For the Record: Joseph Wharton

When the Wharton School was established in 1881, a groundbreaking branch of higher education was created for the study of business management. 

Joseph Wharton

University Archives and Records Center

Penn's Business school was founded with a $100,000 donation from industrialist Joseph Wharton, at a time when many people didn’t know the value of a business education.

Founded with a $100,000 donation from industrialist Joseph Wharton, the school, known then as the Wharton School of Finance and Economy, was launched at a time when many people didn’t know the value of a business education.

In the school’s first year, only 13 people enrolled in the program. In 1890, with the growing appeal of studying business, the American Bankers Association endorsed the establishment of schools of finance and economy, using the Wharton School as a model. Seventeen years after the Wharton School was formed, the University of California and University of Chicago opened their own business schools. Harvard joined the list in 1908.

A Philadelphia native, Joseph Wharton was the founder of the Bethlehem Iron Company. He personally shaped the curriculum of the Wharton School, combining practical knowledge along with classical education to prepare students for a successful career in business management. In the school’s early years, students were also required to learn Latin, French, and German, and they took mandatory penmanship classes.

On the 100th anniversary of the founding of Penn’s acclaimed business school, the Postmasters of America honored Joseph Wharton by issuing a postage stamp to commemorate the occasion. The 18-cent stamp featured a sketch of him beside the words, “Professional Management” on a blue background. The accompanying photo shows a specially created collector’s item postcard featuring a Colorano “silk” cachet color print of Joseph Wharton next to College Hall. The postcard also includes the Wharton stamp with a “first day of issue” postmark.

Sheldon Hackney, who was president of Penn at the time, joined then-Wharton Dean Donald Carroll, a few of Joseph Wharton’s descendants, Philadelphia Postmaster S.N. DeVito, and local dignitaries gathered on campus, for a ceremony marking the issuance of the stamp. At the ceremony, Hackney said other business schools should celebrate the stamp “because at least now they have a chance to lick Wharton.” 

For more information on this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at

Originally published on January 19, 2012