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John Davison Rockefeller, Jr.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.
Born January 29, 1874(1874-01-29)
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
Died May 11, 1960 (aged 86)
Tucson, Arizona, USA
Occupation Business, Philanthropist
Spouse(s) Abby Greene Aldrich
Children Abby Rockefeller Mauzé (daughter)
John D. Rockefeller III (1st son)
Nelson Rockefeller (2nd son)
Laurance Rockefeller (3rd son)
Winthrop Rockefeller (4th son)
David Rockefeller (5th son)
Parents John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (father)
Laura Celestia Spelman (mother)

John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. (January 29, 1874 – May 11, 1960) was a major philanthropist and a pivotal member of the prominent Rockefeller family. He was the sole son among the five children of businessman and Standard Oil industrialist John D. Rockefeller and the father of the five famous Rockefeller brothers. In biographies, he was invariably referred to as "Junior" to distinguish him from his more celebrated father, known as "Senior".


Early life

Rockefeller, Jr. was the fifth and last child of John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937) and his wife, Laura Celestia Spelman (1839–1915). Living in his father's mansion at 4 West 54th Street he attended Park Avenue Baptist Church at 64th Street (now Central Presbyterian Church), attended the Cutler School and then, from 1889 to 1893, The Browning School, a tutorial establishment set up for him and other children of associates of the family; it was located in a brownstone owned by the Rockefellers, on West 55th Street.

Initially he had intended to go to Yale but was encouraged by William Rainey Harper, president of the University of Chicago, among others, to enter the Baptist-oriented Brown University instead. Nicknamed Johnny Rock by his roommates, he joined both the Glee and the Mandolin Clubs, taught a Bible class and was elected junior class president. Scrupulously careful with money, he stood out as different from other rich men's sons.[1]

In 1897 he graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts, after taking nearly a dozen courses in the social sciences, including a study of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. He joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.

Business career

After graduation, Rockefeller, Jr. joined his father's business (October 1, 1897) and set up operations in the newly-formed family office at Standard Oil's headquarters at 26 Broadway. He became a Standard Oil director; he later also became a director in J. P. Morgan's U.S. Steel company, which had been formed in 1901. After a scandal involving the then head of Standard Oil, John Dustin Archbold (the successor to Senior), and bribes he had made to two prominent Congressmen, unearthed by the Hearst media empire, Junior resigned from both companies in 1910 in an attempt to "purify" his ongoing philanthropy from commercial and financial interests.[2]

Rockefeller and his father John D. Rockefeller in 1915.

In April, 1914, after a long period of industrial unrest the Ludlow massacre occurred at the coal-mining company, Colorado Fuel and Iron (CFI). Senior owned a majority of stock in the company and Junior sat on the board, as an absentee director. Twenty men, women and children died in the incident and Junior was subsequently called to testify in January, 1915, before the US Commission on Industrial Relations. He was at the time being advised by William Lyon MacKenzie King and the pioneer public relations expert, Ivy Lee. Junior also at this time met with the union organizer, Mary Harris "Mother" Jones and admitted fault in his testimony. MacKenzie King was later to say that this testimony was the turning point in Junior's life, restoring the reputation of the family name; it also heralded a new era of industrial relations in the country (see below).[3]

During the Great Depression he developed and was the sole financier of a vast 14-building real estate complex in the geographical center of Manhattan, Rockefeller Center, and as a result became one of the largest real estate holders in New York City. He was influential in attracting leading blue chip corporations as tenants in the complex, including GE and its then affiliates RCA, NBC and RKO, as well as Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso), and Associated Press and Time Inc, as well as branches of the then Chase National Bank, now JP Morgan Chase.

The family office, of which he was in charge, called now formally "Rockefeller Family and Associates" (and informally, Room 5600), shifted from Standard Oil headquarters to the 56th floor of what is now the landmark GE Building, upon its completion in 1933.

