David Rockefeller

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David Rockefeller
David Rockefeller - NARA - 195929 (cropped).jpg
Rockefeller in 1953
Chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations
In office
Preceded by John J. McCloy
Succeeded by Peter George Peterson
Chairman & CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank
In office
Preceded byGeorge Champion
Succeeded by Willard C. Butcher
Personal details
Born(1915-06-12)June 12, 1915
New York City, U.S.
DiedMarch 20, 2017(2017-03-20) (aged 101)
Pocantico Hills, New York, U.S.
Political party Republican
Margaret McGrath
(m. 1940;died 1996)
ChildrenDavid Jr., Abigail, Neva, Margaret, Richard, and Eileen
Parents John Davison Rockefeller Jr.
Abigail Greene Aldrich
RelativesSee Rockefeller family
Education A.B. in 1936 & Ph.D. in 1940
Alma mater Harvard University
London School of Economics
University of Chicago
OccupationBanker, philanthropist
Net worthUS$3.3 billion (March 2017 estimate) [1]

David Rockefeller (June 12, 1915 – March 20, 2017) was an American banker who served as chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Corporation. He was the oldest living member of the third generation of the Rockefeller family, and family patriarch from August 2004 until his death in March 2017. [2] Rockefeller was the youngest child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and a grandson of John D. Rockefeller and Laura Spelman Rockefeller.

The Rockefeller family is an American industrial, political, and banking family that owns one of the world's largest fortunes. The fortune was made in the American petroleum industry during the late 19th and early 20th centuries by John D. Rockefeller and his brother William Rockefeller, primarily through Standard Oil. The family has had a long association with, and control of, Chase Manhattan Bank. As of 1977 the Rockefellers were considered one of the most powerful families, if not the most powerful family, in the history of the United States. The Rockefeller family originated in Rhineland in Germany and family members moved to the New World in the early 18th century, while through Eliza Davison, John D. Rockefeller and William Rockefeller Jr. and their descendants are also of Scotch-Irish ancestry.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. American financier and philanthropist

John Davison Rockefeller Jr. was an American financier and philanthropist who was a prominent member of the Rockefeller family. He was the only son among the five children of Standard Oil co-founder John D. Rockefeller and the father of the five famous Rockefeller brothers. In biographies, he is commonly referred to as "Junior" to distinguish him from his father, "Senior". His sons included Nelson Rockefeller, the 41st Vice President of The United States; Winthrop Rockefeller, the 37th Governor of Arkansas; and banker David Rockefeller.

Abby Aldrich Rockefeller American socialite and philanthropist

Abigail Greene "Abby" Aldrich Rockefeller was an American socialite and philanthropist. Through her marriage to financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., she was a prominent member of the Rockefeller family. Referred to as the "woman in the family", she was known for being the driving force behind the establishment of the Museum of Modern Art, on 53rd Street in New York, in November 1929.


He was noted for his wide-ranging political connections and foreign travel, in which he met with many foreign leaders. His fortune was estimated at $3.3 billion at the time of his death in March 2017. [1]

Early life

Rockefeller was born in New York City, New York. He grew up in an eight-story house at 10 West 54th Street, the tallest private residence ever built in the city. [3] Rockefeller was the youngest of six children born to financier John Davison Rockefeller Jr. and socialite Abigail Greene "Abby" Aldrich. John Jr. was the only son of Standard Oil co-founder John Davison Rockefeller Sr. and schoolteacher Laura Celestia "Cettie" Spelman. Abby was a daughter of Rhode Island U.S. Senator Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich and Abigail Pearce Truman "Abby" Chapman. David's five elder siblings were Abby, John III, Nelson, Laurance, and Winthrop.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

New York (state) American state

New York is a state in the Northeastern United States. New York was one of the original thirteen colonies that formed the United States. With an estimated 19.54 million residents in 2018, it is the fourth most populous state. In order to distinguish the state from the city with the same name, it is sometimes referred to as New York State.

Standard Oil Co. Inc. was an American oil producing, transporting, refining, marketing company, and monopoly. Established in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller and Henry Flagler as a corporation in Ohio, it was the largest oil refinery in the world of its time. Its history as one of the world's first and largest multinational corporations ended in 1911, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a landmark case, that Standard Oil was an illegal monopoly.

