John D. Rockefeller 3rd (JDR 3rd) was born in New York City in 1906 to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (JDR Jr.), and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. In the tradition of his father, JDR 3rd devoted his life to developing and aiding philanthropic work and had a profound impact in the growing field of philanthropy.
After graduating in 1929 with a B.S. in economics from Princeton University, JDR 3rd embarked on a world tour. His travels ended when he accepted a position with the Institute of Pacific Relations conference in Japan, which sparked his lifelong interest in foreign affairs.
Upon his return JDR 3rd began work in his father’s office in New York City, focusing primarily on the family’s established philanthropies. In 1928 he was appointed to the Bureau of Social Hygiene (BSH) and went on to serve terms as a board member or officer of several institutions, including the General Education Board (GEB), the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and the China Medical Board (CMB).
In 1942 JDR 3rd joined the Navy and served in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations where he helped to plan post-war policy regarding Japan. He served as a consultant during peace negotiations with the country and advised on issues of Japanese-American relations. Driven by a strong interest in Japanese culture and international relations, he revived the Japan Society in the 1950s and organized the Asia Society to facilitate international exchanges of culture and education.
JDR 3rd also believed in the importance of the arts and was influential in securing support for underfunded music, dance, and theatre projects. He was also a key figure in raising funds and promoting civic support for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. In 1956 he became the Center’s first president.
His involvement with the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) started in 1929 and eventually led to an extended term as chairman of the Board of Trustees, from 1952 to 1971. His presence and interests were highly influential during his 47 years on the RF board. Inspired by his work with the BSH, JDR 3rd also encouraged support for research on population and birth control, efforts that culminated in his 1952 founding of the Population Council.
In 1971 JDR 3rd was made an honorary chairman of the RF, a title that he kept until his death in 1978. The papers of JDR 3rd, including records of many of his philanthropies, can be accessed by researchers at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC).