Earhart Foundation

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The Earhart Foundation was a private foundation that supported the research of conservative and libertarian scholars for over 60 years. Nine of the economists it supported went on to win Nobel Memorial Prizes in Economic Sciences.

The foundation spent itself out of existence in 2016 because it felt that was the best way to honor the donor intent of its founder, early 20th century oil executive Harry Boyd Earhart.

Harry Boyd Earhart

Harry Boyd Earhart (1870-1954) created the Earhart Foundation. Earhart, a first cousin once removed of aviator Amelia Earhart, got a job as a salesman for White Star Refining, which manufactured lubricants. Earhart moved the company to Detroit and sold it to Vacuum Oil (which evolved into Mobil) in 1930. 1

The Earhart Foundation was created in 1929. Harry Earhart biographer Kari Barbic notes that the foundation for its first 20 years was “a fairly conventional family foundation” but Earhart saw “increasing threats to free enterprise and traditional American values.” 2

In 1949, Harry Earhart reorganized the Earhart Foundation, removing his children from the board and creating a new board to run the Earhart Foundation, and a second board of family members to appoint trustees to the operating board. This structure, Barbic writes, was designed to ensure that the operating board supported Earhart’s support of “free enterprise and traditional American values.” The dual boards, she writes, “is one of the first known instances in which a donor reconfigured a board to ensure future compliance with his intent.” 3

Before his death, Earhart also created the Relm Foundation; by the late 1970s, Relm was reabsorbed into the Earhart Foundation. In 1964, Relm created the Richard B. Weaver Fellowships, which are a program of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. The Institute says that it awards 15 fellowships a year, and 600 since 1964. 4

In 1985, the Earhart Foundation adopted a statement of its fidelity to donor intent that stated “Harry Boyd Earhart believed profoundly that the free, competitive American enterprise system, based upon the Christian ethic, was the highest form of social organization in history.” 5


Earhart Foundation grants supported the research of 2,500 scholars, including nine Nobel Laureates in Economics: Gary Becker, James M. Buchanan, Ronald Coase, Milton Friedman, F.A. Hayek, Robert Lucas, Daniel McFadden, Vernon L. Smith, and George Stigler. 6

Hoover Institution fellow Thomas Sowell, an author and economist, stated in 1985 that being awarded an Earhart Fellowship made “the difference between my finishing and not finishing my graduate work.” Sowell wrote that the foundation “helped keep alive certain kinds of scholarship that might otherwise have been buried under the prevailing academic orthodoxy and intolerance.” 7

Hillsdale College historian Bradley J. Birzer recalled that the Earhart Foundation was helpful when he got his first job as an assistant professor, as the deal he agreed to with the University of Texas (San Antonio) was that he would be paid as a part-time adjunct for his first semester and only receive full time pay with the second semester. An Earhart Foundation grant made up the difference, Birzer wrote that his first academic job “opened innumerable doors to me” and Earhart “took a chance on me. Really, a huge chance.” 8

The Earhart Foundation also gave money to independent scholars who did not teach.  Drexel University administrator Kevin McNamara received a grant in 2003 to translate the memoirs of Czechoslovak Legion soldiers who fought on the side of anti-Communist Russians in Siberia during the Russian Civil War following the Bolshevik takeover. 9 In collaboration with the Wallenberg family of Sweden, Earhart supported the reporting of Ethan Gutmann, who showed that the Chinese harvested the organs of political prisoners while the prisoners were still alive. 10

Spend Down

Although the Earhart Foundation was created in perpetuity, Joanne Florino reports that in the early 2000s, the staff believed they could no longer preserve donor intent nearly 50 years after the death of Harry Earhart. Staff increased the Foundation’s rate of grantmaking to spend out the foundation’s assets on December 31, 2015. 11

The foundation’s library of over 2,300 books written with foundation support was donated to Grove City College. 12


  1. Kari Barbic, “Harry B. Earhart,” (accessed November 26, 2020)
  2. Kari Barbic, “Harry B. Earhart,” (accessed November 26, 2020)
  3. Kari Barbic, “Harry B. Earhart,” (accessed November 26, 2020)
  4. “Fellowships,” Intercollegiate Studies Institute,   (accessed November 26, 2020)
  5. Lee Edwards, “Earhart Foundation,” in American Conservatism:  An Encyclopedia, edited by Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffrey O. Nelson (Wilmington, Delaware:  ISI Books, 2006), 254.
  6. Kari Barbic, “Harry B. Earhart,” (accessed November 26, 2020)
  7. Lee Edwards, The Conservative Revolution:  The Movement That Made America (New York:  Free Press, 1999), 140.
  8. Bradley J. Birzer, “Gratitude:  The Case of The Earhart Foundation,” The Imaginative Conservative, posted June 29, 2016, (accessed November 26, 2020)
  9. Cynthia J. McGroarty, “Czechoslovakians Fought For Russia To Gain A Homeland,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 26, 2003.
  10. Ethan Gutmann, “China’s Gruesome Organ Harvest,” The Weekly Standard, November 24, 2008.
  11. Joanne Florino, “Going for Broke,” Philanthropy, Fall 2015, (accessed November 26, 2020)
  12. “Earhart Foundation Donates 2,337 Volumes to GCC,” Sharon Herald, October 6, 2015, (accessed November 26, 2020)
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