Parker B. Francis, founder of the Puritan-Bennett Company, established a foundation bearing his name in 1951. Because Puritan-Bennett was a leading manufacturer of respiratory equipment and medical gases, the foundation provided grants to universities and research foundations to fund research in anesthesiology and related sciences. His sons assumed leadership of Puritan-Bennett after his death in 1957; with John B. Francis as Board Chair and Parker B. Francis III as President. Parker B. Francis III also established a separate foundation to fund his interests in education, and arts and culture in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area.

In 1975, John B. Francis established the Parker B. Francis Fellowship Program to provide funding for M.D. and Ph.D. scientists pursuing careers in pulmonary research. The first PBF Fellows were selected in 1976. Since then, more than $66 million has been invested in support of more than 850 Fellows. By 1989, the two Foundations merged to become the Francis Family Foundation, which continues to support three areas of interest: The PBF Fellowship Program, Lifelong Learning with a focus on early childhood education, and Arts and Culture in Kansas City.

John B. Francis served as President and Honorary Chair of the Foundation's Board of Directors until his death in 2004. His wife, Mary Harris Francis, continued to serve on the Board as honorary Vice Chair until her death in 2005. Three of their four children – Ann F. Barhoum, David V. Francis and J. Scott Francis – in addition to pursuing their own philanthropic interests, are active members of the Board. Through 2017, Ann F. Barhoum and David V. Francis will serve as Board Chair and Board Vice-Chair respectively.

In testimony to the success of the PBF Fellowship Program, a recent survey of former Fellows revealed that more than 70 percent of past PBF Fellows continue to have substantial commitments to pulmonary research.