For nine recorded generations, the Buhl family had been merchants – in Bavaria and in Zelienople, Pennsylvania. Always substantial citizens, they had combined sound business sense and civic responsibility. As merchants, hatters, and furriers, as churchwardens, magistrates, and town councilors, the Buhl names are recorded for three centuries. Christian Buhl, hatter and fur trader, came to the frontier settlement of Zelienople soon after 1800, and his son, Henry, Sr., stock farmer and miller, passed on the Buhl tradition to Henry Buhl, Jr. Born in 1848, educated in the neighboring country school, raised on a prosperous farm, trained in business methods by father and grandfather, Henry Buhl, Jr. became the tenth and the last of his line. In him a family and a family tradition came to fruition.
Henry Buhl, Jr. and Russell H. Boggs
In Zelienople, young Henry Buhl formed a close friendship with another Butler County youth, Russell Boggs, who was to become his brother-in-law, his business partner, and his lifelong associate. And so, in 1869, Henry Buhl, Jr. and Russell H. Boggs came to Old Allegheny and opened a drygoods store on Federal Street, with a stock of merchandise bought during the previous week for $3,500.
To the partnership Russell Boggs brought a driving energy, and fine early training in his father's general merchandise business which Russell had developed into an extensive country roadwagon trade over a period of years.
To the new business Henry Buhl brought thoroughness and caution, an infinite capacity for hard work, and a business training acquired from his successful father and from that staunch old pioneer, his grandfather, Christian Buhl.
Both of the young men brought – character.
The combination worked well from the start. The partners wanted the "carriage trade," and they got it. Their reputation for honesty and for the quality of their merchandise built their business more rapidly than they had dared to hope.
Allegheny City, with its twin city of Pittsburgh across the Allegheny River, was growing swiftly with a rising birthrate and a surging immigration. Pittsburgh's steel industry, thanks to the surge of the Civil War and to certain geological and geographical blessings, was establishing a worldwide domain. Coal, iron, glass, oil, pottery, and a host of manufactured products poured forth by way of the rivers and over the railways and highways that developed to meet the needs of the steel capital. And into Pittsburgh and Allegheny City poured wealth and population.
In twenty years the store had grown into a great and respected institution. Henry Buhl and his partner had become wealthy. Yet throughout his fifty-eight years as a merchant, Henry Buhl's life continued to follow the pattern: strenuous effort, scrupulous honesty, untiring attention to detail – all tempered with thoroughness and caution.
In his last years, with his capital and his intuitive sense of investment, Henry Buhl might perhaps have amassed a really vast fortune. But he was content. He was a Buhl, and there were things that counted more than money in the family tradition. He had, like his forebears, been hard working, honest, and a good citizen. In him there must have been some special flowering of the family ability – and it had coincided with an era of great expansion in the wealth and population. He had achieved success beyond the dreams of his people – perhaps beyond his own.
Henry Buhl had no children to plan for – no direct heirs to bear his name and carry on his business. During his busiest years he had had too little time or energy left to enable him to take an active part in civic affairs. Now he had leisure to plan, and wealth to be disposed of in some way to benefit his fellow Pittsburghers. They had made him wealthy through their confidence, their patronage, and their friendship. He could now devise some way to make a return of that friendship, to discharge his obligation to his community, to his friends and neighbors of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
In his last years Henry Buhl wrote and rewrote his will. When he died on June 11, 1927, his final will created a Foundation that has since been described by Dr. Frederick P. Keppel, then president of the Carnegie Corporation, as "a model for an endowment broadly conceived as to purpose, but with special reference to the needs of a given locality."