John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960), American philanthropist, utilized the family fortune to establish scores of philanthropic enterprises and participated actively in their management. He also became widely known as an expert in industrial relations.
Born to substantial wealth on Jan. 29, 1874, in Cleveland, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was brought up in a rigorously puritanical atmosphere. The social life of the family centered in the Baptist Church, and young Rockefeller and his four sisters were taught to live upright, religious lives. Educated at Brown University, from which he graduated in 1897, he was shy and serious, determined to carry out what he felt were his duties to his God, his family, and society.
After graduation from college, young Rockefeller— largely to please his father, to whom he was devoted— entered the offices of the family's Standard Oil Company in New York City to prepare himself to administer his father's vast business interests. But because of his retiring and extremely moralistic nature he disliked the bruising business world and occupied himself increasingly with managing his father's estates and philanthropic enterprises. The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the General Education Board, and the Rockefeller Foundation were financed by the elder Rockefeller, but his son participated actively in management. The education board was concerned chiefly with improving education for African Americans in the South; the foundation became a vast holding company for hundreds of philanthropies.
From 1900 to 1908 John D. Rockefeller, Jr., became more closely involved with his father's business interests. But allegations of unfair competitive practices used by Standard Oil led him to separate himself from active policy making in his father's corporations in 1910. In 1913, however, because of a large family stockholding in the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, he was implicated in a strike that not only shut down the company but threatened to balloon into a domestic insurrection. Although keenly hurt by accusations from liberals and labor leaders that he had helped intensify the strife by siding with an arbitrary and unsympathetic management, Rockefeller worked out a plan for worker representation in company affairs that became a model for industrial relations during the 1920s. Elaborating this scheme in speeches and periodical articles, he came to be considered a leading liberal in labor affairs.
Among the best-known philanthropies occupying Rockefeller from 1915 until his death were conservation and national park projects in the West, the Cloisters art museum in New York, and the Williamsburg restoration. He also planned and constructed Rockefeller Center in New York City and donated the land upon which the United Nations building now stands.
Modest, unaffected, and unostentatious, Rockefeller did much to remove the "robber baron" stigma from big business and to awaken businessmen to social responsibilities. He died on May 11, 1960, in Tucson, Ariz.
Further Reading on John D. Rockefeller Jr
A good source of information on Rockefeller is the sympathetic biography by his friend and colleague Raymond B. Fosdick, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1956).
Additional Biography Sources
Schenkel, Albert F., The rich man and the kingdom: John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the Protestant establishment, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.
Morrow, Lance, The chief: a memoir of fathers and sons, New York: Collier Books, 1986, 1984.