The James S. McDonnell Foundation is a St. Louis, Missouri based private
philanthropic institution established in 1950 by aerospace pioneer James S.
McDonnell to “improve the quality of life.” It does so by contributing to the
generation of new knowledge through support of research and scholarship, and
by encouraging knowledge-based solutions to important societal issues,
especially in the St. Louis region.
Established in 1950 as the McDonnell
Foundation and renamed the James S. McDonnell Foundation in 1984 in
honor of its Founder, the Foundation has pursued its goals by
supporting scientific, educational and charitable causes locally,
nationally, and internationally.
Beginning with the tenure of President Emeritus John T. Bruer, the
Foundation began to structure itself in such a way as to support
scholarly research and collaboration. By providing funding in such
fields as cognitive education and neuroscience, the Foundation
sought to improve the quality of life for generations to come by
providing the financial backbone of the discoveries of today. In
1999, the Foundation awarded 10 Centennial Fellowships in honor of
"Mr. Mac's" 100th birthday in 5 separate fields.
Today, the James S. McDonnell Foundation continues to pursue the
vision of the late Mr. Mac through its 21st Century Science
Initiative. By supporting scholarly pursuits in fields such as human
cognition and complex systems, the Foundation continues to seek out
scholarly fields that hold promise and potential for future
Since its inception, the McDonnell Foundation has awarded over
$450M in grants. The Foundation does not publish an annual report.
The most recent information available about the Foundation's
financial position can be found here.
The Foundation's 990-PF can be accessed on the Foundation Center's
or contact us to
receive the latest version by email.
James Smith McDonnell
The Late James S. McDonnell, aviation pioneer and visionary founder
of McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, left an indelible stamp on his
industry, St. Louis, and Washington University. Among the first
university-trained aeronautical engineers, he was a powerful
advocate for excellence in teaching and research.
"Mr. Mac" served Washington University as Trustee and Board Chair
in the 1960s and as trusted adviser until his death in 1980. The
University's ascent to excellence in the late 20th century has
followed a path mapped in large part by his passion for breaking old
limits of knowledge and crossing new frontiers, whether in exploring
space, investigating human potential through genetics, or
understanding the mind and brain.
The company "Mr. Mac" founded in St. Louis in 1939, as well as its
successor corporation, enjoyed success because he anticipated manned
space exploration and insisted on the highest standards in
engineering and technology. McDonnell Douglas products figure
prominently in aerospace history: Mercury and Gemini spacecraft, and
the legendary fighter planes used throughout the free world. An
internationalist, Mr. McDonnell was a staunch supporter of the
United Nations and he actively participated in the intellectual
discussion of the impact of economics in international affairs.
James S. McDonnell believed that science and technology give us
unprecedented power to shape the future and oblige us to direct our
intellectual, social, and cultural development responsibly. In 1963
he wrote, "As man recognizes his responsibilities and moves ahead to
carve his own destiny, there will be many problems to solve." He
believed private Foundations should assist in solving these problems
by supporting higher education and nurturing scholarly talent. Until
his death in 1980, Mr. McDonnell pursued this philanthropic vision
through his Foundation. He promoted learning in fields that he
believed held great potential for the future. His interests were
manifested by his support of space sciences, genetics and studies of
the human mind and brain. His sons, through the charitable
Foundation he established, continue a program of directed
philanthropy that reflects his remarkable legacy.
More information about Mr. Mac is available in the Tribute, below,
to James S. McDonnell given by his son John F. McDonnell on April 8,
1999 at the National Academy of Sciences.