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Our Story

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First donation made to Los Angeles Unified School District

Cash awards given through the Prize for Teaching Excellence

Number of students benefiting from prize awards

In 2014, Harbor Freight Tools CEO, founder and owner Eric Smidt kicked off a philanthropic project called Harbor Freight Tools for Schools by donating $1.4 million in tools and equipment to Los Angeles Unified School District.

Eric’s generosity was grounded in a deep respect for the intelligence and creativity of people who work with their hands. He hoped the gift would transform skilled trades education in his hometown—but he didn’t want to stop there.

For the next two years, the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools team listened and learned from the people who know skilled trades education best—teachers. After conducting a focus group with teachers, hosting an advisor session with educators and other experts, and surveying hundreds of trades teachers nationwide, Harbor Freight Tools for Schools evolved its purpose: to advance excellent skilled trades education in public high schools across America.

Grantmaking starts in 2016

We work closely in partnership with a small number of organizations that share a dedication to advancing trades education. Our first partnership was with Big Picture Learning in 2016 to design a new form of apprenticeship for high school students who show significant passion for the trades.

2017 marks the first year of the prize

We shine a light on outstanding educators with the Harbor Freight Tools for Schools Prize for Teaching Excellence, awarded annually since 2017 to 18 outstanding skilled trades teachers and programs across the country.

Let’s Build It kicks off in 2018

We foster outstanding trades education by building a community of top-notch educators, connecting them to each other at our annual Let’s Build It Institute, and funding their inventive ideas to dramatically improve skilled trades teaching and learning.

Becoming a source of knowledge in 2020 and beyond

We seek to increase understanding and support of skilled trades education across philanthropy, business and other arenas, beginning with commissioning the first-of-its-kind landscape research and opinion polling on high school skilled trades education in America.