Rockefeller attended the experimental Lincoln School at 123rd Street in Harlem.

Harlem Neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City

Harlem is a neighborhood in the northern section of the New York City borough of Manhattan. It is bounded roughly by Frederick Douglass Boulevard, St. Nicholas Avenue, and Morningside Park on the west; the Harlem River and 155th Street on the north; Fifth Avenue on the east; and Central Park North on the south. The greater Harlem area encompasses several other neighborhoods and extends west to the Hudson River, north to 155th Street, east to the East River, and south to 96th Street. Harlem is part of Manhattan Community District 10.


In 1936, Rockefeller graduated cum laude from Harvard University, where he worked as an editor on The Harvard Crimson . [4] He also studied economics for a year at Harvard and then a year at the London School of Economics (LSE). At LSE he first met the future President John F. Kennedy (although he had earlier been his contemporary at Harvard) and once dated Kennedy's sister Kathleen. [5] During his time abroad, Rockefeller briefly worked in the London branch of what was to become the Chase Manhattan Bank.

Harvard University Private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Its history, influence, wealth, and academic reputation have made it one of the most prestigious universities in the world. It has often been cited as the world's top university by most publishers.

<i>The Harvard Crimson</i> newspaper

The Harvard Crimson, the daily student newspaper of Harvard University, was founded in 1873. It is the only daily newspaper in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and is run entirely by Harvard College undergraduates. The newspaper is operated by The Harvard Crimson Corporation, officially The Trustees of The Harvard Crimson, a non-profit organization.

London School of Economics public research university in London, United Kingdom

The London School of Economics is a public research university located in London, England, and a member institution of the federal University of London. Founded in 1895 by Fabian Society members Sidney Webb, Beatrice Webb, Graham Wallas, and George Bernard Shaw for the betterment of society, LSE joined the University of London in 1900 and established its first degree courses under the auspices of the University in 1901. LSE started awarding its own degrees in its own name in 2008, prior to which it awarded degrees of the University of London.

After returning to the U.S. to complete his graduate studies, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1940. [6]

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.


Government service

After completing his studies in Chicago, he became secretary to New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia for eighteen months in a "dollar a year" public service position. Although the mayor pointed out to the press that Rockefeller was only one of 60 interns in the city government, his working space was, in fact, the vacant office of the deputy mayor. [7] From 1941 to 1942, Rockefeller was assistant regional director of the United States Office of Defense, Health and Welfare Services.


Rockefeller enlisted in the U.S. Army and entered Officer Candidate School in 1943; he was ultimately promoted to Captain in 1945. During World War II he served in North Africa and France (he spoke fluent French) for military intelligence setting up political and economic intelligence units. For seven months he also served as an assistant military attaché at the American Embassy in Paris. During this period, he called on family contacts and Standard Oil executives for assistance. [8]


David Rockefeller and Jawad Hashim from Iraq in 1980. Investcorp HashimRockefeller.png
David Rockefeller and Jawad Hashim from Iraq in 1980.

In 1946, Rockefeller joined the staff of the longtime family-associated Chase National Bank. [9] The chairman at that time was Rockefeller's uncle Winthrop W. Aldrich. [10] The Chase Bank was primarily a wholesale bank, [11] dealing with other prominent financial institutions and major corporate clients such as General Electric (which had, through its RCA affiliate, leased prominent space and become a crucial first tenant of Rockefeller Center in 1930). The bank also is closely associated with and has financed the oil industry, having longstanding connections with its board of directors to the successor companies of Standard Oil, especially Exxon Mobil. Chase National became the Chase Manhattan Bank in 1955 [9] and shifted significantly into consumer banking. It is now called JPMorgan Chase. [12]

Rockefeller started as an assistant manager in the foreign department. There he financed international trade in a number of commodities, such as coffee, sugar and metals. This position also maintained relationships with more than 1,000 correspondent banks throughout the world. He served in other positions and became president in 1960. He was both chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan from 1969 to 1980 and remained chairman until 1981. He was also, as recently as 1980, the single largest individual shareholder of the bank, holding 1.7% of its shares. [13]

