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The Rockefeller Foundation is a prominent philanthropic organization and private foundation based at 420 Fifth Avenue, New York Citymarker. The preeminent institution established by the six-generation Rockefeller family, it was founded by John D. Rockefeller ("Senior"), along with his son John D. Rockefeller, Jr. ("Junior"), and Senior's principal business and philanthropic advisor, Frederick T. Gates, in New York State in 1913.

Its central historical mission is "to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world."

Some of its achievements include:
  • Financially supported education in the United States "without distinction of race, sex or creed";
  • Established the first schools of public health;
  • Developed the vaccine to prevent yellow fever;
  • Funded the original development of the social sciences;
  • Supported the establishment of a large range of American and international cultural institutions;
  • Funded agricultural development to expand food supplies around the world.

The endowment's assets were $3.7 billion at year-end 2006, and ranks 15th in total assets, out of all foundations in the United States. Although it is no longer the largest foundation by assets, the Rockefeller Foundation's pre-eminent legacy ranks it among the most impactful and influential NGOs in the world. By year-end 2007 assets were tallied at $4,615,428,564. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported the foundation's 2007 grants to be an estimated $164 million, with total expenses of about $199.5 million.


The current president of the foundation is Judith Rodin Ph.D., former president of the University of Pennsylvaniamarker, who succeeded Gordon Conway in 2005 and is the first woman ever to head the foundation. She has set out on an agenda to change the traditional organizational structure and identify the major 21st-century trends that could be affected by the foundation. It now seeks out high-impact ideas that can potentially make a difference in the lives of large numbers of poor or vulnerable people, with measurable results within three to five years.


Original Rockefeller logo, no longer in use
Rockefeller's interest in philanthropy on a large scale began in 1889, influenced by Andrew Carnegie's published essay, The Gospel of Wealth, which prompted him to write a letter to Carnegie praising him as an example to other rich men. It was in that year that he made the first of what would become $35 million in gifts, over a period of two decades, to fund the University of Chicagomarker.

His initial idea to set up a large-scale tax-exempt foundation occurred in 1901, but it was not until 1906 that Senior's famous business and philanthropic advisor, Frederick T. Gates, seriously revived the idea, saying that Rockefeller's fortune was rolling up so fast his heirs would "dissipate their inheritances or become intoxicated with power", unless he set up "permanent corporate philanthropies for the good of Mankind".

It was also in 1906 that the Russell Sage Foundation was established, though its program was limited to working women and social ills. Rockefeller's would thus not be the first foundation in America (Benjamin Franklin was the first to introduce the concept), but it brought to it unprecedented international scale and scope. In 1909 he signed over 73,000 shares of Standard Oil of New Jersey, valued at $50 million, to the three inaugural trustees, Junior, Gates and Harold McCormick, the first installment of a projected $100 million endowment.

They applied for a federal charter for the foundation in the US Senate in 1910, with at one stage Junior even secretly meeting with President William Howard Taft, through the aegis of Senator Nelson Aldrich, to hammer out concessions. However, because of the ongoing (1911) antitrust suit against Standard Oil at the time, along with deep suspicion in some quarters of undue Rockefeller influence on the spending of the endowment, the end result was that Senior and Gates withdrew the bill from Congress in order to seek a state charter.

On May 14, 1913, New York Governor William Sulzer approved a state charter for the foundation - two years after the Carnegie Corporation - with Junior becoming the first president. With its large-scale endowment, a large part of Senior's fortune was insulated from inheritance taxes. The total benefactions of both him and Junior and their philanthropies in the end would far surpass Carnegie's endowments, his biographer Ron Chernow states, ranking Rockefeller as "the greatest philanthropist in American history."

Early grants and connections

The first Secretary of the foundation was Jerome Davis Greene, the former Secretary of Harvard Universitymarker, who wrote a "memorandum on principles and policies” for an early meeting of the trustees that established a rough framework for the foundation's work. On December 5, the Board made its first grant of $100,000 to the American Red Cross to purchase property for its headquarters in Washington, D.C.marker At the beginning the foundation was global in its approach and concentrated in its first decade entirely on the sciences, public health and medical education.

It was initially located within the family office at Standard Oil's headquarters at 26 Broadwaymarker, later (in 1933) shifting to the GE Buildingmarker (then RCA), along with the newly-named family office, Room 5600, at Rockefeller Centermarker; later it moved to the Time-Life Buildingmarker in the Center, before shifting to its current Fifth Avenue address.

