A HISTORY OF THE HARLAND CHARITABLE FOUNDATION
Since 1972, the John H. & Wilhelmina D. Harland Charitable Foundation has been part of the fabric of Atlanta’s philanthropic community. Established by Mr. and Mrs. Harland, the Foundation supports worthy local causes, with a particular interest in improving the welfare of children and youth as well as support of community services and the arts.
This is the story of John and Billy Harland, and the principles and values underpinning the Foundation’s legacy.
The Harland Family
John Herdman Harland was born in 1885 in Bessbrook, County Armagh, Northern Ireland. In 1901, at age 16, he immigrated to America, initially working in the family grocery business. After reading about the new South in a newspaper article, he moved to Atlanta in 1906 and was employed as a bookkeeper by the Foote and Davies Company, Atlanta’s principal commercial printer. He spent 17 years there and eventually became treasurer of the company.
Wilhelmina Bluet (Billy) Drummond was born in 1887 in Atlanta. Billy graduated from Girls’ High School in 1904 and studied at the Boston Conservatory of Music. During World War I, Billy served as an ambulance driver and chief mechanic for the American Women’s Hospital in France. After the war, she and a cousin helped to transport a field hospital to Serbia for refugees and those suffering from famine and disease. On her return to Atlanta, she met John Harland and the two were married in 1922.
Billy encouraged John to leave Foote and Davies to begin a new company, the General Printing Company. Mr. and Mrs. Harland were the principal investors, and later bought out the interests of the other partners. At that time, they changed the name of the company to the John H. Harland Company.
The John H. Harland Company
The Harland Company established a stable printing business and the company grew steadily until economic times changed with the arrival of the Great Depression. During the hard years that followed, Mr. Harland consulted with his employees and they agreed together to cut everyone’s hours of employment so that the staff could remain intact.
At the Depression’s low point in 1933, President Roosevelt declared a banking holiday, which meant that banks across the country had no idea when they would receive their next supply of cash from the Treasury. The City of Atlanta asked the Harland Company to print bank scrip to be used in lieu of cash. The Company had to print three million certificates within one week.
These dark days turned out to be the beginning of brighter times for the Harland Company. Printing bank scrip allowed the company to establish a relationship with banks in Atlanta and the region. When banks began issuing standardized checks, the Harland Company was asked to print them, and in time, it became one of the country’s premier printers of checks.
The people who knew John Harland describe him as warm, upbeat, approachable and compassionate. Mr. Harland operated on principles of honesty, integrity, and kindness, influenced by his strong Christian faith. He was someone who felt blessed and wanted to share his blessings with others.
As the company prospered, Mr. Harland became actively involved in the Atlanta community. He was a member of the vestry of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, active in the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Atlanta and involved in the Boys Clubs of Atlanta (now the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta). The Harland Boys & Girls Club was named in his honor in 1971.
Mr. Harland was thrifty in his personal habits, but generous to his employees. He established a profit-sharing plan, encouraging employees to work together to keep costs down so that profits would stay high. In an unprecedented move in 1973, Mr. Harland gave away $1 million of his own stock to employees. The news of his generosity made headlines in the nation and beyond.
A Legacy of Giving: The Harland Foundation
In May 1972, Mr. and Mrs. Harland established the Harland Foundation. The Foundation’s original assets were valued at around $2,750,000. On December 31, 2015, the Foundation held assets valued at over $27.3 million.
John Conant, the son-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. Harland, was the board Secretary of the Foundation from its early years until his death in 2005. He shaped the Foundation’s operating style and endeavored to create an open and welcoming atmosphere. He liked to talk to people and to hear their stories, and was also good at getting other foundations to open their doors.
Today, the trustees and staff of the Harland Foundation endeavor to continue putting the principles and values of Mr. and Mrs. Harland into action, investing the wealth derived from their success in the community in ways that improve the quality of life for many.
"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you…
and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare."