J.H. Whitney & Company is the oldest venture capital firm in the U.S., founded in 1946 by John Hay Whitney and his partner Benno Schmidt. Today the firm focuses primarily on leveraged buyouts, turnarounds, acquisitions, and recapitalizations of more mature companies particularly those it considers to be in the middle market.
The firm is based in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Whitney would become a highly professional organization, whereas before World War II, venture capital investments were primarily the domain of wealthy individuals and families. It was Schmidt, in fact, who is credited with coining the term "venture capital", originally known as "development capital". The company was originally described as a lender of "private adventure capital" and Schmidt would shorten the term to "venture capital."
By far Whitney's most famous investment during this period was in Florida Foods Corporation. The company developed an innovative method for delivering nutrition to American soldiers, which later came to be known as Minute Maid orange juice and was sold to The Coca-Cola Company in 1960.
Whitney's most public foray into the leveraged buyout space came in 1989, when it completed the acquisition of Prime Computer. In 1988, "corporate raider" Bennett S. LeBow, who controlled a smaller computer maker, MAI Basic Four, began an attempted $970 million hostile takeover of Prime Computer. Management resisted LeBow's advances and eventually agreed to a $1.3 billion leveraged buyout with Whitney, acting as a white knight. For Whitney, owning Prime proved to be nearly a total loss with the bulk of the proceeds from the company's liquidation paid to the company's creditors.
Whitney would complete other buyouts in the 1980s including the acquisition of retailer Filene's Basement.