The illustrious Jamsetji Nusserwanji Tata is born in Navsari, Gujarat, India.

It was the same year that Thomas Babington Macaulay, the British Secretary to the Board of Control, departed for England, leaving behind his famous ‘Minute in Education’ on reforming education in India. Later in life, education was to become a core area of interest for Jamsetji Tata’s philanthropic initiatives.

Jamsetji starts his career after graduating from college by assisting his father, Nusserwanji, in his trading business. A few years later he sets up the famous Empress Mills.

Jamsetji had studied the working of textile mills closely on a visit to England while assisting his father in the cotton trading business.

Empress Mills is established. The iconic mill becomes a huge success. It sets very high standards in worker benefits and welfare with facilities such as sanitary hutments and filtered water for workers, at a time when such humanitarian concern for workers was unheard of, even in the west.

William Blake, the famous English poet and painter had noted that mills in Lancashire in England extracted 14 to 16 hours of work a day from mill workers, unconcerned about their wellbeing. “Jamsetji, was a century ahead of his times ensuring the welfare of his workforce,’’ said a feature story on the Tata Group founder’s 150th anniversary in March, 1989.

Jamsetji takes an acute interest in the well-being of his staff. He provides them with opportunities not just to learn but also to rise through their ranks within the service of the company through an apprentice system.

Jamsetji launches various schemes such as free medical help, crèches and primary classes for children of women mill workers. He also introduces the gratuitous pension fund, provident fund, maternity benefit allowance and a compensation fund for accidents for all employees.

Jamsetji, now a man of 50, is stirred by a speech of Lord Reay, which will become a defining moment for the philanthropreneur’s nation development pursuits.

Lord Reay’s speech ‘calling for real universities’ had an indelible impact on Jamsetji, who in later years donated half his fortune to build a university.

Jamsetji Tata starts the Endowment scheme which will go on to support promising students from all over India and from all walks of life.

The first JN Tata scholar, Freny K.R. Cama was sent to Edinburgh for advanced studies in medicine. Other luminaries who were also JN Tata scholars include:

  • - Former President KR Narayanan
  • - Renowned scientists Raja Ramanna, Jayant Narlikar and Raghunath Mashelkar
  • - Jnanpith Award winner writer and actor Girish Karnad

Jamsetji writes a letter to Lord Reay offering half his fortune, 14 buildings and four landed properties to create the university of his dreams.

Jamsetji envisaged the university to be a seat of learning and research for engineering, physics, and all branches of chemistry, as also a centre of Indian history and archaeology research and a centre of advanced statistics and philology.

At a time when houses in Bombay were not too clean and were lit by oil lamps, Jamsetji becomes the pioneer of an organised flat system, which today, is the foundation of Mumbai’s real estate. Near the Esplanade, he builds a block of 16 flats, four on each floor, entirely detached from other buildings. The building has spacious, well-ventilated rooms lit by electricity.

Jamsetji starts planning a modern steel plant in India. At a time when townships in the west are haphazardly built around coal mines, Jamsetji wants to protect his workers from the factory smoke by setting up a township in the direction opposite to the prevailing wind.

Jamsetji embarks on another project — of reclaiming some twelve hundred acres of land around the Mahim creek in Mumbai and improving the health of the city.

In a letter to his son Dorabji, Jamsetji wrote, ‘Be sure to lay wide streets planted with shady trees, every other of a quick-growing variety. Be sure that there is plenty of space for lawns and gardens. Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks. Earmark areas for Hindu temples, Mohammedan mosques and Christian churches.’

While presenting his plans to the Collector of Thane, Jamsetji wrote that, ‘The chief advantage I am looking forward to is the improvement in the health of Bombay consequent on the reclamation of drowned lands, the malarial exhalations from which are at present carried to Bombay island by the north wind.’

The Taj Mahal Hotel rises on the sea front and adds to the grace of the city of Bombay.

A leading British run hotel, the Majestic did not allow Indians inside. Jamsetji had taken one of his foreign guests to the hotel but was denied entry and had to go somewhere else to eat. This prompted the rise of the opulence that we know as the Taj Mahal Hotel.

Jamsetji Tata passes away leaving behind his dreams of a modern steel plant, a hydroelectric power plant and a university of science that will be fulfilled by his sons.

In Jamsetji’s obituary, the British Editor of The Times of India wrote, ‘...his sturdy strength of character prevented him from fawning on any man, however great, for he was great in his own way, greater than most people realised. He sought no honour, he claimed no privilege, but the advancement of India and her myriad peoples were with him an abiding passion.’

Jamsetji’s younger son, Sir Ratan Tata contributes a significant sum to the Servants of India Society founded by Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a social and political reformer. Sir Ratan Tata goes on to provide the operational costs of the society for the next 10 years to come.