The history of the Eye & Ear Foundation begins in 1895 with an outpatient dispensary, the Eye and Ear Hospital in downtown Pittsburgh. At the time, the charitable focus of the hospital was providing care and services without regard to a patient's ability to pay. Of the nearly 3,000 patients treated in 1902 and 1903, less than 600 paid for the treatment they received.

The Hospital relocated three times, moving in 1943 to Lothrop Street in Oakland where it remains in its current incarnation as The Eye & Ear Foundation, focused on fundraising, and the Eye & Ear Institute, which encompasses the research, academic and medical practices of physicians and scientists of the departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh, UPMC Eye Center and University Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists of UPMC.

The activity of The Eye & Ear Foundation has changed, evolving from hospital to research institute to foundation, but throughout its history, its leaders have remained dedicated to supporting education and advancing medical research for the care of patients with eye, ear, nose, throat, head, and neck ailments.