In 1913 the foundation set up the International Health Commission (later Board), the first appropriation of funds for work outside the US, which launched the foundation into international public health activities. This expanded the work of the Sanitary Commission worldwide, working against various diseases in fifty-two countries on six continents and twenty-nine islands, bringing international recognition of the need for public health and environmental sanitation. Its early field research on hookworm, malaria, and yellow fever provided the basic techniques to control these diseases and established the pattern of modern public health services.

The Commission established and endowed the world's first school of Hygiene and Public Health, at Johns Hopkins University, and later at Harvard, and then spent more than $25 million in developing other public health schools in the US and in 21 foreign countries - helping to establish America as the world leader in medicine and scientific research. In 1913 it also began a 20-year support program of the Bureau of Social Hygiene, whose mission was research and education on birth control, maternal health and sex education.

In 1914 the foundation set up the China Medical Board, which established the first public health university in China, the Peking Union Medical College, in 1921; this was subsequently nationalised when the Communists took over the country in 1949. In the same year it began a program of international fellowships to train scholars at the world’s leading universities at the post-doctoral level; a fundamental commitment to the education of future leaders.

Also in 1914, the trustees set up a new Department of Industrial Relations, inviting William Lyon MacKenzie King to head it. He became a close and key advisor to Junior through the Ludlow massacre, turning around his attitude to unions; however the foundation's involvement in IR was criticized for advancing the family's business interests. It henceforth confined itself to funding responsible organizations involved in this and other controversial fields, which were beyond the control of the foundation itself.

Through the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, established by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1918 and named after his mother, the family shifted the focus of philanthropy into the social sciences, stimulating the founding of university research centres and creating the Social Science Research Council. This memorial fund was subsequently folded into the foundation in a major reorganization in 1928/9.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. became the foundation chairman in 1917. One of the many prominent trustees of the institution since has been C. Douglas Dillon, the United States Secretary of the Treasury under both Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The foundation also supported the early initiatives of Henry Kissinger, such as his directorship of Harvard's International Seminars and the early foreign policy magazine Confluence, both established by him while he was still a graduate student.

Programs: scale and scope

Through the years the foundation has expanded greatly in scope. Historically, it has given more than $14 billion in current dollars to thousands of grantees worldwide and has assisted directly in the training of nearly 13,000 Rockefeller Fellows.

Its overall philanthropic activity has been divided into five main subject areas:
  • Medical, health, and population sciences,
  • Agricultural and natural sciences,
  • Arts and humanities,
  • Social sciences,
  • International relations.

A major program beginning in the 1930s was the relocation of German (Jewish) scholars from German universities to America. This was expanded to other European countries after the Anschluss occurred; when war broke out it became a full-scale rescue operation. Another program, the Emergency Rescue Committee was also partly funded with Rockefeller money; this effort resulted in the rescue of some of the most famous artists, writers and composers of Europe. Some of the notable figures relocated or saved (out of a total of 303 scholars) by the Foundation were Thomas Mann, Claude Levi-Strauss and Leo Szilard, enriching intellectual life and academic disciplines in the US. This came to light afterwards through a brief, unpublished history of the Foundation's program.

Another significant program was its Medical Sciences Division, which extensively funded women's contraception and the human reproductive system in general. Other funding went into endocrinology departments in American universities, human heredity, mammalian biology, human physiology and anatomy, psychology, and the pioneering studies of human sexual behavior by Dr. Alfred Kinsey.

In 1950 the Foundation mounted a major program of virus research, establishing field laboratories in Poona, India; Port of Spainmarker, Trinidad; Belem, Brazil; Johannesburgmarker, South Africa; Cairomarker, Egypt; Ibadanmarker, Nigeria; and Calimarker, Colombia. In time, major funding was also contributed by the countries involved, while in Trinidad the British government and neighbouring British-controlled territories also assisted. Sub-professional staff were almost all recruited locally and, wherever possible, local people were given scholarships and other support to be professionally trained. In most cases, locals eventually took over management of the facilities. Support was also given to research on viruses in many other countries. The result of all this research was the identification of a huge number of viruses affecting humans, the development of new techniques for the rapid identification of viruses, and a quantum leap in our understanding of anthropod-borne viruses.

