The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation was created in 1978 through the bequest of John D. MacArthur, a Pennsylvania native who amassed a great fortune in the insurance business and in real-estate investments in Florida. The bulk of his fortune, both company shares and real estate, was left to the foundation, whose endowment had surpassed $4 billion (with more than $150 million annual grant making) by 1998.
At its inception, the MacArthur Foundation attracted attention because it was a new, general purpose, nationally focused foundation with an asset base that almost immediately made it among the country's largest. The MacArthur Foundation was unusual in that the donor left no specific instructions as to the purpose of his philanthropic legacy. He simply named a number of business associates, old Chicago friends, and prominent academics as the board of trustees, whose job it has been to develop a systematic program of giving.
The MacArthur Foundation had become one of the largest and most important philanthropic foundations in the country by the end of its second decade. It focused on two major areas of giving: Human and Community Development (with special attention to Chicago and to Palm Beach County, Florida), and Global Security and Sustainability. But it was best-known to the general public for its MacArthur Fellows Program, popularly known as the “genius” awards—large prizes given without application to people of outstanding promise and performance in any field of endeavor.
The Electronic Encyclopedia of Chicago © 2005 Chicago Historical Society.
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