Benjamin Newton Duke (1855–1929) was the primary philanthropist in the Duke family and a son of Washington Duke. He held a leadership role in several of the family companies, and was instrumental in founding Duke University.
He was the eldest son (middle child) of Washington and Artelia Roney Duke with two full siblings, Mary (older sister) and James Buchanan (J.B., younger brother). Something of a sickly child, he was very close with his brother J.B. from a young age. Artelia Roney was Washington Duke's second wife. His first wife died in 1847 and the couple had two sons together, Sidney and Brodie.
Never as keen a businessman as his brother J.B., Ben Duke instead focused his primary efforts on charitable giving and philanthropy. A survey done near the end of his life indicated that he gave financial aid to at least five hundred churches, schools, hospitals, orphanages, and other organizations throughout his life, either personally or through the Duke Endowment.
Ben Duke sat on the executive committee of the Trinity Board of Trustees and saved it from bankruptcy following its move. He remained Trinity's primary benefactor and the principal link between the Duke Family and the school. He later endowed several professorships and maintained close personal and professional relationships with several of the College's presidents, including John F. Crowell, John C. Kilgo, and William Preston Few.
Ben brought William Erwin to Durham for the purpose of opening Erwin Mills. This move solidified the Duke family's prominence in the textile industry in the New South. In subsequent years, the Dukes also made major investments in other textile enterprises throughout North Carolina. Ben Duke would serve as President of Erwin Mills for many years. Erwin Mills was, by and large, a family company. Among the shareholders were Mary Duke Biddle, Angier Duke, Ben Duke, J.B. Duke, Doris Duke, and Sarah P. Duke.
In a letter to his brother, J.B., Ben makes noted that he wished to see "a great, perpetual endowment" that would ensure Trinity College's success and longevity into the future. This vision was eventually realized when J.B. created the Duke Endowment in 1924.
Beginning in 1893, Ben Duke donated $50 per year for tuition for sixty Trinity College students from North Carolina. Therequirements stated that students had to be deserving and show need. The scholarship fund continued for many years, and is thought to be the model that the Angier B. Duke Memorial Fund was based on.
Future Duke University President William Preston Few came to Trinity in 1896 when the College's only English professor took a year-long leave of absence. At the end of this year, Ben, so impressed by Few's abilities and talents, paid his salary, allowing Trinity to keep Few in its employ. Few would go on to become president for 30 years, beginning in 1910 and the two men maintained a close, personal friendship.
In 1897, Ben Duke made his first individual contribution to Trinity. Like other financial contributions he made to the College in the years following its move, it is said that this gift of $24,000 helped the College to stay afloat in times of financial crisis.
In 1899, Ben Duke made a major, individual contribution to Trinity College, in the amount of $90,000. This gift helped save the college from shuttering its doors in the midst of a major financial crisis.
Lincoln Hospital, Durham's first hospital for African-Americans, was founded with an $8,000 donation made by Ben Duke in 1901.
Beginning in 1902, Ben Duke pledged annual contributions earmarked to endow the chairs in political economy, French, German, and applied math. This amount increased to $20,000 in 1909.
He continued to maintain a home in Durham called Four Acres. The current North Carolina Mutual building sits on the site of Four Acres.
Ben and J.B. donated money for the Artelia Roney Duke Science Building at Elon College (now Elon University) in memory of their mother. Elon had recently suffered a devastating fire, and most of the buildings needed to be rebuilt. The same year, Ben and J.B. commissioned a portrait of their mother, Artelia Roney Duke. The portrait still hangs at Elon.
J.B. Duke established the Duke Endowment in December, 1924. Following this event, Ben Duke disbursed nearly $3 million to schools and colleges throughout the South, with a special emphasis on schools in the Carolinas. Aside from Trinity College and Duke University, other recipients included Davidson and Elon Colleges, many churches (for both black and white congregations), and the orphan asylum in Oxford, North Carolina.
This large sum represents individual gifts from B.N. Duke to colleges and universities around the south, separate and apart from the gifts of the Duke Endowment, the Duke family, or other groups. Among the schools that he contributed to were Wofford College, Limestone College, Wesleyan College, and the Peace Institute.
On Ben's 73rd birthday, his bust is unveiled in the library on Duke's campus. An address is made by President Flowers, in which he said that "If Mr. Duke had not been born, Trinity College would never have been in Durham, but would have remained at the old site in Randolph County with resources insufficient to enable it to fill its mission; and Duke University would never have existed."
Ben Duke was re-interred in the Memorial Chapel of the Duke University Chapel, alongside the remains of his father and brother, J.B. Duke.
The statue, located on Duke's East Campus, still stands today.