Philanthropist Michael Late Benedum (July 16, 1869-July 30, 1959) was born in Bridgeport. He made a fortune in the oil and gas business, starting in his native state but expanding his operations to Illinois, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, and eventually to Canada, Mexico, and overseas. In 1896, he married Sarah Lantz, and the following year they had their only child, Claude Worthington Benedum. With the outbreak of World War I, Claude joined the army and was sent to Camp Meade in Maryland, where he was stricken by influenza. His parents were notified and were at their son’s bedside when he died in 1918 at age 20.
Today, Michael Benedum is remembered not so much for his successful exploits as an oil man but for his generosity. In 1944, he established the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, which remains a major philanthropic organization a half-century later.
Himself mostly self-educated, Benedum underwrote hundreds of college scholarships at dozens of colleges. Though he had been a resident of Pittsburgh for many years, he maintained close ties with his hometown and in 1953 spent $1.5 million to build the handsome Bridgeport Methodist Church. In 1957, he built the Bridgeport Civic Center.
When Benedum died he left half of his fortune, said to total $100 million or more, to family members and the other half to the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. Today, the Pittsburgh-based charity continues his generosity and, honoring his wishes, directs much of its philanthropy to West Virginia.
Written by James E. Casto
Mallison, Sam T. The Great Wildcatter. Charleston: Education Foundation, 1953.