George Peabody featured in Friday's 'Google doodle'

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PEABODY — Local residents opening Google's homepage on Friday may have been happily surprised to find an illustration of a gray-haired man holding a book with multiple buildings standing out of it. That man: none other than George Peabody.

A native son to the city that bears his name, Peabody, who was born in  on Feb. 18, 1795, and died in London on Nov. 4, 1869, was a self-made multimillionaire and philanthropist, who donated much of his money to libraries and colleges.

The "Google doodle," as the homepage illustrations are called, honors Peabody on the day that he received the Congressional Gold Medal for his philanthropic endeavors 151 years ago.

The doodle was designed by a team of volunteers who created a mural at the George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco.

George Peabody, who found success in finance, had just a fifth-grade education — he dropped out of school at age 11 to work, according to Richard St. Pierre, president of the Peabody Historical Society.

"He learned it all on the job," St. Pierre said. "He learned from guys that taught him the ropes."

Though Peabody moved to London and lived much of his life there, he still cared about his hometown. He donated the money to create both the Peabody Institute Library and the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers, among many other endeavors throughout the country.

He had no children of his own, but provided his nephews with something his family couldn't afford during his own youth — a college education. 

George Peabody's father was a leather worker and farmer, according to St. Pierre. While the George Peabody House is now a museum, Peabody's father actually lost it to the bank. The historical society acquired it in 1989 from the former Eastman Gelatine company next door.

When the town of South Danvers adopted its new name in honor of its native philanthropist in 1868, Peabody was still alive and attended the ceremony. He died the following the year. The town then incorporated as the city of Peabody in 1916.

Today, George Peabody is still well-known and acknowledged in the city. A new statue is set to be built in Peabody Square to celebrate his life and contributions.

"By celebrating George Peabody on its iconic homepage, Google helps extend his great legacy to a whole new generation," Mayor Ted Bettencourt said in a prepared statement. "We in the city of Peabody, of course, have always been very proud of our namesake, who is considered the father of modern philanthropy."

Arianna MacNeill can be reached at 978-338-2527 or at Follow her on Twitter at @SN_AMacNeill.