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Who Was Henry John Heinz?

“Fifty-one of the Japanese delegates to the tenth convention of the World’s Sunday School association at Los Angeles will stop in Pittsburgh next Tuesday on their way back to Japan for a pilgrimage to Homewood cemetery, where a wreath will be placed on the mausoleum of H.J. Heinz.”  --Pittsburgh Press, July 28, 1928.

Andrew Carnegie is synonymous with libraries and, arguably, more people today know H.C. Frick as a world-class art collector than as a union-busting steel and coal tycoon.  Pittsburgh millionaire industrialist H.J. Heinz also left an international legacy beyond his 57 Varieties but that legacy has been largely forgotten: Heinz was a powerful advocate of Sunday Schools.

Henry John Heinz was born in 1844, the oldest of 8 children.  His German immigrant parents were Lutheran and he and his siblings were raised as such.  Heinz’s mother, Anna Margaretta Heinz, was especially devout and Heinz credited her with instilling in him a strong, lifelong faith.  His parents hoped that he would be a minister but he discovered his business acumen when still a young boy and never deviated from that path.  His pursuit of success in business is legendary and, during the entirety of his business career, Heinz approached Sunday School work with a similar commitment. 

Heinz started attending Sunday School as a nine year old boy in 1854, by which time he had already been selling vegetables in his neighborhood for a year.  By age 17 he had established himself as a successful local entrepreneur with workers on a payroll all while remaining a devout Sunday School student.  By 1866 he was not only a Sunday School teacher but he also served as his Sunday School’s Secretary and Treasurer.  In 1869 Heinz and his friend Clarence Noble founded Heinz Noble& Co., what would be the first iteration of the H.J. Heinz Co., and in 1870 he became Superintendent of his Sunday School, a position he held for 25 busy and often difficult years.

Like Carnegie with libraries and Frick with art, Heinz allowed himself to give more of his time and money to Sunday School work as he grew older.  The pinnacle of these efforts came in 1913 when Heinz traveled to Japan (with stops in Korea, China, Russia and Siberia) under the auspices of The World Sunday School Association, of which he was Chairman of the Executive Committee.  Heinz had long believed that Japan would be fertile ground for a system of Western style Sunday Schools and he took it upon himself to arrange a 6 month journey for members of The World Sunday School Association, including him, and footing many of the ensuing bills.  It took several years of planning but on March 1, 1913, 69 year old Heinz, his son Clarence, and over thirty other Sunday School workers boarded a Japan-bound boat in San Francisco.  Heinz’s intuition about Japan proved accurate.  He and his associates found an eager audience for their Sunday School plans among Japan’s 65,000 Christians.  China was not nearly so receptive to the idea of such Christian schools but Heinz took some solace in seeing Heinz Company products on sale in shops throughout the country.

Upon returning to Pittsburgh, Heinz renewed his commitment to his international Sunday School work by installing an office specific to that work in Greenlawn, his home in Point Breeze, and he also hired a secretary to help him with the necessary correspondence.  His specific commitment to Japanese Sunday Schools was not forgotten with his death in 1919 as evidenced by the 1928 pilgrimage to his mausoleum in The Homewood Cemetery and by other several other visitations to his grave over the years made by Japanese Sunday School students and supporters. Heinz’s philanthropy would be continued more widely and more generally by his descendants.  Today’s influential Heinz Endowments can be traced back to H.J. Heinz and his generosity to Sunday School students both at home and abroad.

This story is one of many collected by The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund for use in their tours, newsletter, and other educational programming.  The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund is a 501(c)(3) charitable trust established to preserve the cultural, historical and natural resources of Pittsburgh's Homewood Cemetery and to provide tours, talks, exhibitions and other educational programs for both students and adults. Please consider supporting the work of The Homewood Cemetery Historical Fund with a tax deductible year-end gift. Visit our profile on SeniorCitizensGuide.com for more information.

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