July 16, 1869: Philanthropist Michael Benedum Born in Bridgeport
Philanthropist Michael Benedum was born in Bridgeport on July 16, 1869. He earned the nickname the “Great Wildcatter” based on his ability to find oil and gas by drilling “wildcat” wells in unpredicted places. He first struck it rich in Pleasants County and then expanded to other sites in West Virginia, other states, and, eventually, other countries. He continued working seven days a week, even into his late 80s.
Despite his success in business, Benedum is best remembered today for his generosity. Though he lived in Pittsburgh for many years, he maintained close ties with his hometown, spending $1.5 million to build the Bridgeport Methodist Church and constructing the Bridgeport Civic Center. And he underwrote hundreds of scholarships at dozens of colleges.
Michael Benedum died in 1959 at age 90. He left half his fortune to family and the other half to the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. He established the foundation in 1944 to honor his son, who died of influenza during World War I. The charity continues today and, based on Benedum’s wishes, directs much of its philanthropy to West Virginia.