Rockefeller family

Quick Reference

One of the wealthiest and most influential families in twentieth-century America. John Davison Rockefeller (b. 1839, d. 1937) was born in New York, but moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he built up an oil business which by 1882 controlled 95 per cent of the nation's oil-refining capacity, under a board of trustees with Rockefeller as president. This was the first inter-state trust, which stimulated antitrust legislation. A pious Baptist, he became interested in educational philanthropy. America's first billionaire, he gave away altogether some $600 million in his lifetime.

 His son John Davison Jr (b. 1874, d. 1960) continued his father's philanthropic interests, building up the Rockefeller Foundation and funding the Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. He donated the sites for the UN Building and the Lincoln Center in New York City, together with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. His son Nelson Aldrich (b. 1908, d. 1979) was attracted to public life; he was elected for four consecutive terms as Governor of New York (1959–73), and also served as Vice-President to Gerald Ford 1974–7. His moderate conservatism made him a bête noire of the Republican right. Nevertheless, as Vice-President he associated himself with the idea of devolving power and money for social provision and law enforcement to the states, the so-called ‘New Federalism’ which later energized the right. Nelson's nephew, John Davison IV, was Governor of West Virginia (1976–84), serving that state as Senator from 1985.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

Reference entries