During his term as CEO, Chase spread internationally and became a central component of the world's financial system due to its global network of correspondent banks, the largest in the world. In 1973, Chase established the first branch of an American bank in Moscow, in the then Soviet Union. That year Rockefeller traveled to China, resulting in his bank becoming the National Bank of China's first correspondent bank in the U.S. [14]

He was faulted for spending excessive amounts of time abroad, and during his tenure as CEO the bank had more troubled loans than any other major bank. Chase owned more New York City securities in the mid-1970s, when the city was nearing bankruptcy. A scandal erupted in 1974 when an audit found that losses from bond trading had been understated, and in 1975 the bank was branded a "problem bank" by the Federal Reserve. [9]

From 1974 to 1976, Chase earnings fell 36 percent while those of its biggest rivals rose 12 to 31 percent. The bank's earnings more than doubled between 1976 and 1980, far outpacing its rival Citibank in return on assets. By 1981 the bank's finances were restored to full health. [9]

In November 1979, while chairman of the Chase Bank, Rockefeller became embroiled in an international incident when he and Henry Kissinger, along with John J. McCloy and Rockefeller aides, persuaded President Jimmy Carter through the United States Department of State to admit the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, into the United States for hospital treatment for lymphoma. This action directly precipitated what is known as the Iran hostage crisis and placed Rockefeller under intense media scrutiny (particularly from The New York Times ) for the first time in his public life. [15]

Rockefeller retired from active management of the bank in 1981, succeeded by his protégé Willard C. Butcher. Former Chase chairman John J. McCloy said at the time that he did not believe that Rockefeller would not go down in history as a great banker but as a "real personality, as a distinguished and loyal member of the community". [9]

Political connections

Rockefeller traveled widely and met with both foreign rulers and U.S. presidents, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower. At times he served as an unofficial emissary on high-level business. [16] Among the foreign leaders he met were Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Nikita Khrushchev, and Mikhail Gorbachev. [17]

In 1968, he declined an offer from his brother Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, to appoint him to Robert F. Kennedy's Senate seat after Kennedy was assassinated in June 1968, a post Nelson also offered to their nephew John Davison "Jay" Rockefeller IV. [18] President Jimmy Carter offered him the position of United States Secretary of the Treasury but he declined. [19]

Rockefeller was criticized for befriending foreign autocrats in order to expand Chase interests in their countries. The New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote in 2002 that Rockefeller "spent his life in the club of the ruling class and was loyal to members of the club, no matter what they did." He noted that Rockefeller had cut profitable deals with "oil-rich dictators", "Soviet party bosses" and "Chinese perpetrators of the Cultural Revolution". [9]

Rockefeller met Henry Kissinger in 1954, when Kissinger was appointed a director of a seminal Council on Foreign Relations study group on nuclear weapons, of which David Rockefeller was a member. [20] [21] He named Kissinger to the board of trustees of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and consulted with him frequently, with the subjects including the Chase Bank's interests in Chile and the possibility of the election of Salvador Allende in 1970. [22] Rockefeller supported his "opening of China" initiative in 1971 as it afforded banking opportunities for the Chase Bank. [23]

Though a lifelong Republican and party contributor, he was a member of the moderate "Rockefeller Republicans" that arose out of the political ambitions and public policy stance of his brother Nelson. In 2006, he teamed up with former Goldman Sachs executives and others to form a fund-raising group based in Washington, Republicans Who Care, that supported moderate Republican candidates over more ideological contenders. [24]

Central Intelligence Agency ties

Rockefeller was acquainted with Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director Allen Dulles and his brother, Eisenhower administration Secretary of State John Foster Dulles—who was an in-law of the family [25] —since his college years. [26] It was in Rockefeller Center that Allen Dulles had set up his WWII operational center after Pearl Harbor, liaising closely with MI6, which also had their principal U.S. operation in the Center. [27] He also knew and associated with the former CIA director Richard Helms as well as Archibald Bulloch Roosevelt Jr., a Chase Bank employee and former CIA agent whose first cousin, CIA agent Kermit Roosevelt Jr., was involved in the Iran coup of 1953. [28] Also in 1953, he had befriended William Bundy, a pivotal CIA analyst for nine years in the 1950s, who became the Agency liaison to the National Security Council, and a subsequent lifelong friend. [29] Moreover, in Cary Reich's biography of his brother Nelson, a former CIA agent states that David was extensively briefed on covert intelligence operations by himself and other Agency division chiefs, under the direction of David's "friend and confidant", CIA Director Allen Dulles. [30]

