John D. Rockefeller Jr.: The golden heart of a golden age

With this post I continue with the series of the Rockefeller dynasty. In this post I have deepened into the biography of the Senior Rockefeller and today I will focus on his heir, the Junior Rockefeller that kept the fire burning of the great family industry.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. (1874-1960), began his instruction in Cutler school and later at the Browning School, doing, at the University of Chicago, his undergraduate studies. After completing them, Rockefeller Jr. joined Standard Oil, where he worked as executive director of the subsidiary oil production company. He later worked as director of JP Morgan Steels. However, a scandal which involved one of the executives of Standard Oil, bribing two senators, caused severe damage to the reputation of his family. Rockefeller Jr. wished to improve the reputation of the inherited economic empire from his father, and for this reason he decided to resign their positions, both the Standard Oil, and JP Morgan Steels, purely devoted to philanthropy, and the giant real estate project that his father could not finish: the Rockefeller Center.

However, his philanthropic image fell down in 1914, thanks to the Colorado’s “Ludlow Catastrophe”, which occurred in a property of the Rockefeller family. Precisely, the Ludlow Massacre happened at a coal mine which functioned in the Colorado Fuel and Iron company’ facilities. Actually, Jr. was the owner of a controlling interest, by a forty percent of the stock. The disaster took the life of around twenty men, women and children. Because of several critics accused Rockefeller Jr. for ordering the incident, in January 1915, Rockefeller Jr. was called for testifying before the Commission on Industrial Relations. In her magazine The Woman Rebel declaring, Margaret Sanger wrote a fierce critic against J. D. Jr.: “But remember Ludlow! Remember the men and women and children who were sacrificed in order that John D. Rockefeller Jr., might continue his noble career of charity and philanthropy as a supporter of the Christian faith.”

Rockefeller Jr’s. advisors, William Lyon Mackenzie King and Ivy Lee, advised him wisely about the possible public support decrease and the need for a plan to follow in order to lift it up. The main problem was the characteristic shyness of that powerful man. Nevertheless, he could overcome his despise for public appearances and personally went to Colorado for visiting the miners and their relatives; for examining the life conditions of his workers and the way people performed their activities at the factories. It was a good idea to implement, without a doubt, and it attracted the attention of media in a quite positive way. From that day on, people changed their idea about the Rockefellers, and Jr. showed the world a very human image of him and his family. His life as philanthropist started, and his interest was demonstrating that the cold capitalist stereotype can be actually overcome.

Rockefeller Jr. took over the project of Rockefeller Center, and his influence was essential in regard to the selection of companies for investing in it: General Electric, NBC, RKO, Standard Oil, the Associated Press, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Amoco, Shell, HSBC, Bank of Boston, Rockefeller Foundation, Morgan House, US Steel, General Motors, JPMorgan Chase… among others, and thirty-four oil companies, property of his father, John Davison Rockefeller.

In 1921, Rockefeller Jr. received from his father the 10% of the shares of the Equitable Trust Company, and, in consequence, he became its largest individual shareholder. Rockefeller Jr. took this company to merge with JP Morgan Chase, making it the world’s largest bank (and he was its largest individual shareholder, even though his shareholding was reduced to 4%.) During the Great Depression, he was maybe the only entrepreneur who held real estate projects in development, as the investments of his companies were not affected by the crisis. The immense wealth protected them from financial disaster, after all.

His father died in 1937, so Rockefeller Jr. finished the complex. He settled in the famous Rockefeller Center office 5600, where he directed the family business, from the skies of New York. During this time, Rockefeller Jr. developed some of his most incredible philanthropic donations.

Rockefeller and his father John D. Rockefeller in 1915_american financial titan_Patrick Dwyer
Image courtesy of Ortegantonio at Flickr.com

John Davison Rockefeller Jr. married Abby Greene Aldrich, and they had six children: Abby, John D. III, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop and David (which is the only one alive).

Rockefeller died at age 86 on May 11, 1960. He left the reputation of his family restored (something that he struggled a lot) and a net worth of more than US $ 490,000 million. This enormous fortune was divided among his six children and his philanthropic donations.

For more information, visit the Rockefeller Archive.

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