David Rockefeller was born on June 12, 1915 in New York City, the youngest of the six children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He attended Lincoln School of Columbia University's Teachers College in New York for 12 years and graduated from Harvard University in 1936 with a bachelor of science degree. After post-graduate study at Harvard and the London School of Economics, he received a Ph.D. degree in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940. His doctoral thesis, "Unused Resources and Economic Waste," was published by the University of Chicago Press in 1940.
On September 7, 1940, David Rockefeller married the former Margaret "Peggy" McGrath. They were married for nearly 56 years when she died in 1996. Together they raised two sons and four daughters.
From 1940 to 1941, David Rockefeller served as secretary to New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. He then served as assistant regional director of the United States Office of Defense, Health and Welfare Service (1941-1942) before enlisting as a private in the U.S. Army in May 1942. He entered Officer Candidate School in 1943 and was discharged as a captain in 1945. During World War II he served in North Africa and France, where for seven months he was an assistant military attache in Paris. He was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit, the U.S. Army Commendation Ribbon and the French Legion of Honor.
After the war David Rockefeller began a career in banking. He joined the Chase National Bank as an assistant manager in the foreign department in 1946. He was appointed an assistant cashier in 1947, second vice president in 1948 and vice president in 1949. From 1950 to 1952, he was responsible for the supervision of Chase's business in Latin America where, under his direction, new branches were opened in Cuba, Panama and Puerto Rico, plus a representative office in Buenos Aires. In 1952 he was named a senior vice president with responsibility for supervising the economic research department and customer relations in the metropolitan New York area, including all the New York City branches.
When Chase National and the Bank of the Manhattan Company merged on March 31, 1955, David Rockefeller was appointed an executive vice president in charge of the bank development department. On January 1, 1957, he became vice chairman of the Board of Directors with responsibility for the administrative and planning functions of the bank as a whole. He became president of the bank and chairman of the executive committee of the Board of Directors on January 1, 1961. On March 1, 1969 David Rockefeller became chairman of the Board of Directors and chief executive officer of The Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A. in New York and of The Chase Manhattan Corporation upon its formation on June 4, 1969. He retired in 1981.
During his career with Chase Manhattan, Rockefeller gained a worldwide reputation as a leading banker and spokesman for the business community. He spearheaded the bank's expansion both internationally and throughout the metropolitan New York area and helped the bank play a significant role as a corporate citizen.
Philanthropy and Public Service
In addition to his work with Chase Manhattan, David Rockefeller has been a leader in many public and private projects, reflecting his wide-ranging interests in international, governmental, civic and cultural affairs and his belief in collaboration between government and the private sector.
In 1940 David Rockefeller became a member of the Board of Trustees of The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which had been established in 1901 by his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller. A decade later he succeeded his father as chairman of the Institute's Board of Trustees, serving in that capacity for 25 years (1950-1975). Working with Detlev Bronk, Rockefeller led the transformation of the research institute into a biomedical graduate university, which was renamed The Rockefeller University in 1965.
Along with his brothers - John D. 3rd, Nelson, Laurance, and Winthrop - David Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) in 1940. It became "the most significant joint philanthropic endeavor" of the "brothers' generation" of the Rockefeller family, he later recalled, becoming "the principal vehicle for our support of groups in fields such as population, conservation, economic development, urban affairs, and basic scientific research" (Memoirs, p. 142). He also helped found the Rockefeller Family Fund in 1967 and joined with his brothers in a number of other philanthropic, economic development and investment enterprises.
Among the other family philanthropic enterprises he served was the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which his mother had helped create. Following her death in 1948, David Rockefeller was invited to take her seat on the board of directors. He served a brief stint as interim chairman of the board in 1958, and longer periods in that capacity in 1962-1972 and 1987-1993. He also is a life trustee of the University of Chicago (which his grandfather helped establish) and an honorary trustee of International House (New York), established by his father.
In 1958 Rockefeller helped establish the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association (D-LMA), serving as its chairman, 1958-1975. Its planning proposals aided the redevelopment of lower Manhattan and led to the creation of the World Trade Center. He also played a major role in the development of the Morningside Heights neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as president (1947-1957) and then chairman (1957-1965) of Morningside Heights, Inc. As chairman of the New York City Partnership (1979-1988), he was a leader in organizing the city's business sector to work with government on such major public issues as economic growth, summer jobs for students, improving the city's schools, and housing development.
He was also instrumental in the formation of the International Executive Service Corps (chairman, 1964-1968), a group of businessmen who volunteer to provide technical and managerial assistance to private enterprise in developing countries. He also helped form The Business Committee for the Arts in 1967.
In the realm of international affairs, David Rockefeller has established and worked with a variety of organizations that further his belief in "constructive engagement" and the promotion of dialogue among businessmen and government officials across national borders. In 1949 he became a director of the Council on Foreign Relations, an educational institution where leaders from the field of scholarship and the public and private sectors meet periodically to expand their perspectives on foreign affairs; he served as the council's chairman from 1970 to 1985. He also attended the annual Bilderberg meetings, established by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, from their inception in 1954. In 1973, he helped found the Trilateral Commission, an organization designed to promote understanding and cooperation among the nations of North America, Western Europe and Japan.
In the early and mid 1960s Rockefeller helped organize both the Council of the Americas and the Center for Inter-American Relations, which worked to maximize private enterprise contributions and cultural and intellectual exchanges in the development of Latin America. These were reorganized as the Americas Society in 1982. He also helped to establish the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University, which opened in 1994.
He also has been an officer in the Advisory Council on Japan-United States Economic Relations and the National Council for U.S.-China Trade, and a member of the Bulgarian-U.S. Economic Council; the U.S.-Egyptian Joint Business Chamber; the U.S.-Iran Joint Business Council; and a director of U.S.-U.S.S.R. Trade and Economic Council, Inc.
In the 1980s and 1990s, David Rockefeller played an active role in the financing and ownership of the Manhattan landmark his father had built, Rockefeller Center. In March 1982 he became chairman of Rockefeller Center, Inc., which was renamed Rockefeller Group, Inc. (RGI) the following year. He oversaw efforts to beautify, diversify and unify Rockefeller Center, which included capital improvements to modernize the facility. In January 1985 RGI bought the twelve acres of land underneath the buildings from Columbia University for $400 million, "the highest per-acre price ever paid for a parcel of urban real estate" (Memoirs, p. 469). A new company, Rockefeller Center Properties, Inc., was formed to offer stock in Rockefeller Center in a public sale; the public offering raised $1.3 billion, which RCPI lent to RGI in exchange for a mortgage on the land and buildings of Rockefeller Center. In September 1989, David Rockefeller and his associates sold 80% of RGI to the Mitsubishi Estate Corporation of Japan for $1.373 billion. Even though the Rockefeller family retained ownership of 20% of Rockefeller Center, the sale of a controlling interest in such a prominent landmark was controversial. But the sale came at the end of a real estate boom in Manhattan and on the eve of a worldwide real estate recession; in the changed marketplace, Rockefeller Center went bankrupt in May 1995.
Disappointed by the bankruptcy of the landmark bearing the family name, David Rockefeller assembled a group of investors that bought Rockefeller Center in March 1996. Rockefeller insisted that his partners agree to hold onto the property for five years before considering a sale. During that time, as the real estate recession ended, the Center's management refurbished the facility and made it more attractive. In December 2000, David Rockefeller and his partners agreed to sell Rockefeller Center to another group of investors, led by Jerry Speyer, for $1.85 billion, thus ending the Rockefeller family's ownership of Rockefeller Center.
For additional information on David Rockefeller's life and career, see his autobiography, Memoirs (New York: Random House, 2003) and other books listed on the Rockefeller Archive Center's online Bibliography on the Rockefeller Family and Their Philanthropies.
Originally written by Rockefeller Family and Associates, 1975; revised by the staff of the Rockefeller Archive Center, January 2004.