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Research

The Singer Family

During the early 20th century, the odds of dying from an infectious disease were extremely high. The world was still reeling from a devastating smallpox epidemic and a global influenza pandemic would soon kill millions. Tuberculosis, diphtheria and polio were also rampant. At the same time, little-understood illnesses such as heart disease and cancer were starting to become more widespread in the population. In Pittsburgh, a steel industrialist named G. Harton Singer envisioned AGH taking a leading role in addressing these perplexing medical problems.

“My great-grandfather recognized the urgency of finding causes, treatments and cures for the most pervasive illnesses of his day,” said Anna Singer, a renowned opera singer who also hosts a weekday classical music program on WQED-FM. “He wanted to establish an active research program at Allegheny General that would add to the body of medical knowledge, and ultimately help improve patient care.”

Mr. Singer established two trusts for the formation of a research institute at Allegheny General (one in his name and one in the name of his wife, Charlotte). In 1914, the Singers, together with G. Harton’s three siblings — William Henry Singer, Mrs. Elizabeth Proctor, and Mrs. Marguerite Milligan — founded the William H. Singer Memorial Research Laboratory (named in memory of their father, who was one of the founders of Allegheny General Hospital) — a research laboratory where scientists could study a wide range of medical and surgical problems. The Singer Laboratory also provided Allegheny General with routine lab work for many years. Eventually, this laboratory became known as the Allegheny-Singer Research Institute (ASRI) and contributed to some of the 20th century’s most remarkable medical discoveries.

In the ensuing decades, the Singer family continued to support ASRI and Allegheny General Hospital in a variety of ways. G. Harton Singer III (grandson of G. Harton Singer) and his wife, Susan (Patty), were generous benefactors of research programs conducted by the Allegheny Heart Institute (now part of the Gerald McGinnis Cardiovascular Institute). Patty Singer also served as a volunteer at Allegheny General Hospital’s emergency room.

“My mother had an ability to put people at ease during times of distress,” said Anna Singer. “As a volunteer, she was a great comfort to patients and families who were receiving care in the emergency room.”

In recent years, Ms. Singer has continued the Singer family’s legacy of support for Allegheny General Hospital. She sees the institute as a major player in medical research during the 21st century.

“With the increasing emphasis on genetics, medicine will be discovering diagnostic and treatment approaches that we never before thought possible,” she said. “And ASRI will be front and center of these exciting advances.”

How would G. Harton Singer react if he could tour the labs of the Allegheny-Singer Research Institute today?

“I’m sure my great-grandfather would be amazed and thrilled with the technologies ASRI’s researchers are using to solve medical mysteries,” said Ms. Singer. “He envisioned a research center that would surpass the spheres of known medical science to find innovative solutions for improving patient care — and that’s what ASRI has achieved. The Singer family is proud to be associated with this wonderful institution.”

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