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The Rockefeller family originated in Rhineland in Germany and can be traced to the town Neuwied in the early 17th century. The American family branch is descended from Johann Peter Rockefeller, a miller who migrated from Rhineland to Philadelphia around 1723. In America he became a plantation owner and landholder in Somerville, and Amwell, New Jersey.
The combined wealth of the family—their total assets and investments plus the individual wealth of its members—has never been known with any precision. The records of the family archives relating to both the family and individual members' net worth are closed to researchers.
From the outset the family's wealth has been under the complete control of the male members of the dynasty, through the family office. Despite strong-willed wives who had influence over their husbands' decisions--such as the pivotal female figure Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John D. Rockefeller Jr.--in all cases they received allowances only and were never given even partial responsibility for the family fortune.
Much of the wealth has been locked up in the notable family trust of 1934 (which holds the bulk of the fortune and matures on the death of the fourth generation) and the trust of 1952, both administered by Chase Bank, the corporate successor to Chase Manhattan Bank. These trusts have consisted of shares in the successor companies to Standard Oil and other diversified investments, as well as the family's considerable real estate holdings. They are administered by a trust committee that oversees the fortune.
Management of this fortune today also rests with professional money managers who oversee the principal holding company, Rockefeller Financial Services, which controls all the family's investments, now that Rockefeller Center is no longer owned by the family. The present chairman is David Rockefeller Jr.
In 1992, it had five main arms:
Rockefeller & Co. (Money management: Universities have invested some of their endowments in this company);
A further project involved David Rockefeller in a major middle-income housing development when he was elected in 1947 as chairman of Morningside Heights, Inc., in Manhattan by fourteen major institutions that were based in the area, including Columbia University. The result, in 1951, was the six-building apartment complex known as Morningside Gardens.
In the 1920s, the International Education Board granted important fellowships to pathbreakers in modern mathematics, such as Stefan Banach, Bartel Leendert van der Waerden, and André Weil, which was a formative part of the gradual shift of world mathematics to the US over this period.
To help promote cooperation between physics and mathematics Rockefeller funds also supported the erection of the new Mathematical Institute at the University of Göttingen between 1926 and 1929
The rise of probability and mathematical statistics owes much to the creation of the Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris, partly by the Rockefellers' finances, also around this time.
John D Jr. established International House at Berkeley.
Over the generations, the family members have resided in some notable historic homes. A total of 81 Rockefeller residences are on the National Register of Historic Places. Not including all homes owned by the five brothers, some of the more prominent of these residences are:
10 West Fifty-fourth Street - A nine-story single family home, the former residence of Junior before he shifted to 740 Park Avenue, and the largest residence in New York City at the time, it was the home for the five young brothers; it was later given by Junior to the Museum of Modern Art.
740 Park Avenue - Junior and Abby's famed 40-room triplex apartment in the luxury New York City apartment building, which was later sold for a record price.
Bassett Hall - The house at Colonial Williamsburg bought by Junior in 1927 and renovated by 1936, it was the favorite residence of both Junior and Abby and is now a house museum at the family-restored Colonial Revival town.
The Casements - A three-story house at Ormond Beach in Florida, where Senior spent his last winters, from 1919 until his death.
The Eyrie - A sprawling 100-room summer holiday home on Mount Desert Island in Maine, demolished by family members in 1962.
Forest Hill - The family's country estate and summer home in Cleveland, Ohio, for four decades; built and occupied by Senior, it burned down in 1917.
Golf House at Lakewood, New Jersey - The former three-story clubhouse for the elite Ocean County Hunt and Country Club, which Senior bought in 1902 to play golf on its golf course.
Kykuit, also known as the John D. Rockefeller Estate - The landmark six-story, 40-room home on the vast Westchester County family estate, home to four generations of the family.
The JY Ranch - The landmark ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the holiday resort home built by Junior and later owned by Laurance, which was used by all members of the family and had many prominent visitors, including presidents, until Laurance donated it to the federal government in 2001.
A trademark of the dynasty over its 140-plus years has been the remarkable unity it has maintained, despite major divisions that developed in the late 1970s, and unlike other wealthy families such as the Du Ponts and the Mellons. A primary reason has been the lifelong efforts of "Junior" to not only cleanse the name from the opprobrium stemming from the ruthless practices of Standard Oil, but his tireless efforts to forge family unity even as he allowed his five sons to operate independently. This was partly achieved by regular brothers and family meetings, but it was also because of the high value placed on family unity by first Nelson and John III, and later especially with David.
Regarding achievements, in 1972, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy, the Carnegie Corporation, which has had a long association with the family and its institutions, released a public statement on the influence of the family on not just philanthropy but encompassing a much wider field. Summing up a predominant view amongst the international philanthropic world, albeit one poorly grasped by the public, one sentence of this statement read: "The contributions of the Rockefeller family are staggering in their extraordinary range and in the scope of their contribution to humankind."
John D. Rockefeller gave away US$540 million over his lifetime (in dollar terms of that time), and became the greatest lay benefactor of medicine in history. His son, Junior, also gave away over $537 million over his lifetime, bringing the total philanthropy of just two generations of the family to over $1 billion from 1860 to 1960. Added to this, the New York Times declared in a report in November 2006 that David Rockefeller's total charitable benefactions amount to about $900 million over his lifetime.
