Laurance Spelman Rockefeller was born on May 26, 1910, in New York City, the fourth of the six children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He attended Lincoln School, a progressive co-educational preparatory school connected with Teachers College of Columbia University in New York City, before entering Princeton in 1928. A philosophy major, he graduated from Princeton in 1932 with a B.A. degree in philosophy and went on to two years of graduate study at Harvard Law School.
On August 15, 1934, Laurance Rockefeller married Mary French in the Congregational Church in Woodstock, Vermont. Together they raised three daughters and a son.
During World War II, Laurance Rockefeller served in the Navy (1942-1945), attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.
Laurance Rockefeller pursued a number of successful careers during his lifetime. He was a pioneer in the field of venture capital. He was a leading and influential figure for three decades in the American conservation movement. He led the development of one of the world's foremost cancer care and research facilities, and was both a benefactor and advisor to major educational institutions. And, with great foresight, he combined his personal vision for conservation, recreation and the spiritual needs of individuals to develop internationally acclaimed environmentally-oriented resorts. His many accomplishments have been recognized both nationally and internationally.
In 1935, he began working in the family office in Rockefeller Center. His first duties were to develop his knowledge and understanding of Rockefeller philanthropic activities, conservation projects and business interests, through both study and playing a modest role in their operation. Simultaneously, he developed his own special interest, blending business acumen with the talents of a "gadgeteer," a label he once pinned on himself.
He became well known as an investor of risk capital in young enterprises whose future was based primarily on scientific and technological developments. Over the years his investment interests included the fields of aviation, aerospace, electronics, high temperature physics, composite materials, optics, lasers, data processing, thermionics, instrumentation and nuclear power. Beginning in August 1969, his venture capital investments in these areas were made through a venture capital group, Venrock, formed by members of the Rockefeller family.
In a different area of venture capital, he developed outstanding environmentally-oriented resort hotels in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Vermont, serving as chairman of Rockresorts, Inc., a resort management company which he founded and chaired.
Conservation of the environment and recreational development constituted much of Laurance Rockefeller's philanthropy and public service. His introduction to public service came in 1939 when Governor Herbert H. Lehman of New York appointed him to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC). He was president of the PIPC from 1970 to 1977 and continued as a commissioner until his resignation in December 1978. He was an advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford on matters of environmental conservation and outdoor recreation, and he worked on federal commissions set up to help develop national conservation and environmental policies and programs. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed him chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC), which charted ways of meeting the nation's outdoor recreation needs through the year 2000. He was a special emissary for President Lyndon Johnson in the effort that led to creation of the National Redwoods Park in California, and he served as chairman of President Nixon's Citizens' Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality, successor to a similar group which he headed under President Johnson. He played a pivotal role in the creation and development of several national parks including Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John and Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont.
He served as a leader of several important nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. He was president and later chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (1958-1980) and was a trustee of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation (1960-1982).
His first association with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City was in 1947; he also served as chairman (1960-1982), overseeing an expansion and modernization of its operations. He was a longtime trustee of the New York Zoological Society (1935-1986) and served as its president (1969-1971) and chairman (1971-1985).
Laurance Rockefeller received many honors for his efforts on behalf of the environment and cancer research and treatment. Among them are the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Memorial Award from the American Cancer Society (1969), the Medal of Freedom (1969), Commander (Honorary) of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1971), the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University (1991), the Congressional Gold Medal (1991), the Chairman's Award from the National Geographic Society (1995), the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Medal of Honor (1995), and the Lady Bird Johnson Conservation Award for Lifetime Achievement (1997). In 2003, he became the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the British Virgin Islands in recognition of his many contributions to the area. In December 1959 he received the National Institute of Social Sciences' Gold Medal for distinguished services to humanity, an award previously bestowed upon his grandfather and father. This was the first time in the Institute's history that three generations of a family had been so honored. The citation to Laurance Rockefeller proclaimed him as a "creative organizer of ventures into new fields of human endeavor for the growing aspirations of mankind; [and a] leader in the conservation of natural resources and in the development of the medical and social sciences for the welfare of the individual." In 1967, the National Institute awarded Gold Medals to all five Rockefeller brothers in recognition of their individual and collective services to humanity.
For additional details about Laurance Rockefeller's career, see the relevant section(s) below:
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
- Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated
- Virgin Islands National Park
- Zoos and Nature Centers
- Palisades Interstate Park Commission
- Park Land Acquisition, Development, and Contributions
- New York State Council of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
- Hudson River Valley Commission
- Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission
- White House Conference on Natural Beauty
- Presidential Citizens' Advisory Committee
- Venture Capital
- Rockefeller Center and Business Leadership
- Rockefeller Brothers Fund
- Princeton University
- Airports and Aviation Safety
- Waterfront Crimes
- Family Court
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
Laurance S. Rockefeller has been a leader in the research struggle against cancer, in cancer education and teaching, and in the improved care of the cancer patient. His participation in these efforts began in 1947, when he was elected to the Board of Managers of Memorial Hospital for Cancer and Allied Diseases, in New York, of which he became president in 1950.
He played an important part coordinating the work of the hospital and the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, whose board he had joined in 1949. This effort led, in 1960, to creation of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as the parent body to guide, coordinate and support the two institutions' programs. He became the Center's chairman in 1960, and served in that position until 1982, when he retired and was elected honorary chairman.
Working closely with Alfred P. Sloan and Eugene Kettering, Rockefeller oversaw the Center's initiation of a $115 million construction program which, when completed in 1976, provided the world's most modern facilities for cancer research, treatment and personnel training. Among the new facilities was a new 565-bed hospital, completed in November 1973, with a policy of personalized care for all patients regardless of financial status.
Rockefeller advocated "cross pollenization" and close cooperation among the professional staffs and programs at three institutions clustered across the street from each other on New York City's East Side -- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, and New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. He believed that a close relationship among these institutions would provide better medical care at lower costs and quicker answers to scientific questions.
Rockefeller received the Clement Cleveland Award in 1958 for "outstanding contributions to cancer educational work" and in 1969 was the first recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Award of the American Cancer Society, New York City Division, "in recognition of his many outstanding and meritorious contributions to furthering the cause of cancer control."
His activity at Memorial Sloan-Kettering continued a family interest in medicine that began with his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, whose early concern about medical problems led to establishment of the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research (now the Rockefeller University) and the Rockefeller Foundation. Mr. Rockefeller, Jr. -- Laurance's father -- continued this interest and became a key benefactor of Memorial Hospital in the 1920s, donating the entire city block at 68th Street and York Avenue on which Memorial now stands.
Laurance S. Rockefeller's interest in conservation came early. Summers spent on Mt. Desert Island in Maine, visits to Yellowstone country and the influence of his father and leading conservationists added lasting elements to a boy's love of the out-of-doors and fascination with nature. In addition to his father, his principal tutors were Horace M. Albright, first superintendent of Yellowstone National Park and later National Park Service Director, and Fairfield Osborn, president of the New York Zoological Society.
Rockefeller was associated in many conservation projects as an apprentice to his father. From him and the dedicated and able men associated with him, Laurance Rockefeller absorbed an education in nature and learned how to initiate, organize and administer projects to get things done in conservation and to make the benefits of such work available to the public. He also learned to look upon the outdoors as a natural, essential ingredient in the full development of the individual.
Perhaps the most important early lesson learned from these teachers concerned the distinction between preservation and conservation of natural areas for use by people. He emphatically declared himself for conservation and use, declaring that outdoor resources are primarily important as the setting in which people can develop and strengthen themselves.
Laurance Rockefeller was an important influence in the surge of public interest concerning the environment after World War II. In addition to his federal and state activities, he gave major emphasis "to bringing elements of the wilderness, of the outdoors, to the city" in the programs of private conservation organizations. He emphasized the relation between the availability of the outdoors for recreation and the constructive use of leisure time. The outdoors helped to determine the kind of people Americans are, and he believed that the degree and quality of our use of outdoor resources -- so often determined by their accessibility and quality - to be important in shaping the kind of people we become.
He was instrumental in establishing or supporting several conservation and environmental organizations. Among these is the American Conservation Association, Inc. (ACA), which he established in 1958 as a philanthropy to function as a conservation service agency, assisting the work of other agencies -- both private and governmental -- and initiating projects of its own. It was part of the movement that helped to focus public attention on the quality of the American environment.
Among other conservation organizations in whose activities he has taken an active role are the New York Zoological Society, of which he is now honorary chairman; American Committee for International Wildlife Protection; Resources for the Future, Inc.; and the National Park Foundation. With Fairfield Osborn, head of the New York Zoological Society, he helped to organize The Conservation Foundation in 1948. In 1965 he was instrumental in organizing the National Recreation and Park Association, formed through a merger of five important organizations, and served as its first president.
Rockefeller took part from its beginnings in the growing movement of setting up nature centers within communities for use as outdoor classrooms. He was an early supporter of what developed into the Nature Center's Division of the National Audubon Society, which provides technical assistance to communities in the acquisition and operation of natural areas for this use.
Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated
In 1957, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society awarded its first Horace Marden Albright Scenic Preservation Medal to Laurance S. Rockefeller who, the previous year, had seen the Virgin Islands National Park created as the result of his initial gift of more than 5,000 acres. He felt especially honored because of his respect for Albright, a friend as well as advisor for thirty years. In 1926, Albright, then superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, had hosted Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and their sons David, Winthrop and Laurance on what proved to be a significant visit to Wyoming. He shepherded them through Jackson Hole, the 30-mile long mountain valley which had as its western backdrop the snowy peaks of the Grand Tetons.
The splendor of the Grand Teton country captivated the Rockefellers. Resolving to safeguard Jackson Hole and its view of the Grand Tetons for the enjoyment of all Americans, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased 33,562 acres in the valley from ranchers and other owners. He planned to donate this land to the federal government, but his plans were delayed until 1949, when Laurance Rockefeller, as president of Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated, made the gift on behalf of his father. The valley land was included in Grand Teton National Park.
Established in 1940 with Laurance Rockefeller at the helm, Jackson Hole Preserve, Incorporated (JHPI) is a nonprofit conservation and education organization whose purposes are to preserve areas of outstanding primitive grandeur and natural beauty and to provide appropriate facilities for their use and enjoyment by the public. JHPI has protected large sections of the Grand Teton country and has been active in a number of other conservation activities, including helping to save California redwoods. In 1970 it also assisted in establishing the 2,500-acre Hudson Highlands State Park, just north of New York City.
Through pilot projects carried out by subsidiaries of JHPI, Rockefeller sought answers to one of the most controversial aspects of park operations -- providing accommodations and other necessary facilities for park visitors. Much useful experimentation was been done at Colter Bay, on Jackson Lake, by the Grand Teton Lodge Company, a subsidiary of JHPI, in cooperation with the National Park Service. Rockefeller found the campsite at Colter Bay to be convincing proof that properly designed and carefully located facilities can be provided in a beautiful natural setting with a minimal harm to its fundamental values.
Also in Jackson Hole, Rockefeller, with the cooperation of the New York Zoological Society, set up a wildlife preserve where elk, moose, deer, buffalo, beaver and other animals could be observed year round. In 1953 this preserve, Wildlife Park, was turned over to the National Park Service, but some 15 years later budget cuts closed the preserve.
Virgin Islands National Park
A stop at the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands during a cruise in the Caribbean led to Rockefeller's interest in bringing to life an almost-forgotten National Park Service report that pointed out that the island's unspoiled natural beauty and primitive charm combined the rare qualities required for establishment of a national park. He took the lead, with JHPI, to safeguard those qualities for the enjoyment of the people in the tradition of both his father and the National Park Service.
Rockefeller funds, mostly from Laurance, were used to acquire 5,000 acres on St. John. This land was turned over to the government on December 1, 1956, at the dedication of the Virgin Islands National Park. It represented more than half of the park's initially authorized area of 9,500 acres. Further Rockefeller gifts to the park's program included the acquisition of "inholdings" -- privately owned lands within park boundaries -- as they become available.
In 1962, Congress approved legislation extending the park's boundaries to include 5,650 acres of offshore submerged lands -- areas containing beautiful coral formations and rich forms of tropical marine life, much of which can be observed by snorkelers following an underwater "trail."
Laurance Rockefeller also purchased and donated to JHPI a small St. John island resort known as Caneel Bay Plantation. Developed to accommodate park visitors, Caneel Bay is regarded as one of the world's most beautiful resorts. As with Grand Teton Lodge Company, the resort's income after operating and maintenance costs was earmarked for conservation purposes.
Resort areas in the Caribbean, Hawaii and Vermont attracted Laurance S. Rockefeller's development capital for tourist enterprises separate from the operations undertaken by subsidiaries of Jackson Hole Preserve. His criteria for these investments: prospects for profitable returns over the long run, social and economic development of the areas in which they are located, and settings of natural beauty which will provide recreation and self-renewal for the urban-oriented guests.
In 1958 he built the Dorado Beach Hotel and Golf Club, twenty miles outside San Juan in Puerto Rico, in cooperation with the island's Operation Bootstrap, to create jobs and increase tourism. He followed this with the development of Little Dix Bay, a vacation resort in the British Virgin Islands. Also in the Virgin Islands, in association with his brother David, he developed Fountain Valley Golf Course and Davis Bay Beach in St. Croix. In Hawaii, he built the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Island of Hawaii, which ranks as one of the finest resort hotels in the world. He sold the Dorado Beach resort to Eastern Air Lines in 1967, and UAL, Inc. later acquired Mauna Kea.
The charm of Woodstock, Vermont, a New England village that is the ancestral home of his wife's family, and the area's peaceful, rolling countryside, appealed greatly to Laurance Rockefeller. In 1969, he built the new Woodstock Inn and its guest facilities. Beginning in the early 1960s, he operated the near-by Mt. Tom and Suicide Six ski areas. His interest in maintaining the uniquely New England character of Woodstock led him, over the years, to acquire other properties in the area.
The resorts were operated and managed by Rockresorts, the management company Laurance Rockefeller founded in 1966 and chaired until the company was sold in 1986. All of the resorts were sold that year except for the Woodstock Inn & Resort, which remained under Laurance Rockefeller's individual ownership.
Zoos and Nature Centers
A trustee of the New York Zoological Society since 1935, Laurance S. Rockefeller worked closely with Fairfield Osborn in expanding the society from a local organization exhibiting animals in New York Zoological Park -- the Bronx Zoo -- to one conducting conservation and research activities on an international scale. He was elected the society's president in 1968, and served as chairman from 1970 until his resignation in 1975, when he was elected honorary chairman.
He had a major role in one of the Zoological Society's largest undertakings in the 1950s -- construction of the modern New York Aquarium at Coney Island. New York City cooperated in building the $4,500,000 aquarium.
Palisades Interstate Park Commission
In 1939, Governor Herbert Lehman appointed Laurance S. Rockefeller a member of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC), a New York-New Jersey body responsible for operation of the string of parks on the west bank of the Hudson River across and upriver from New York City. The Rockefellers and others had been enlisted early in the century in the movement to preserve the Palisades' rocky cliffs and adjoining areas from destruction by quarrying. Within eighty years the Palisades Interstate Park system, which includes the Palisades Interstate Parkway, had grown to encompass more than 79,000 acres in an area stretching north from the George Washington Bridge and linking Manhattan and New Jersey north to Storm King Mountain and northwest to Sullivan County.
The years after World War II saw an era of great growth and improvement of the park system, and Laurance Rockefeller took an active part in planning and directing the enlarged program, including construction of the 43-mile scenic Parkway. He was elected commission secretary in 1941 and vice president in 1960, when he also was designated Palisades representative to the New York State Council of Parks (later the New York State Council of Parks and Outdoor Recreation). He was elected commission president
in September 1970, a position he held until 1977. He resigned from the commission in 1978.
As a Palisades commissioner, Rockefeller was particularly alert to possibilities for new acquisitions of land whose natural features or strategic location added significantly to the public's enjoyment. He contributed to the purchase of two sections of the Tallman Mountain region in the early 1940s after he had learned of their availability. Some ten years later his contributions brought the 590-acre Dunderberg Mountain plus the Hudson shoreline at Jones Point within the park system. Later, after viewing rundown conditions in the Rockland Lake area, he sparked the drive to acquire and improve valuable lakefront property and helped with the purchase. After the development of a beach and other facilities, Rockland Lake North was opened to the public in 1965. Another park, Rockland Lake South, came five years later. Iona Island, a Hudson River island that was once a vineyard and later a naval arsenal, was acquired in 1965 for development as a recreation area, a successful finish to an acquisition campaign that Rockefeller began in 1947.
Park Land Acquisition, Development and Contributions
In the late 1950s and early 1960s Laurance Rockefeller supported the efforts of his brother, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller, to gain public approval of $100 million in bonds for a land acquisition program that would meet the challenge of the state's future needs for park and recreation space. The governor and Laurance -- along with Harold G. Wilm, then Conservation Commissioner, and Robert Moses, then chairman of the State Council of Parks - led two campaigns to win legislative and voter approval of bond issues: the initial $75 million bond issue in 1960, and a second in 1962 that added $25 million to the program. With these funds, the state acquired more than 35,000 acres of park land; assisted cities, counties, towns and villages in acquiring 31,000 acres; and secured 283,000 acres of multiple use and forest recreation areas. The success of this program set a precedent which other states followed.
In 1965, Rockefeller, as chairman of the State Council of Parks, announced the Next Step Program: a $400 million program for park development over a ten-year period, 1966-76. The key element was a $200 million Recreation Development Bond Issue, approved by the voters in November 1966. The other $200 million was to come from federal, state and municipal sources. In proposing the program to the governor, Laurance Rockefeller noted that "land alone cannot fulfill recreation needs of people. Development of marinas, bathing beaches, picnic and camping areas, golf courses, multiple use areas and many other facilities are needed. . . . Development costs money, indeed, often more than the land itself."
In 1992, together with his wife, Mary, Laurance Rockefeller donated Mary's ancestral home in Woodstock, Vermont, together with 550 surrounding acres, to the federal government to establish Vermont's first National Park. Known as the Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historical Park, the Park focuses on conservation issues and interprets the conservation contributions of George Perkins Marsh, Frederick Billings and Laurance S. Rockefeller.