In the arts it has helped establish or support the Stratford Shakespearean Festival in Ontario, Canadamarker, and the American Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticutmarker; Arena Stagemarker in Washington, D.C.marker; Karamu House in Cleveland, Ohiomarker; and Lincoln Center for the Performing Artsmarker in New York. In a recent shift in program emphasis, President Rodin eliminated the division that spent money on the arts, the creativity and culture program. One program that signals the shift was the foundation's support as the underwriter of Spike Lee's documentary on New Orleansmarker, When the Levees Broke. The film has been used as the basis for a curriculum on poverty, developed by the Teachers College at Columbia University for their students.

Thousands of scientists and scholars from all over the world have received foundation fellowships and scholarships for advanced study in major scientific disciplines. In addition, the foundation has provided significant and often substantial research grants to finance conferences and assist with published studies, as well as funding departments and programs, to a vast range of foreign policy and educational organizations, some of which include:

==The Green Revolution==sssAgriculture was introduced to the Natural Sciences division of the foundation in the major reorganization of 1928. In 1941, the foundation gave a small grant to Mexicomarker for maize research, in collaboration with the then new president, Manuel Avila Camacho. This was done after the intervention of vice-president Henry Wallace and the involvement of Nelson Rockefeller; the primary intention being to stabilise the Mexican Government and derail any possible communist infiltration, in order to protect the Rockefeller family's investments.

By 1943 this program, under the foundation's Mexican Agriculture Project, had proved such a success with the science of corn propagation and general principles of agronomy that it was exported to other Latin American countries; in 1956 the program was then taken to Indiamarker; again with the geopolitical imperative of providing an antidote to communism. It wasn't until 1959 that senior foundation officials succeeded in getting the Ford Foundation (and later USAID, and later still, the World Bank) to sign on to the major philanthropic project, known now to the world as the Green Revolution. It also provided significant funding for the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippinesmarker. Part of the original program, the funding of the IRRI was later taken over by the Ford Foundation.

Costing around $600 million, over 50 years, the revolution brought new farming technology, increased productivity, expanded crop yields and mass fertilization to many countries throughout the world. Later it funded over $100 million dollars of plant biotechnology research and trained over four hundred scientists from Asia, Africa and Latin America. It also invested in the production of transgenic crops, including rice and maize. In 1999, the then president Gordon Conway addressed the Monsanto Company board of directors, warning of the possible social and environmental dangers of this biotechnology, and requesting them to disavow the use of so-called terminator genes; the company later complied.

In the 1990s the foundation shifted its agriculture work and emphasis to Africa; in 2006 it joined with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in a $150 million effort to fight hunger in the continent through improved agricultural productivity.

The Bellagio Center

The foundation also owns and operates the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy. The Center comprises several buildings, spread across a property, on the peninsula between lakes Como and Lecco in Northern Italy. The Center is sometimes colloquially referred to as the Villa Serbelloni. The Villa is only one of the many buildings in which residents and conference participants are housed. The property was bequeathed to the Foundation in 1959 under the presidency of Dean Rusk (who was later to become U.S. President Kennedy's secretary of state).

The Bellagio Center operates both a conference center and a residency program. The residency program is a competitive program to which scholars, artists, writers, musicians, scientists, policymakers and development professionals from around the world can apply to work on a project of their own choosing for a period of two to six weeks.

Family involvement

Over the decades the Rockefeller family has generally distanced itself from direct involvement as trustees in the foundation's management, to maintain the foundation's independence and avoid charges of undue family influence. Family members were actively involved from the outset but later were limited to one or two representatives, such as the former president John D. Rockefeller 3rd, and then his son John D. Rockefeller, IV, who gave up the trusteeship in 1981. In 1989, David Rockefeller's daughter, Peggy Dulany, was appointed to the board for a five-year term.

In October 2006 the foundation announced that David Rockefeller, Jr. had joined the board of trustees, re-establishing the direct family link and becoming the sixth family member overall to serve on the board. This is unlike the Ford Foundation, which has permanently severed all direct links with the Ford family.

The foundation also has traditionally held a major portion of its shares portfolio in the family's oil companies, beginning with Standard Oil and now with its corporate descendants, including Exxon Mobil.

Historical legacy

The second-oldest major philanthropic institution in America after the Carnegie Corporation, the foundation's impact on philanthropy in general has been profound. It has supported United Nations programs throughout its history, such as the recent First Global Forum On Human Development, organized by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1999.[31957]

The early institutions it set up have served as models for current organizations: the UN's World Health Organization, set up in 1948, is modeled on the International Health Division; the U.S. Government's National Science Foundation (1950) on its approach in support of research, scholarships and institutional development; and the National Institute of Healthmarker (1950) imitated its longstanding medical programs.

Notable current trustees

Notable past trustees


  • Judith Rodin - 2005-
  • Gordon Conway - 1998-2004
  • Peter Goldmark, Jr. - 1988-1997
  • Richard Lyman - 1980-1988
  • John Knowles - 1972-1979
  • J. George Harrar - 1961-1972
  • Dean Rusk - 1952-1961
  • Chester Barnard - 1948-1952
  • Raymond Fosdick - 1936-1948
  • Max Mason - 1929-1936
  • George Vincent - 1917-1929
  • John D. Rockefeller, Jr. - 1913-1917.


  • Berman, Edward H. The Ideology of Philanthropy: The influence of the Carnegie, Ford, and Rockefeller foundations on American foreign policy, New York: State University of New York Press, 1983.
  • Brown, E. Richard, Rockefeller Medicine Men: Medicine and Capitalism in America, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979.
  • Chernow, Ron, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., London: Warner Books, 1998.
  • Dowie, Mark, American Foundations: An Investigative History, Boston: The MIT Press, 2001.
  • Fisher, Donald, Fundamental Development of the Social Sciences: Rockefeller Philanthropy and the United States Social Science Research Council, Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 1993.
  • Fosdick, Raymond B., John D. Rockefeller, Jr., A Portrait, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956.
  • Fosdick, Raymond B., The Story of the Rockefeller Foundation, New York: Transaction Publishers, Reprint, 1989.
  • 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.
  • Jonas, Gerald. The Circuit Riders: Rockefeller Money and the Rise of Modern Science. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1989.
  • Kay, Lily, The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  • Lawrence, Christopher. Rockefeller Money, the Laboratory and Medicine in Edinburgh 1919-1930: New Science in an Old Country, Rochester Studies in Medical History, University of Rochester Press, 2005.
  • Nielsen, Waldemar, The Big Foundations, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
  • Rockefeller, David, Memoirs, New York: Random House, 2002.
  • Shaplen, Robert, Toward the Well-Being of Mankind: Fifty Years of the Rockefeller Foundation, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964.
  • Theiler, Max and Downs, W. G., The Anthropod-Borne Viruses of Vertebrates: An Account of The Rockefeller Foundation Virus Program, 1951-1970. (1973) Yale University Press. New Haven and London. ISBN 0-300-01508-9.

See also


Specific references:
  1., history, 1913-1919
  2. The Foundation Center
  3., The Rockefeller Foundation, accessed 2009-06-20
  4. Amid Strong Returns, a July 24, 2008 article from the Chronicle of Philanthropy (retrieved September 15, 2009)
  5. The Rockefeller Foundation Timeline
  6. Details of the establishment and future legacy of the Rockefeller Foundation - see Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., New York: Warner Books, 1998, (pp. 563-566)
  7. Foundation withdrew from direct involvement in Industrial Relations - see Robert Shaplen, Toward the Well-Being of Mankind: Fifty Years of the Rockefeller Foundation, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1964, (p.128)
  8. Early backing of Henry Kissinger - see Walter Isaacson, Kissinger: A Biography, New York: Simon & Schuster, (updated) 2005, (p.72)
  9. Rockefeller Archive Center: Main subject areas.
  10. Major rescue program of European scholars - see John Ensor Harr and Peter J. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century: Three Generations of America's Greatest Family, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1988. (pp.401-03)
  11. Medical Sciences Division and Alfred Kinsey funding - Ibid., (p.456)
  12. The Anthropod-Borne Viruses of Vertebrates: An Account of The Rockefeller Foundation Virus Program, 1951-1970, pp. xvii, xx. Max Theiler and W. G. Downs. (1973) Yale University Press. New Haven and London. ISBN 0-300-01508-9.
  13. New York Times, 2007: Charities Try to Keep Up With the Gateses
  14. Funding of programs and fellowships at major universities, foreign policy think tanks and research councils - see Robert Shaplen, op, cit., (passim)
  15. AFP Online
  16. The story of the Foundation and the Green Revolution - see Mark Dowie, American Foundations: An Investigative History, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2001, (pp.105-140)
  17. "The Rockefeller Foundation and Plant Biotechnology"
  18. Share portfolio - see Waldemar Nielsen The Big Foundations, New York: Columbia University Press, 1972. (p.72)
  19. As model for UN organizations - Ibid., (pp.64-5)
General references:

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