Ralph C. Sheldon's locomobile, early 1900s

The Sheldon Foundation was established in 1948 by Isabella Marvin Sheldon, in memory of her husband, Ralph C. Sheldon, a Jamestown, NY, businessman. 

The family’s wealth was created by the entrepreneurial efforts of Ralph and his father, Porter Sheldon. In 1888, they were among a small group of investors who provided the initial capital investment and business expertise to form The American Aristotype Company in Jamestown, NY. The company developed and manufactured one of the first photographic papers produced in the United States.  American Aristotype was extremely successful in the 1890’s and attracted the attention of George Eastman as he was creating the Eastman Kodak Company. Eastman became an early investor and eventually bought the company and moved the manufacturing process to Rochester, NY in 1909. The decision to sell the company to Eastman Kodak was timely, as shortly thereafter, their product became obsolete when superior printing papers were invented and produced. 

Fortunately for the Sheldon family, the American Aristotype Company stockholders were paid in Eastman Kodak stock, which appreciated tremendously.  After the company was sold, Ralph C. Sheldon became a banker, civic leader, and owner of Jamestown Newspaper Corporation, publisher of a local newspaper in Jamestown.

Isabella Marvin Sheldon

In 1948, Isabella Sheldon also created two trusts for the benefit of her children, Ralph C. Sheldon, Jr. and Julia Sheldon Ludwig Livengood, and named the Foundation as a contingent beneficiary. Neither Ralph Jr. nor Julia had biological children, so upon their deaths in the 1980’s, their trust funds were combined to provide additional income for the Foundation as the sole beneficiary in perpetuity. 

In its early years, the Sheldon Foundation gave modest amounts to a small, but diverse, number of local not-for-profit organizations. Today the private foundation annually grants over $2 million dollars to over 45 different 501 (c)(3) organizations serving Southern Chautauqua County.