The philanthropic founder
Asa Packer was the founder of the Lehigh Valley Railroad Company.
He was instrumental in the founding of Bethlehem Steel (originally Bethlehem Rolling Mill and Iron Co.) because he needed a supplier of rail and was tired of paying high import prices for steel from overseas.
Packer also founded St. Luke’s Hospital and, in the 1870s, Lehigh University.
The university was an attempt to spur growth and development in the valley. To remain competitive with other schools of the day, Lehigh offered tuition-free education for 20 years.
Today, the school is a $60,000-a-year institution that accepts only 5,000 undergrads into programs including a well-known engineering program.
The steel mill has shut down, but Packer’s philanthropic efforts still provide employment.