Joseph Newton Pew, born in 1848 on a farm outside of Mercer, Pa., began his career as a local schoolteacher before moving to Titusville, Pa., as the western Pennsylvania oil boom was in full swing. In 1881, Pew developed the Keystone Gas Company which used the by-products of oil, such as natural gas, to provide heat and light for the community of Bradford, Pa. By the following year, he was delivering gas to Pittsburgh and owned the Haymaker gas well in Murrysville, then the largest in the world. He helped develop Peoples Natural Gas Company and founded Sun Oil Line Co., which would become known as Sunoco.
A faithful Christian and devoted Presbyterian, Pew and his wife Mary Catherine Anderson raised five children and instilled into them values essential to leading a faithful and productive life.
In 1895 he was enlisted by former student Isaac C. Ketler to help support Grove City College. Pew spearheaded the College’s reorganization as a nonprofit institution and was elected president of the College’s Board of Trustees. Pew devoted much of his philanthropic energy to Grove City College and provided generous support to the College until his death in 1912.
J. Howard Pew, Pew’s second son, earned an undergraduate degree from Grove City College in 1900 at the age of 18 and continued his studies at MIT until he left school to help his father develop a massive refinery in Marcus Hook, N.J. He became president of Sun Oil upon his father’s death and also assumed a seat on Grove City College’s Board of Trustees. He became president of the board in 1931, a position he held until his death in 1971.
J. Howard Pew ran Sun Oil Company for 35 years, a period that saw the company become one of the 20th century’s greatest enterprises, and was acknowledged as a titan of industry.
The company expanded into a national and international enterprise, with its shipbuilding capabilities providing crucial support to the United States during two world wars. His business and personal philosophies were closely linked, based on a strong Christian faith and commitment to democratic ideals. He strongly supported the political and religious freedoms that encouraged free competition in enterprise and the value of personal charity. The family’s philanthropic mission continues to this day through the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Five decades after J. Howard Pew’s death, the family’s imprint remains on campus, etched on residence halls, a performing arts center, and a lecture series. It remains in the College’s approach to education, which the Pews believed was crucial to advancing Christian thought and the common good. His biographer, Mary Sennholz, observed: “To J. Howard Pew his alma mater also was an ideal concept of mental and moral improvement, a concept that reveals man’s deficiencies and spurs him on to higher and better things. It was an ideal that was derived from the unchanging law of God and the principles of eternal morality and justice which are the very foundation of a moral and civilized society.”