Benjamin Duke portrait
Centennial Spotlights

Benjamin N. Duke

A Duke student today might know the name “Benjamin N. Duke” by the scholarship that bears his name, or by his statue that stands outside Baldwin Auditorium on East Campus.

But there’s plenty more to know.

B.N. Duke was one of four sons of Washington Duke, a tobacco industrialist who used his wealth for myriad philanthropic causes, including paying to move Trinity College to Durham from Randolph County in 1892. Trinity College would eventually become Duke University.

After that move, B.N. Duke became one of the college’s primary benefactors. He donated money to the college’s endowment and to construction projects, salaries, remodeling, equipment and even day-to-day expenses. Over a three-year stretch beginning in 1893, he gave 60 North Carolinians $50 per year for tuition, a donation critical to attracting students to the school at a time when recruitment was a struggle and poverty in the south was rampant.

“He had a soft place in his heart for those people who had come up with hardship,” said Charles Thompson, a former faculty director of the B.N. Duke Scholars program, in a video for the Duke Endowment.

Later in life – and after the creation of the Duke Endowment in 1924 – B.N. Duke began spreading his family wealth outside the confines of Durham. Between 1926 and his death in 1929, he gave about $3 million to 27 southern universities, which explains why a visitor to Elon University – about an hour west of Duke – or even Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee might find a building named for B.N. Duke on those campuses.

His philanthropy was recognized in 1986 with the creation of the B.N. Duke Scholars program at Duke, offering a full ride to students from North Carolina and South Carolina who excel in academics and are committed to civic engagement.