NC Profiles In Character: James B. Duke

James B. Duke collage2The James Buchanan Duke story began with a tobacco enterprise founded in the late 1800s by a man named Washington Duke in Durham, NC.  Washington’s sons James (“Buck”) and Benjamin soon took charge, and with the help of new machine-driven cigarette production technology, the American Tobacco Company soon dominated the industry, both in the US and internationally. Buck eventually presided over the company.

James Duke soon diversified into the textiles, creating the Catawba Power Company, supplying electricity to the Dukes’ mill as well as hundreds of other mills and industrial companies. Thus began was was to become today’s Duke Energy conglomerate, which still supplies energy to numerous cities in the Carolinas.

A year before he died in 1925, Duke established a $40 million trust fund [$430 million in 21st century dollars] – earmarked for Trinity College — the school was ultimately renamed Duke University and is now one of the world’s most esteemed schools.  Its hospital campus shares a similar ranking as one of our finest medical facilities.  It is interesting to note that Duke’s main campus was designed largely by African American architect Julian Abele.

A large portion of James Duke’s remaining estate was established as The Duke Endowment, a foundation with a mission to support programs of higher education, health care, children’s welfare, and spiritual life in the Carolinas.

Pieces of Duke’s NC history and legacy are not difficult to locate in the city of Durham, but can also be found at the home Duke built in Charlotte in 1915.

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