Policy groups

David Rockefeller launches the International Executive Service Corps in the White House Rose Garden, 1964. David Rockefeller Launches IESC in White House Rose Garden in 1964.jpg
David Rockefeller launches the International Executive Service Corps in the White House Rose Garden, 1964.

In 1964, along with other American business figures such as Sol Linowitz, Rockefeller founded the non-profit International Executive Service Corps which encourages developing nations to promote private enterprise. [31] In 1979, he formed the Partnership for New York City, a not-for-profit membership organization of New York businessmen. [32] In 1992, he was selected as a leading member of the Russian-American Bankers Forum, an advisory group set up by the head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to advise Russia on the modernization of its banking system, with the full endorsement of President Boris Yeltsin. [33]

Rockefeller had a lifelong association with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) when he joined as a director in 1949. [34] In 1965, Rockefeller and other businessmen formed the Council of the Americas to stimulate and support economic integration in the Americas. In 1992, at a Council sponsored forum, Rockefeller proposed a "Western Hemisphere free trade area", which became the Free Trade Area of the Americas in a Miami summit in 1994. His and the Council's chief liaison to President Bill Clinton in order to garner support for this initiative was through Clinton's chief of staff, Mack McLarty, whose consultancy firm Kissinger McLarty Associates is a corporate member of the Council, while McLarty himself is on the board of directors. [35] He was also a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, including 1948, when Alger Hiss was president. [36]

Displeased with the refusal of Bilderberg Group meetings to include Japan, Rockefeller helped found the Trilateral Commission in July 1973. [37]

Later career

Plaque commemorating David Rockefeller's gift to New York City New York City 06.jpg
Plaque commemorating David Rockefeller's gift to New York City

After the war and alongside his work at Chase, Rockefeller took a more active role in his family's business dealings. Working with his brothers in the two floors of Rockefeller Center known as Room 5600, he reorganized the family's myriad business and philanthropic ventures. The men kept regular "brothers' meetings" where they made decisions on matters of common interest and reported on noteworthy events in each of their lives. Rockefeller served as secretary to the group, making notes of each meeting. The notes are now in the family archive and will be released in the future. [38] Following the deaths of his brothers, Winthrop (1973), John III (1978), Nelson (1979), and Laurance (2004), David became sole head of the family (with the important involvement of his elder son, David Jr.).

Rockefeller ensured that selected members of the fourth generation, known generically as the cousins, became directly involved in the family's institutions. This involved inviting them to be more active in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the principal foundation established in 1940 by the five brothers and their one sister. The extended family also became involved in their own philanthropic organization, formed in 1967 and primarily established by third-generation members, called the Rockefeller Family Fund. [39]

In the 1980s, Rockefeller became embroiled in controversy over the mortgaging and sale of Rockefeller Center to Japanese interests. In 1985, the Rockefeller family mortgaged the property for $1.3 billion, with $300 million of that going to the family. In 1989, 51 percent of the property, later increased to 80 percent, was sold to Mitsubishi Estate Company of Japan. This action was criticized for surrendering a major U.S. landmark to foreign interests. [9] [40] In 2000, Rockefeller presided over the final sale of Rockefeller Center to Tishman Speyer Properties, along with the Crown family of Chicago, which ended the more than 70 years of direct family financial association with Rockefeller Center. [41]

In 2005, he gave $100 million to the Museum of Modern Art and $100 million to Rockefeller University, two of the most prominent family institutions; as well as $10 million to Harvard and $5 million to Colonial Williamsburg. In 2006, he pledged $225 million to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund upon his death, the largest gift in the Fund's history. The money will be used to create the David Rockefeller Global Development Fund, to support projects that improve access to health care, conduct research on international finance and trade, fight poverty, and support sustainable development, as well as to a program that fosters dialogue between Muslim and Western nations. [42] Rockefeller donated $100 million to Harvard University in 2008. [43] The New York Times estimated in November 2006 that his total charitable donations amount to $900 million over his lifetime, a figure that was substantiated by a monograph on the family's overall benefactions, entitled The Chronicle of Philanthropy. [44]

