of Computer Science — a location where “some of the most important and forward-looking research at the university, and in the world, is going to take place,” as Jared L. Cohon, CMU’s President at the time, stated.

“It’s kind of fun to see if you can make a gift and have it hit two or three birds at one time.”
–Henry L. Hillman

2008 Changing of the guard

David K. Roger is appointed president of the Hillman foundations. He joined the foundations in 2001 and previously served as vice president.

2009 Leveraging strengths and opportunities

Over three years, gifts of approximately $1 million from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation bring together Carnegie Mellon University’s strengths in electronics, computer science, artificial intelligence, robotics, civil engineering, and machine vision to develop Traffic21. This initiative aims to make Pittsburgh a world leader in smart transportation technology. By 2012, CMU leverages the investment to garner $25 million in new funding, and develops the first fully autonomous traffic-signal control technology.

“This is an opportunity for Pittsburgh to take an international leadership position in showing how low-cost, easy-to-implement technological solutions can reduce traffic congestion, vehicle fuel consumption and emissions while also improving safety and air quality.”
-Henry L. Hillman

2009 Streamlining the organization

The 18 Hillman foundations merge into a new private foundation, Hillman Family Foundations. Under that umbrella, however, they continue to function as individual foundations. The move creates a single pool of assets, managed by The Hillman Company, enhancing investment performance and resulting in major cost savings in reporting and regulatory compliance.


2012 Piloting the Opportunity Fund

Henry L. Hillman begins gifting additional money to the Henry L. Hillman Foundation to create an Opportunity Fund pilot within the Foundation. Its purpose is to take on significant community needs through seeding and scaling innovative solutions and building on the Pittsburgh region’s competitive advantages. The Opportunity Fund pilot successfully invested over $48 million into innovative projects in the Pittsburgh region from 2012 to 2017. The pilot concluded in 2017, and lessons learned from the Opportunity Fund will now guide the growing grantmaking of the entire Henry L. Hillman Foundation.

2013 Investing in the regional food economy

Grants to the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, and Community Kitchen Pittsburgh jumpstart the Henry L. Hillman Foundation’s food portfolio that by 2017 totaled in excess of $8 million in contributions to more than 20 organizations. These investments focused on reducing food waste, improving access to fresh and healthy food, and ensuring production, processing, distribution and consumption of local foods that benefit the region’s economy.

2014 Impacting brain research globally

A gift of $5 million provides endowment funds to help support the training of the next generation of brain researchers at CMU’s BrainHub. This initiative leverages the university’s unique, interdisciplinary strengths in computer science, the arts and humanities, science, engineering, business, and public policy. The goal is to develop innovative computational and technological approaches for studying the links between brain and behavior … and to impact brain research globally.

2014 Honoring political and civic engagement

A $5 million gift to the University of Pittsburgh establishes the Elsie Hillman Forum on Civic Leadership within the Institute of Politics. The forum honors Elsie Hillman’s (1925-2015) nationally recognized commitment to community and political engagement.

2015 Powering the future

The University of Pittsburgh receives $2.5 million to support the DC-AMPS program (Direct Current Architecture for Modern Power Systems). Focusing on direct current energy technologies and microgrids that integrate renewable power generation and storage, the DC-AMPS program leverages the strengths of the university, local and regional companies, the City of Pittsburgh, and community partners to make Pittsburgh the epicenter of an emerging distributed power industry.

“The grant allows Pitt to be part of exciting developments in energy and energy technology for the benefit of our region.”
–Patrick Gallagher, chancellor, University of Pittsburgh