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Herman and Maurice Herbst arrived in San Francisco along with their parents and siblings at the beginning of the 20th century. Their father had formerly owned a grocery store in Ventura County. Along with a partner, he opened the Herbst Manufacturing Company which was a sheet metal and copper works business. The principal product was metal garbage cans. Later, the business was known as Mission Maid.

In the following years, the Herbst family extended their business activity into real estate, acquiring commercial and office properties in San Francisco. Eventually, Herman and Maurice organized The Herbst Brothers Partnership and devoted their full attention to the real estate business.

Neither Maurice nor Herman married. In the process of developing an estate plan, they incorporated The Herbst Foundation in 1961 and served on the original Board of Directors. In 1967, Herman and Maurice died within three months of each other. Upon conclusion of the administration of their estate, the Foundation was fully formed. The brothers believed that the Foundation would operate in a manner that would memorialize and add esteem to the family name Herbst.