John R. Oishei discovered gold in the humble windshield wiper 95 years ago, and charitable causes across Western New York have been benefitting almost ever since.
Oishei, the Buffalo industrialist who founded the wiper-making Trico Products Corp. in 1917, was the source of the original wealth for the philanthropic foundation that bears his name.
Oishei established Trico after he struck a bicyclist while driving in a rainstorm along Delaware Avenue, according to a biography of him written for the foundation by Mary Rech Rockwell. The bicyclist wasn't seriously injured, but the accident shook up Oishei, who vowed to find a better way to keep motorists' vision clear.
Trico became one of the world's leading manufacturers of windshield wiping equipment, and Oishei became a wealthy man.
In 1940, he created the Julia R. and Estelle L. Foundation, in memory of his deceased mother and wife, and he regularly donated stock to increase the value of the foundation, which in turn supported Buffalo-area hospitals, schools and cultural organizations.
Oishei died on Jan. 27, 1968, a few weeks after retiring as head of Trico.
"Mr. Oishei's death removes from Buffalo one of its ablest and most enterprising industrial leaders who built a booming business and kept it here," The Buffalo Evening News wrote in an editorial mourning Oishei's passing.
Trico did end up leaving Buffalo, and the company ultimately was sold in 1994.
But the foundation that Oishei established has grown into the largest of its kind in Western New York, making gifts and grants totaling more than $200 million in its history.
It was renamed the John R. Oishei Foundation in 1998.
The $10 million grant announced Tuesday for a new Women & Children's Hospital is the largest single gift in the foundation's history.
"We can think of no greater tribute to a man whose generosity continues to impact this community in so many ways," said James M. Wadsworth, foundation chairman. "The primary reason he began his philanthropy back in the 1940s was to benefit the children of his employees and of the community. Like the buildings that comprised the Trico Corp. for so many years, John R. Oishei Children's Hospital will stand long into the future as a marker of one man's passion, vision and extraordinary contributions."