Rockefeller University - Renamed in 1965, this is the distinguished Nobel prize-winning graduate/postgraduate medical school (formerly the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, established by Senior in 1901);
Rockefeller Foundation - Founded in 1913, this is the famous philanthropic organization set up by Senior and Junior;
Rockefeller Family Fund - Founded in 1967 by members of the family's fourth-generation;
Rockefeller Group - A private family-run real estate development company based in New York that originally owned, constructed and managed Rockefeller Center, it is now wholly owned by Mitsubishi Estate Co. Ltd;
Rockefeller Hall - Established by Senior and completed in 1906, this building houses the Cornell University Physics Department;
Rockefeller Hall - Established by Senior in 1887, who granted Vassar College a $100,000 ($2.34 million in 2006 dollars) allowance to build additional, much needed lecture space. The final cost of the facility was $99,998.75. It now houses multi-purpose classrooms and departmental offices for political science, philosophy and math;
Rockefeller Hall - Established by Senior and completed in 1886, this is the oldest building on the campus of Spelman College;
The Michael C. Rockefeller Collection and the Department of Primitive Art - Completed in 1982 after being initiated by Nelson, this is a wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art;
David and Peggy Rockefeller Building - A tribute to David's wife, Peggy Rockefeller, this is a new (completed in 2004) six-story building housing the main collection and temporary exhibition galleries of the family's Museum of Modern Art;
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden - Completed in 1949 by David, this is a major outdoor feature of the Museum of Modern Art;
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Hall - The freshman residence hall on the campus of Spelman College;
Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Building - Completed in 1918, it is among other things a student residence hall at Spelman College, after the wife of Senior and after whom the College was named;
Rockefeller State Park Preserve - Part of the 3,400-acre (14 km2) family estate in Westchester County, this 1,233-acre (5 km2) preserve was officially handed over to New York State in 1983, although it had previously always been open to the public;
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park - Established as a historical museum of conservation by Laurance during the 1990s.
Rockefeller Park, a scenic park featuring gardens dedicated to several world nations along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. between University Circle and Lake Erie in Cleveland.
Winthrop Rockefeller Institute of the University of Arkansas System was established in 2005 with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. The educational center with conference and lodging facilities is located on Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Arkansas, on the original grounds of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller's model cattle farm.
David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University.
The family was honored for its conservation efforts in November 2005, by the National Audubon Society, one of America's largest and oldest conservation organizations, at which over 30 family members attended. At the event, the society's president, John Flicker, notably stated: "Cumulatively, no other family in America has made the contribution to conservation that the Rockefeller family has made".
In 2016 fifth-generation descendants of John Sr. criticized ExxonMobil, one of the successors to his company Standard Oil, for their record on climate change. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund both backed reports suggesting that ExxonMobil knew more about the threat of global warming than it had disclosed. David Kaiser, grandson of David Rockefeller Sr. and president of the Rockefeller Family Fund, said that the "...company seems to be morally bankrupt." Valerie Rockefeller Wayne, daughter of former Senator Jay Rockefeller, said, "Because the source of the family wealth is fossil fuels, we feel an enormous moral responsibility for our children, for everyone -- to move forward." The Rockefeller Brothers Fund announced it was divesting from fossil fuels in September 2014 while the Rockefeller Family Fund announced plans to divest in March 2016.
The family archives
The Rockefeller family archives are held at the Rockefeller Archive Center in Pocantico Hills, North Tarrytown, NY. At present, the archives of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., William Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé, John D. Rockefeller III, Blanchette Rockefeller, and Nelson Rockefeller are processed and open by appointment to readers in the Archive Center's reading room. Processed portions of the papers of Laurance Rockefeller are also open. In addition, the Archive Center has a microfilm copy of the Winthrop Rockefeller papers, the originals of which are held at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock. The papers of the family office, known as the Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller, are also open for research, although those portions that relate to living family members are closed.
^Women in the family with no control over the family fortune--see Bernice Kert, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: The Woman in the Family. New York: Random House, 1993. (p.100)
^Managing the family wealth, 1992 New York Times article Rockefeller Family Tries to Keep A Vast Fortune From Dissipating (see External Links). (Note: The names and nature of these departments may have changed since 1992.)
^The Edifice Complex: The Architecture of Power, By Deyan Sudjic, Penguin, April 7, 2011, page 245-255
^Family unity maintained over the decades - 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.370-71, passim); David's unifying influence - see Memoirs (pp.346-7)
Rockefeller, John D. Random Reminiscences of Men and Events. New York: Doubleday, 1908; London: W. Heinemann. 1909; Sleepy Hollow Press and Rockefeller Archive Center, (Reprint) 1984.
Roussel, Christine. The Art of Rockefeller Center. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2006.
Scheiffarth, Engelbert. Der New Yorker Gouverneur Nelson A. Rockefeller und die Rockenfeller im Neuwieder Raum Genealogisches Jahrbuch, Vol 9, 1969, p16-41.
Sealander, Judith. Private Wealth and Public Life: Foundation Philanthropy and the Reshaping of American Social Policy, from the Progressive Era to the New Deal. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.
Siegmund-Schultze, Reinhard. Rockefeller and the Internationalization of Mathematics Between the Two World Wars: Documents and Studies for the Social History of Mathematics in the 20th Century. Boston: Birkhauser Verlag, 2001.
Stasz, Clarice. The Rockefeller Women: Dynasty of Piety, Privacy, and Service. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Tarbell, Ida M. The History of the Standard Oil Company. New York: Phillips & Company, 1904.
Winks, Robin W. Laurance S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997.