In 1921, he received about 10% of the shares of the Equitable Trust Company from his father, making him the bank's largest shareholder. Subsequently, in 1930, the Equitable merged with the Chase National Bank, now JP Morgan Chase, and became at that time the largest bank in the world. Although his stockholding was reduced to about 4% following this merger, he was still the largest shareholder in what became known as the "Rockefeller bank". As late as the 1960s his family still retained about 1% of the bank's shares, by which time his son David had become the bank's president.[4]

Philanthropy and social causes

John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife Abby, at Grand Teton National Park

In a celebrated letter to Nicholas Murray Butler in June, 1932, subsequently printed on the front page of The New York Times, Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler, argued against the continuation of the Eighteenth Amendment on the principal grounds of an increase in disrespect for the law. This letter became the singular event that pushed the nation to repeal Prohibition.[5]

However, Rockefeller, Jr. is most remembered for his philanthropy, giving over $537 million to myriad causes over his lifetime.[6] He created the Sealantic Fund in 1938 to channel gifts to his favorite causes; previously his main philanthropic organization had been the Davison Fund. He had become the Rockefeller Foundation's inaugural president in May, 1913 and proceeded to dramatically expand the scope of this institution, founded by his father. Later he would become involved in other organizations set up by Senior, the Rockefeller University and the International Education Board.

In the social sciences, he founded the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in 1918, which was subsequently folded into the Rockefeller Foundation in 1929.[7] A committed internationalist, he financially supported programs of the League of Nations and crucially funded the formation and ongoing expenses of the Council on Foreign Relations and its initial headquarters building, in New York in 1921.[8]

In 1900, after he had earlier (1896) persuaded his father to support nascent cancer research, Rockefeller money built a medical laboratory on the campus of Cornell Medical Center. This subsequently became Memorial Hospital, which decades later became the world renowned Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

He established the Bureau of Social Hygiene in 1913, a major initiative that investigated such social issues as prostitution and venereal disease, as well as studies in police administration and support for birth control clinics and research. In 1924, at the instigation of his wife, he provided crucial funding for Margaret Sanger in her pioneering work on birth control and involvement in population issues.[9]

In the arts, he gave extensive property he owned on West Fifty-fourth Street for the site of the Museum of Modern Art, which had been co-founded by his wife in 1929. He also founded the Museum of Primitive Art, now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

In November, 1926, Rockefeller came to the College of William and Mary for the dedication of an auditorium built in memory of the organizers of Phi Beta Kappa, the honorary scholastic fraternity founded in Williamsburg in 1776. Rockefeller was a member of the society and had helped pay for the auditorium. He had visited Williamsburg the previous March, when the Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin escorted him — along with his wife Abby, and their sons, David, Laurance, and Winthrop — on a quick tour of the city. The upshot of his visit was that he approved the plans already developed by Goodwin and launched the massive historical restoration of Colonial Williamsburg on November 22, 1927. Amongst many other buildings restored through his largesse was The College of William & Mary's Wren Building.[10]

Through negotiations by his son Nelson, in 1946 he bought for $8.5 million - from the major New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf - and then donated the land along the East River in Manhattan upon which the United Nations headquarters was built. This was after he had vetoed the family estate at Pocantico as a prospective site for the headquarters (see Kykuit).[11] Another UN connection was his early financial support for its predecessor, the League of Nations; this included a gift to endow a major library for the League in Geneva which today still remains a resource for the UN.[12]

A confirmed ecumenicist, over the years he gave substantial sums to Protestant and Baptist institutions, ranging from the Interchurch World Movement, the Federal Council of Churches, the Union Theological Seminary, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York's Riverside Church and the World Council of Churches. He was also instrumental in the development of the research that led to Robert and Helen Lynd's famous Middletown studies work that was conducted in the city of Muncie, Indiana, that arose out of the financially supported Institute of Social and Religious Research.

As a follow on to his involvement in the Ludlow Massacre, Rockefeller was a major initiator with his close friend and advisor William Lyon Mackenzie King in the nascent industrial relations movement; along with major chief executives of the time he incorporated Industrial Relations Counselors (IRC) in 1926, a consulting firm whose main goal was to establish industrial relations as a recognized academic discipline at Princeton University and other institutions. It succeeded through the support of prominent corporate chieftains of the time, such as Owen D. Young and Gerard Swope of General Electric.[13]

Overseas philanthropy

In the 1920s he also donated a substantial amount towards the restoration and rehabilitation of major buildings in France after World War I, such as the Rheims Cathedral, the Château de Fontainebleau and the Château de Versailles, for which in 1936 he was awarded France's highest decoration, the Grand Croix of the Légion d'honneur (subsequently also awarded decades later - in 2000 - to his son, David Rockefeller).

He also liberally funded the notable early excavations at Luxor in Egypt, and the American School of Classical Studies for excavation of the Agora and the reconstruction of the Stoa of Attolos, both in Athens; the American Academy in Rome; Lingnan University in China; St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo; the library of the Imperial University in Tokyo; and to the Shakespeare Memorial Endowment at Stratford-on-Avon.

In addition, he provided the funding for the construction of the Palestine Archaeological Museum in East Jerusalem - the Rockefeller Museum - which today houses such notable antiquities as the Dead Sea Scrolls.[14]


He had a special interest in conservation, and purchased and donated land for many American National Parks, including Grand Teton (hiding his involvement and intentions behind the Snake River Land Company), Acadia, Great Smoky Mountains, Yosemite, and Shenandoah. In the case of Acadia National Park, he financed and engineered an extensive Carriage Road network throughout the park. Both the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway that connects Yellowstone National Park to the Grand Teton National Park and the Rockefeller Memorial in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park were named after him. He was also active in the movement to save redwood trees, making a significant contribution to Save-the-Redwoods League in the 1920s to enable the purchase of what would become the Rockefeller Forest in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

In 1951, he established Sleepy Hollow Restorations, which brought together under one administrative body the management and operation of two historic sites he had acquired: Philipsburg Manor in North Tarrytown, now called Sleepy Hollow, (acquired in 1940 and donated to the Tarrytown Historical Society), and Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s home, acquired in 1945. He bought Van Cortland Manor in Croton-on-Hudson in 1953 and in 1959 donated it to Sleepy Hollow Restorations. In all, he invested more than $12 million in the acquisition and restoration of the three properties that were the core of the organization’s holdings. In 1986, Sleepy Hollow Restorations became Historic Hudson Valley, which also operates the current guided tours of the Rockefeller family estate of Kykuit in Pocantico Hills.

He is the author of the noted life principle, among others, inscribed on a tablet facing his famed Rockefeller Center: "I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty".[15]

In 1935, Rockefeller received The Hundred Year Association of New York's Gold Medal Award, "in recognition of outstanding contributions to the City of New York."

Wives, children and legacy

In August 1900, Rockefeller was invited by the powerful Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island to join a party aboard President William McKinley's yacht, the Dolphin, on a cruise to Cuba. Although the outing was of a political nature, Rockefeller's future wife Abby Greene Aldrich was included in the large party; the two had been courting for over four years.

Junior married Abby Greene Aldrich on October 9, 1901, in what was seen at the time as the consummate marriage of capitalism and politics. Moreover, their wedding was the major social event of its time - one of the most lavish of the Gilded Age. It was held at the Aldrich summer mansion at Warwick Neck, Rhode Island, and attended by Standard Oil and other great industrial executives of the age.[16]

The couple had six children, a daughter and the five Rockefeller brothers:

Abby Rockefeller died of a heart attack at the family apartment at 740 Park Avenue in April, 1948. Junior remarried in 1951, to Martha Baird Allen, the widow of his old college classmate, Arthur Allen. Rockefeller died of pneumonia on May 11, 1960 at the age of 86, and was interred in the family cemetery in Tarrytown, with 40 family members present.

His sons, the five Rockefeller brothers established an unparalleled network of social connections and institutional power over time, based on the foundations that Junior - and before him Senior - had laid down. David became an internationally renowned banker, philanthropist and world statesman. John D. III became a major philanthropist and internationalist. Laurance became a significant venture capitalist and major conservationist. Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller later became state governors; Nelson went on to become Vice President of the United States under Gerald Ford.


Junior's principal residence in New York was the 9-story mansion at 10 West Fifty-fourth Street, but he owned a group of properties in this vicinity, including Nos 4, 12, 14 and 16 (some of these properties had been previously acquired by his father, John D. Rockefeller). After vacating Number 10 in 1936, these properties were razed and subsequently all the land was gifted to his wife's Museum of Modern Art. In that year he moved into a luxurious 40-room triplex apartment at 740 Park Avenue. In 1953, the real estate developer William Zeckendorf bought the 740 Park Avenue apartment complex and then sold it to Rockefeller, who quickly turned the building into a cooperative, selling it on to his rich neighbors in the building.

Years later, just after his son Nelson, as Governor of New York State, helped foil a bid by greenmailer Saul Steinberg to take over Chemical Bank, Steinberg bought Junior's apartment for $225,000, $25,000 less than it had cost new in 1929. It has since been called the greatest trophy apartment in New York, in the world's richest apartment building.[17]

Further reading

  • Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Warner Books, 1998.
  • Fosdick, Raymond B. John D. Rockefeller, Jr., A Portrait, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956.
  • Gitelman, H. Legacy of the Ludlow Massacre: A Chapter in American Industrial Relations. University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia, 1988.
  • Gonzales, Donald J., (Chronicled). The Rockefellers at Williamsburg: Backstage with the Founders, Restorers and World-Renowned Guests. McLean, Virginia: EPM Publications, Inc., 1991.
  • Gross, Michael. 740 Park: The Story of the World's Richest Apartment Building, New York: Broadway Books, 2005.
  • Harr, John Ensor, and Peter J. Johnson. The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988.
  • Harr, John Ensor, and Peter J. Johnson. The Rockefeller Conscience: An American Family in Public and in Private, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1991.
  • Kert, Bernice. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993.
  • Okrent, Daniel. Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, New York: Viking Press, 2003.
  • Roberts, Ann Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller's Roads: The Untold Story of Acadia's Carriage Roads and Their Creator. Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 1990.
  • Rockefeller, David. Memoirs, New York: Random House, 2002.
  • Schenkel, Albert F. The Rich Man and the Kingdom: John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Protestant Establishment, Harvard Theological Studies, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 1995.

See also


  1. ^ Details of Brown University days - see Bernice Kert, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993. (pp.62-3)
  2. ^ Resignation from Standard Oil and U.S. Steel boards - see Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., London: Warner Books, 1998. (pp.548-51)
  3. ^ The Ludlow massacre and the turning point in Junior's life - Ibid., (pp.571-586)
  4. ^ Largest shareholder in Chase Bank - see David Rockefeller, Memoirs, New York: Random House, 2002. (pp.124-25)
  5. ^ Letter on Prohibition - see Daniel Okrent, Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, New York: Viking Press, 2003. (pp.246/7).
  6. ^ Rockefeller Archive Center
  7. ^ Laura Spelman Memorial - see Chernow, op.cit. (p.596)
  8. ^ Funding of the CFR and other international institutions - Ibid., (p.638); John Ensor Harr and Peter J. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988. (p.156)
  9. ^ The Bureau of Social Hygiene and social issues; funding for Margaret Sanger - see Harr & Johnson, op.cit. (pp.113-15, 191, 461-2)
  10. ^ Colonial Williamsburg Journal, 2004
  11. ^ Family estate vetoed as site for the UN headquarters - Ibid., (pp.432-3)
  12. ^ Endowment of UN library - Ibid., (p.173)
  13. ^ Key involvement in the Industrial Relations movement - Ibid., (pp.183-4)
  14. ^ Restorations and constructions in France, Egypt, Greece and Jerusalem - see David Rockefeller, Memoirs, op.cit. (pp.44-8).
  15. ^ Life principle - see John Donald Wilson, The Chase: The Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., 1945-1985, Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1986. (p.328)
  16. ^ Details of the 1901 wedding - Harr & Johnson, op.cit., (pp.81-5)
  17. ^ Michael Gross: 740 Park Avenue

External links

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Prince Albert, Duke of York
Cover of Time Magazine
19 January 1925
Succeeded by
Charles B. Warren


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. (January 29, 1874May 11, 1960) was an American businessman and philanthropist, the son and heir of John D. Rockefeller and the first president of the Rockefeller Foundation.


  • The American Beauty Rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God.
    • Address to the students of Brown University, quoted in Ida Tarbell (1904) The History of the Standard Oil Company
  • I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
    • Radio speech, "Our Family Creed" (8 July 1941)
  • I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.
    • Radio speech, "Our Family Creed" (8 July 1941)
  • I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.
    • Radio speech, "Our Family Creed" (8 July 1941)

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