Outrageous Ambitions: How a One-Room Schoolhouse Became a Research University

The Duke Family

The Duke family began its relationship with the University in 1887, and the family’s philanthropy and leadership continue to this day. Best known for James B. Duke’s gifts and the renaming of the university in 1924 and 1925, they were also instrumental in the move to Durham in 1892.

Advertisement for W. Duke, Sons, and Company tobacco featuring a lovely lady.

W. Duke, Sons, and Company Tobacco Advertisement

W. Duke, Sons, and Company Tobacco Advertisement

Washington Duke, the patriarch of the Duke Family, worked as a tobacco farmer after being conscripted into the Confederate Navy during the Civil War.  Eventually, he moved into tobacco packaging and sales.  W. Duke, Sons, and Company became one of the most successful tobacco companies in the country after they began to use picture cards as advertisements.  The Duke company later became part of the American Tobacco Company, a conglomerate that was broken up for antitrust violations.

From the Tobacco Collection, Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Back of an advertisement for W. Duke, Sons, and Company tobacco featuring information about the company.

W. Duke, Sons, and Company Tobacco Advertisement (back)

W. Duke, Sons, and Company Tobacco Advertisement (back)

The back of this tobacco advertisement gives details about the operations of W. Duke, Sons, and Company.

From the Tobacco Collection, Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Brothers Ben and J.B. Duke take a ride on the boardwalk in Atlantic City in the 1920s.

J.B. and Ben Duke on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, 1920s

J.B. and Ben Duke on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, 1920s

Benjamin Newton Duke (left) and his brother James Buchanan Duke (right) on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, circa 1923.

Benjamin Newton Duke was the family’s primary philanthropist, while J.B. Duke was the second generation’s primary businessman. Their father, Washington, began the family tobacco business following the Civil War.

The exterior of James B. Duke's pocket watch, featuring his monogram.

James B. Duke's Pocket Watch (exterior)

James B. Duke's Pocket Watch (exterior)

James Buchanan Duke's pocket watch, circa 1920.

The wealthiest of the Duke children, James Buchanan Duke split his time between his mansion on Fifth Avenue in New York City, and his large farm in Hillsborough, New Jersey.  He remained very close to his older brother, Ben, throughout his life.

The interior of James B. Duke's pocket watch.

James B. Duke's Pocket Watch (interior)

James B. Duke's Pocket Watch (interior)

The interior of James B. Duke's pocket watch.

Ben Duke, Sarah Duke, Mary Duke Biddle, and Mary Duke Biddle Jr. (later Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans) on the beach in Atlantic City in the 1920s.

Ben Duke and Family in Atlantic City

Ben Duke and Family in Atlantic City

Ben Duke and family on the beach in Atlantic City, circa 1923.

Pictured are Ben Duke, his wife Sarah, his daughter Mary, and his granddaughter Mary.  Ben’s granddaughter was later known as Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans and was a patron of the University until her death in 2012.  She was a tireless advocate of causes ranging from the arts to medicine, and the new medical education facility on campus is named in her honor.

The Duke family crest.

Duke Family Seal

Duke Family Seal

The seal of the Duke family.

The Duke Family