He published Memoirs in 2002, the only time a member of the Rockefeller family has written an autobiography. [45]

Rockefeller was a noted internationalist. [46]

Rockefeller's will requires his estate, once assets are liquidated, to donate over $700 million to various non-profits, including Rockefeller University, the Museum of Modern Art and Harvard. The largest donation will be either $250 million or the remaining balance of the estate that will fund the launch of the David Rockefeller Global Development Fund. [47]

Personal life

In 1940, Rockefeller married Margaret "Peggy" McGrath, who died in 1996. [9] They had six children:

  1. David Rockefeller Jr. (born July 24, 1941) [9] – vice chairman, Rockefeller Family & Associates (the family office, Room 5600); chairman of Rockefeller Financial Services; Trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation; former chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Rockefeller & Co., Inc., among many other family institutions.
  2. Abigail Aldrich "Abby" Rockefeller (born 1943) – economist and feminist. Eldest and most rebellious daughter, she was drawn to Marxism and was an ardent admirer of Fidel Castro and a late 1960s/early 1970s radical feminist [48] who belonged to the organization Female Liberation, later forming a splinter group called Cell 16. [49] An environmentalist and ecologist, she was an active supporter of the women's liberation movement.
  3. Neva Rockefeller (born 1944 [9] ) – economist and philanthropist. She is director of the Global Development and Environment Institute; trustee and vice chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Director of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.
  4. Margaret Dulany "Peggy" Rockefeller (born 1947) [9] – founder of the Synergos Institute in 1986; Board member of the Council on Foreign Relations; serves on the Advisory Committee of the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.
  5. Richard Gilder Rockefeller (1949–2014) [50] – physician and philanthropist; chairman of the United States advisory board of the international aid group Doctors Without Borders; trustee and chair of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
  6. Eileen Rockefeller (born February 26, 1952) [9] – venture philanthropist; Founding Chair of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, established in New York City in 2002.


Rockefeller died in his sleep from congestive heart failure on March 20, 2017, at the age of 101 at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York. [51] [52]


At the time of his death, Forbes estimated Rockefeller's net worth was $3.3 billion. [1] Initially, most of his wealth had come to him via the family trusts that his father had set up, which were administered by Room 5600 and the Chase Bank. In turn, most of these trusts were held as shares in the successor companies of Standard Oil, as well as diverse real estate investment partnerships, such as the expansive Embarcadero Center in San Francisco, which he later sold for considerable profit, retaining only an indirect stake. In addition, he was or had been a partner in various properties such as Caneel Bay, a 4,000-acre (16 km2) resort development in the Virgin Islands; a cattle ranch in Argentina; and a 15,500-acre (63 km2) sheep ranch in Australia. [53]

Another major source of asset wealth was his art collection, ranging from impressionist to postmodern, which he developed through the influence upon him of his mother Abby and her establishment, with two associates, of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1929. [54] The collection, valued at several hundred million dollars, was auctioned in the spring of 2018, with proceeds going to several designated nonprofit organizations, including Rockefeller University, Harvard University, the Museum of Modern Art, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. [55]


Rockefeller's principal residence was at "Hudson Pines", on the family estate in Pocantico Hills, New York. He also had a Manhattan residence at 146 East 65th Street, [56] [55] as well as a country residence (known as "Four Winds") at a farm in Livingston, New York (Columbia County), where his wife raised Simmenthal beef cattle. [57] He also maintained a summer home, "Ringing Point," at Seal Harbor on Mount Desert Island off the Maine coast. [55] In May 2015, he donated one thousand acres of land in Seal Harbor to the Mount Desert Land and Garden Preserve. [58]

The Kykuit section of the Rockefeller family compound is the location of The Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF)  set up by David and his four brothers in 1940  which was created when the Fund leased the area from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1991. [59]

Non-governmental leadership positions


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Further reading