“I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”
John D. Rockefeller, Jr., radio broadcast on behalf of the United Service Organization and the National War Fund, July 8, 1941
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR Jr.), was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874 to Standard Oil Company founder John D. Rockefeller (JDR) and his wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller. Raised with a strong sense of stewardship and a belief that his money should benefit the public, he made significant contributions to causes including education, scientific research, conservation, and religious cooperation.
JDR Jr. graduated with a B.A. from Brown University in 1897. After graduation he worked at Standard Oil’s office in New York City. This work, however, was soon overshadowed by his growing interest in philanthropy, leading in 1901 to his involvement in creating the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, the first institution in the U.S. devoted exclusively to discovering the underlying causes of disease through biomedical research.
A few years later, JDR Jr. worked with his father and Frederick T. Gates to develop the program for the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). He was elected president of the new enterprise at the first meeting of the Board of Trustees in 1913 and greatly expanded the focus of the institution during its first years. At about the same time, after serving as foreman of a special grand jury in Manhattan that investigated white slave trafficking, JDR Jr. established and secured funding for the Bureau of Social Hygiene (BSH). Funded in part by the RF, the BSH aimed to prevent social problems through scientific research. In its early years the Bureau’s work focused on issues such as prostitution, police corruption, and narcotic use.
Outside of his work with the RF, JDR Jr. was involved in a number of other philanthropic efforts. He served as trustee and chairman of the General Education Board (GEB) and helped to establish and run the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in 1918 to aid advances in public welfare. He also founded the International Education Board (IEB) in 1923. His interest in historic preservation led him to offer significant support for restoration of the palace and gardens at Versailles and other major monuments in France, as well as the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg. His concern for conservation led him to provide funding for the acquisition of land for Acadia, Grand Teton, Jackson Hole and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks.
JDR Jr. stepped down as president of the RF in 1917, when he became chairman of the Board of Trustees, a position he held until 1940. At the time of his death in 1960, JDR Jr. had contributed more than $537 million for philanthropic purposes. The papers of John D. Rockefeller Jr. can be accessed by researchers at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC).