Charles E. Kaufman was born in 1913 in Clarion, PA, and was a longtime resident of the South Hills of Pittsburgh, PA. After graduating from Clarion High School, he was educated at the University of Cincinnati where he earned a B.S. in chemical engineering, and at Carnegie Tech, now Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned a Master of Science in chemistry. Mr. Kaufman worked for the Hagan Corporation (which later became the Calgon Corporation) for 34 years as a Manager of New Product Development and Director of Purchasing. After his retirement in the early 1970's, Mr. Kaufman was active as an entrepreneur involved in many businesses and partnerships, and was also engaged in regional and national organizations related to land conservation. He was an early and active member of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, where his youthful passion gradually deepened into a growing concern about the effects of overdevelopment. Like many of his generation, Mr. Kaufman's outlook on life was formed in the Great Depression, an experience that led him to embrace a humble lifestyle and, according to one biographer, an aversion to debt.
In 2006, Mr. Kaufman established the Charles E. Kaufman Foundation, a supporting organization of The Pittsburgh Foundation. The goal of the Kaufman Foundation is to foster and encourage fundamental research in chemistry, biology and physics for the betterment and understanding of human life. Mr. Kaufman established the special award fund to "promote a better and fairer world by supporting those that can make a difference with science."
At the age of 92, Mr. Kaufman taught himself how to use a computer and began to navigate the Internet. While online, he came across the Robert A. Welch Foundation, a Houston-based organization that supports fundamental chemical research at educational institutions in Texas. Drawing inspiration from the Welch Foundation, Mr. Kaufman began to formulate his philanthropic plans—to replicate the Welch model in Pennsylvania by creating a source of support for outstanding scientists engaging in fundamental research. He expanded the scope of the Welch model to include biology and physics as well as chemistry.
When he died in 2010, Charles Kaufman left $50 million to The Pittsburgh Foundation of which $40 million is earmarked for continuing his life-long commitment to scientific research with the potential to improve human life. Since 2013, and including 2017, the Foundation has awarded 43 grants totaling $9.1 million. This cycle, its scientific advisory board reviewed 250 letters of intent from scientists at 37 colleges and universities and, from that pool, solicited 26 full proposals.