Now in its second century of operation, Goodwill Industries has a history dating back to the first years of the 1900s. Today, the organization is stronger than ever as it works to help individuals and families attain better futures through the power of work. Read on for an overview of Goodwill’s history and to get a closer look at how the organization continues to improve lives throughout the United States and other countries around the world.
Reverend Edgar J. Helms and Goodwill’s Beginnings
Launched through the efforts of one man, Goodwill was established in 1902 when a Boston-based Methodist minister named Edgar J. Helms began a system of collecting items from Boston’s wealthy residents and repairing them for resale to those who were less fortunate. Reverend Helms hired people in need to help with the repair and resale of the items he collected, giving rise to a self-help system that continues at Goodwill Industries today.
As Helms expanded his program, the repairing and reselling grew to include not only clothing but also furniture and other household goods. In Boston, this work was performed early on under the name of Morgan Memorial Industries and Stores. This name came from the Unitarian Church’s multidenominational Henry Morgan Memorial Chapel, which Helms led in Boston’s South End. Later, the Unitarian Church withdrew its support for the project, and Helms moved his next self-help operation to Brooklyn, New York, where the Goodwill Industries name was first used.
Goodwill Expands Nationwide and Beyond
With the success of his early efforts to help those in need, Helms took his message of “not a charity, but a chance” to other areas of the country. By the 1920s, Goodwill Industries had opened in US cities outside of the East Coast, including Cleveland, Denver, and Los Angeles.
As the number of Goodwill centers in the United States grew, Helms toured the world, visiting Europe, Japan, Korea, and the Middle East with his self-help idea. This laid the groundwork for what would become Goodwill Industries International, which now has a presence in 12 countries outside of the United States and Canada.
While the Great Depression changed Goodwill Industries’ direction in the US, the organization was still able to grow while other nonprofit groups failed because it depended on donations of goods rather than cash. In the 1930s, Goodwill Industries was thriving in over five dozen US cities and several communities outside of the country.
Goodwill’s Work in the Mid-1900s
In 1942, Reverend Edgar J. Helms died, but not before seeing the promising beginnings of what would become the thriving network of more than 150 community-based organizations that Goodwill Industries is today. During the remainder of the 1940s, the nonprofit group played an important role in assisting with the World War II home front effort by helping returning servicemen and servicewomen find gainful employment after combat.
Throughout the 1950s, the Goodwill network continued to grow, and the organization began to play a leading role in providing jobs to people living with disabilities. The 1950s also saw the majority of Goodwill agencies become self-supporting and nondenominational, moving away from the Methodist Church.
As the 1960s arrived, Goodwill stepped up its activities employing people with disabilities. Between 1960 and 1966, the organization increased the percentage of employees with developmental and/or physical disabilities from 32 percent to 42 percent. The 1960s also saw the adoption of the now-iconic “Smiling G” logo, which is still used today.
Entering the Modern Era
After the nation’s first Goodwill drop-off donation center opened in the early 1970s, the organization entered a new era of accepting and selling household goods while putting underserved individuals to work. Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, Goodwill Industries expanded its employee population to include people with employment barriers such as lack of education, criminal history, and advanced age. During this time, the group also began to incorporate high-tech training programs into its offerings alongside those focused on basic skills development.
Another big event in Goodwill’s history came in 1999, when the organization launched its e-commerce website, which was the country’s first nonprofit online auction site. With the opening of the new millennium, Goodwill also continued to expand its traditional brick-and-mortar stores.
The number of member organizations during this time grew worldwide, providing more revenue to support programs focused on career training and job placement for people of limited employability. This work continues today as Goodwill seeks to help more people find success in the 21st century.
Goodwill Looks to the Future
What began with an innovative idea about how to help those in need has grown into a $6 billion organization with a reach extending into communities across the United States and several other countries. Over 115 years after its founding, Goodwill is looking to the future with programs and services focused on equipping people with 21st-century skills. Currently, the group is working with corporate partners such as Google, Accenture, and Indeed to provide digital skills training and other services to help people attain employment, enhance their resumes, and build their careers in the modern workplace.