In the mid- to late 1800s, Robert Pitcairn made his fortune with the Pennsylvania Railroad. His childhood friend, Andrew Carnegie, got him a job as a ticket agent for the railroad. They moved up the ranks together, and when Carnegie later started his own business, Pitcairn was named to replace him as head of the Pittsburgh Division of the railroad
Robert Pitcairn was quite a character. According to The Johnstown Flood by David G. McCullough, "[Pitcairn] could not claim to know all the men, that would be impossible, but he knew the good part of them, and certainly every last one of them knew him. He was their supreme commander. His word was law from Altoona to Pittsburgh, and the portly frame, the bullet head, the pince-nez glasses and walrus mustache were far better-known among them than the rather inconspicuous features of the man who was then President of the United States. And if it were a question as to which one wielded the most authority, there would have been some debate."
An Elder of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pitcairn was part of Pittsburgh's entrepreneurial explosion. In The Johnstown Flood, Pitcairn was quoted as saying "that the railroads (by which he really meant his railroad) were 'the heart, blood, veins, and arteries of Pittsburgh,' which, of course, put him in a most important position indeed." In addition to his earnings from the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pitcairn also made a good bit of money from backing his friend George Westinghouse.
The remainder of the Pitcairn fortune was left to granddaughter Susan Lee Hunt. In her Last Will and Testament dated May 20, 1939, the late Susan Lee Hunt created the Pitcairn-Crabbe Foundation to perpetuate the memory of her mother, Susan Pitcairn-Crabbe, and her grandparents, Robert and Elizabeth E. Pitcairn. And on December 23, 1940, the Pitcairn-Crabbe Foundation was incorporated as a nonprofit corporation by order of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. In addition to the trustees of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mrs. Hunt named as the Foundation's life directors, who would serve until their passings and not be replaced, the two executors of her estate, James E. Hindman of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, and Alexander P. Reed of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The uniqueness that separated this Foundation from other organizations of similar nature was its major emphasis in the field of religious education.
"The income of the said Corporation shall be applied in equitable proportions through approved institutions, organizations and individuals for religious and church work, for Christian education, for community welfare, and, generally, for the relief of distress and the improvement of the spiritual and material condition of humanity, especially in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."
Last Will and Testament of Susan Lee Hunt May 20, 1939