Born on 24th of May 1836
Died on 24th of February 1925
Born into a Quaker family in York on May 24 1836 Joseph Rowntree’s concern for the welfare of the poor began as early as 1850 when, aged 14, he witnessed the devastating effects of the Irish potato famine during a trip to the country with his father.
Having started his working life as an apprentice, by 1859 he graduated to jointly managing the family grocery business. He then left to work with his brother, running a small and struggling cocoa factory in York. With his brother’s death in 1883 he became the owner and continued to expand the company until by 1906 Rowntree’s employed 4000 workers. The introduction of new products such as fruit pastilles, chocolate drops, fruit gums and jelly-babies contributed to Rowntree’s success.
Driven by his personal convictions and Quaker ideals this success was matched by the measures he introduced to protect the welfare of his workers. He insured that fair wages were paid and good working conditions prevailed. These included affordable housing, healthcare, recreational facilities, opportunities for self-improvement and an occupational pension scheme.
Joseph Rowntree’s most famous act of philanthropy was to donate half his wealth to the three charitable trusts he set up in 1904: The Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, Charitable Trust, and Reform Trust. These were intended to attack the roots of poverty by understanding and remedying its causes in practical ways. Their work continues to this day, with The Joseph Rowntree Foundation providing the research basis for such attacks on poverty and other social injustices.
On his retirement in 1923 Rowntree’s had a turnover of £3 million and a workforce of over 7000. Rowntree’s chocolate was one of the most recognised brands in the country. Joseph Rowntree died on February 24 1925 in York where he was universally mourned as a great benefactor and far sighted social reformer.
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