Guggenheim Family

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
The Guggenheim family has created a legacy by funding the development of foundations, schools, the creation of museums, art collections, innovations in science, aeronautics, and the advancement of critical thought. They have been an example of influencing culture thorough philanthropic contributions.


Biographical Highlights

The Guggenheim Family left a strong mark in the industrial smelting industry of the early 1900’s. By 1918 Forbes reckoned that the Guggenheims were the second richest family in America (Kaufmann 2004). However, they are more widely remembered as a long line of philanthropists. Five key philanthropists have emerged from this extensive family. By creating a series of foundations, the family is credited for promoting the development of individuals by funding research and the development of scholarly thought.

The Family’s philanthropic investments have traditionally focused on three areas. Widely known for their advances in the sciences the first focus of the Guggenheim Family has been the scholarly research of science, including biology and aviation (John Simon Guggenheim Foundation). Secondly, the Guggenheim Family has created funding for the analysis of cultural engagement including scholarly research of current sociopolitical issues and the encouragement of studies within the humanities (Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation). Additionally the family’s philanthropists are credited with substantial philanthropic contributions to encourage creative individuals and the appreciation of the arts.

The Guggenheim Family has created a legacy by funding the development of foundations, schools, the creation of museums, art collections, acts of individual creation, innovations in science, aeronautics, and the advancement of critical thought.


Historic Roots

Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) was a tailor of Swiss-Jewish decent who immigrated to the United States in 1847 (John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, Oppenheim, 2002). He and his wife had eight sons. Meyer created the family fortune in the late 19th century beginning with 300,000 from an investment in railroad stocks (Oppenheim, 2002). From there he moved to importing Swiss embroidery and then eventually into the production of metals including silver copper and lead (Infoplease, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation). Meyer started the Philadelphia Smelting and Refining Company, and eventually took over American Smelting in 1901. At one time the Guggenheim family was said to control 31 industrial, import, and farming companies in the US and abroad (Wooster, 2005).

Of his eight sons, Daniel, Solomon and Simon, are credited as highly influential philanthropists. Daniel’s son Harry contributed to the completion of philanthropic endeavors begun by his uncle Solomon and was a philanthropist in his own right. One of Meyer’s other sons, Benjamin, died heroically while on the maiden voyage of the USS Titanic, his daughter Peggy Guggenheim is credited with extensive involvement in the support of the arts (The Peggy Guggenheim Collection).

Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930) was credited for shaping much of the family business; he combined and presided over, the Guggenheim and American Smelting companies. Solomon Robert Guggenheim (1981-1949) was also active in the family business creating mining strong holds most notably in Colombia (The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation). Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941) was for a short time, a Republican Senator for Colorado, and the chief ore buyer for family factory. He worked in Colorado for a number of years overseeing the Leadville mines (American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise).

Harry Frank Guggenheim (1890-1971) was the son of Daniel Guggenheim. Harry fought in two world wars and was the ambassador to Cuba from 1929-1933. Harry was also the co-founder, along with his wife Alicia Patterson, of Newsday Magazine (

Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), the daughter of Benjamin, was an art collector and gallery owner. Noted as one of the most important art patrons of the 1930s and 40s. She owned and operated 3 galleries in the US and Europe. Her New York gallery, Art of This Century was one of the first to show such artists as Rothko, Pollock, Dali, Moore, and Brenton (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum).



As a philanthropist, Daniel Guggenheim is best known as an aviation pioneer. Along with his wife Florence, and their son Harry, Daniel Guggenheim created the Daniel Guggenheim Fund for the promotion of Aeronautics in June 16, 1926 (Wooster, 2005). While the fund was operational, it invested 2.6 million for the creation of aeronautical schools and research centers at 11 different universities. By conducting competitions to create innovations, and funding the research of individuals, projects sponsored by Daniel Guggenheim are said to have increased the safety of Aeronautics by encouraging the development of aerodynamics, the use of gyroscopes, encouraging the use of commercial passenger flights, and promoting weather related improvements (Ranfranz, 2005). In 1930, the fund ended after four years. The Daniel Guggenheim Medal continues to be one of aviation’s highest awards. Later, the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim fund was established to continue the promotion of scientific advancement.

Daniel’s brother Simon gave extensive funding to the Colorado School of Mines and to other Colorado universities for the creation of buildings. To this day a Foundation named after the philanthropist, The Simon Guggenheim society provides annual support for the Colorado School of Mines (Colorado School of Mines). More significantly in 1925, Simon created a memorial fund for his son called the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The fund offers one-year fellowships for scholars and artists, ages 25-35 (The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation).

Although Harry Guggenheim also financially contributed to the Daniel Guggenheim fund he began his own foundation, the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation, which was formed to contribute critical thought and analyses of the world issues of violence and conflict (The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation).

Solomon Guggenheim began collecting non-objective paintings in 1929, and began the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation to purchase and increase the appreciation of modern art. After beginning to amass a large collection, Solomon began plans to create the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York Solomon died before his project was complete and Harry Guggenheim saw to the completion of his Uncle Solomon’s dream (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum). Now owned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum are the collected works of Peggy Guggenheim, whose extensive art collection, as well as, her estate was left to the museum upon her death (The Peggy Guggenheim Collection). The collection included the work of Kandinsky, Tanguy, Moore, Duchamp, Picasso, Rothko, Dali, Breton, and Pollock. Peggy Guggenheim also financed the activities of artists such as Jackson Pollock, providing funding for them to create work early in their careers (The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Wikipedia).


Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

The philanthropy of the Guggenheim Family has spurred the expansion of the field of aeronautics, the humanities and the arts. The family foundations have contributed to the development of individuals. The Daniel Guggenheim, John Simon Guggenheim, and Henry Frank Guggenheim Foundations fund individual research and development (The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation). The Daniel Guggenheim foundation provided individual support for physicist Robert Goddard and aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh (Ranfranz, Kluger). Currently the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation annually contributes the scholarly and artistic pursuits of 200 individuals in the United States, Canada, Latin America, and the Caribbean. For example, young recipients of the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships include composer Aaron Copeland, painter Phillip Guston, and writer Tom Wolfe (John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation). These foundations continue to prove that support for young emerging talent is an effective way to impact the development of the arts and sciences.

Additionally, the creation and expansion of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has accumulated a vast collection of modern art thought the donation of major benefactors both finically and in the form of collection donation. The Guggenheim Museum now has facilities in the United States in New York City and Las Vegas. Oversees, there are museums in Venice, Italy, Berlin, Germany and Bilbao, Spain. All of the museums provide public access to some of the world’s previously exclusive collections (Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum).

The Guggenheim Family has been an example of those who have amassed great wealth creating and influencing culture thorough philanthropic contributions. The Guggenheim legacy of support for the advanced scholarship of individuals and the donation of arts collections for public access has benefited the advancement of human activities in the sciences and arts.


Key Related Ideas

Philanthropic families of the early 1900s. The early 1900s saw an increase in the wealth of individuals as well as families. These families focused on science, education, social disparities, culture, and the arts. The foundations that these individuals began are still creating a significant impact on American Philanthropic giving. For further examples, study the Rockefeller (, Ford (, and Carnegie foundations.

Fellowship is the giving of grant money to individuals for scholarly research. Guggenheim fellowships have promoted the advancement of the sciences as well as the arts and humanities (Wooster, 2005). John Simon Guggenheim Fellows receive funding to support their activities in whatever way that they see fit. For more information about Guggenheim fellowship visit

Mission Specificity of Foundations. The case of the Guggenheim family demonstrates how donors who have strong ideologies behind their philanthropic activities and continue to be an active part of their foundations create lasting grounded organizations (Wooster, 2005).

Independent Foundations. The Foundation Center categorizes foundations into four types, Independent, Company, Operating, and community. All of the Guggenheim foundations are independent, typically deriving endowment funds from a single source such as a family (Mirikitani, 1999). However, Simon Guggenheim inspired the creation of a community foundation, the Simon Guggenheim Society (The Colorado School of Mines).


Important People Related to the Topic

The Guggenheim foundations and philanthropic giving have contributed funding to many innovative American thinkers.

  • Aaron Copland (1900-1990) was 26 years old when he received a Guggenheim scholarship and went on to be an American Composer (Wooster, 2005). He composed both concert and film music. 
  • Robert H. Goddard (1882-1945) was a physics professor whose contributions to rocket science included a rocket that could travel in a vacuum, and one of the first high altitude rockets. For these and other aeronautical innovations, Goddard has been named one of Time’s 100 Most Important People of the Century. Goddard’s research was funded by Harry Guggenheim for 4 years and the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation for 11 years (Kluger). 
  • Charles Augustus Lindbergh (1902-1974) was a famous American aviator and most well known for the first non-stop Atlantic Flight. Sponsored by Daniel Guggenheim, Lindbergh spent three months in 1927 traveling the continental United States stopping in 92 cities promoting Aviation and the technology of flight (Ranfranz).
  • Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) was the creator of the action painting movement, part of the American Abstract Expressionism. Pollock was given his first solo show, supported by a monthly stipend, and promoted by Peggy Guggenheim. In 1951 Pollock was promoted by Time magazine as the greatest living artist (The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Wikipedia).

Related Nonprofit Organizations 

  • Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Foundation, created in 1924, focuses on project, program and seed money grants to encourage human progress with specific interests in Criminal Justice. It also continues to promote an interest in aeronautics, a continuation of an earlier foundation the Daniel Guggenheim Foundation that focused solely on the advancement Aeronautical science.
  • Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation annually supports 10 or more individuals pursuing postdoctoral research by granting $15,000 research grants to encourage the creation of criticism, prediction, analysis, and ideas. Support is given to individuals investigating violence aggression and dominance, and research priorities include youth, family, media, crime, biology, war and peace, terrorism, religion, ethnicity, and nationalism (
  • John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation began in 1964 to promote advanced study abroad, and grants to individuals active in the arts or scientific scholarship. It makes Fellowship grants in two competitions, the first for residents of Canada and the United States and the second to residents of Latin America or the Caribbean (
  • Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum has five sites internationally, three within the United States with two located in New York City and the newest one in Las Vegas. Additional sites are in Berlin, Germany, Bilbao, Spain and Venice, Italy. The Venice location houses the Peggy Guggenheim collection (


Bibliography and Internet Sources

  • American Israeli Cooperative Enterprise. Jewish Virtual Library
  • Colorado School of Mines. Giving Societies
  • The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation. The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation
  • Ranfranz, Patrick. Charles Lindbergh An American Aviator.  
  • Wooster, Martin M. Still Waiting. The Philanthropy Roundtable.