In 2000, Laurance Rockefeller pledged to contribute his JY Ranch to the federal government to become a part of Grand Teton National Park. This 1,100 acre parcel will be deeded to the government in 2006, after the land has been restored to its natural state and a visitor center is built. The JY portion of the park will be managed to balance the preservation of the property with public access and use, thereby becoming a model for open space land stewardship.
New York State Council of Parks and Outdoor Recreation
Laurance Rockefeller formerly was chairman of the New York State Council of Parks and Outdoor Recreation and its predecessor agency, the State Council of Parks. He had been elected to succeed Robert Moses in January 1963. He had joined the council as the Palisades Interstate Park Commission representative and had been elected its vice chairman in 1960. He was instrumental in developing the plan for the 1967 legislative reorganization of the council, which created two new State Park regions -- one for New York City and one for the five counties comprising the Capital District.
Under his chairmanship, the council played important roles in carrying out the land acquisition program financed by the bond issues of 1960 and 1962 and in developing the Next Step Program; the establishment of the New York State Historic Trust; cooperation in the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore; a modernization program for existing facilities; a program of busing children from disadvantaged areas to state parks; and in the establishment of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in 1970.
Hudson River Valley Commission
Laurance Rockefeller served as chairman of the temporary Hudson River Valley Commission, appointed by Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller in March 1965, to develop a program "to enhance the river's recreational, industrial, historic, scenic, cultural, residential, and aesthetic values, and preserve these values for the future." A further directive came from the New York Legislature with the creation of the Hudson River Valley Scenic and Historic Corridor. The commission was instructed to make a detailed analysis of land use and to recommend ways to protect the valley's scenic, historic and cultural resources.
Reporting to the governor and the legislature in 1966, the commission noted the scarring of the valley, the pollution of its waters and air, the decay of waterfronts, the defacement by billboards of the still-lovely countryside and the uncoordinated sprawl of housing developments. It found, furthermore, that growth pressures were mounting. This growth, the commission added, "is vital. The essential question is whether the growth, can be shaped so that it will enhance the beauty of this great valley, rather than destroy it."
The commission expressed conviction that growth could be so shaped, provided there was "a continuing plan for all the needs of the valley -- for industry, transportation, housing, as well as scenic beauty and recreation -- and the machinery to make the plan effective."
As a result of the commission's work and recommendations, a permanent Hudson River Valley Commission was established to guide the over-all planning for the valley and its development.
Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission
In 1958 President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected Laurance Rockefeller to head the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, a fact-finding and advisory group created by Congress. Eight of ORRRC's fifteen members came from Congress and seven were presidential appointees. Their assignment was to determine the outdoor recreation needs of the American people to the year 2000 and recommend policies and programs necessary to assure that the needs will be met. A year later funds were appropriated and the commission set to work.
ORRRC conducted the most comprehensive fact-finding study ever made in this field and the results were published in 27 volumes. The major findings and more than 50 recommendations were contained in ORRRC's own report, Outdoor Recreation for America, submitted to President John F. Kennedy and Congress in 1962. This report presented a five-point program designed to improve and increase recreation use of both public and private land and water resources, to make more effective use of existing recreation areas and to acquire new ones, particularly shoreline. This program spelled out proposals for a national recreation policy; a classification system for outdoor recreation resources; expansion, modification and intensification of existing programs; a Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and a program of grants-in-aid to the states.
The ORRRC Report envisioned a "long-range sustained effort -- both public and private" to achieve the goals fixed for the nation in the outdoors. While recognizing the need for acquiring additional parklands, ORRRC stressed making more effective use of resources already available but overly restricted or not used at all for recreation. The commission also presented a strong case for providing natural, or open, areas in the first- step planning of the new communities that the expanding population would require.
The acceptance of the ORRRC recommendations was extraordinary. In the months following their presentation a number were put into effect by legislative action or administrative ruling. A new Bureau of Outdoor Recreation and a cabinet-level Federal Recreation Council was established, with the Bureau carrying forward many of the specific program recommendations.
Most significant, perhaps, was that the ORRRC Report engendered a new enthusiasm and awareness for conservation and outdoor recreation. Citing the commission's recommendations, state and local governments initiated new programs.
Laurance Rockefeller also was a member of the Public Land Law Review Commission, a federal body patterned along the lines of ORRRC. Set up by Congress in 1964, the commission engaged in a thorough study of the nation's public land laws and presented its recommendations in 1970.
White House Conference on Natural Beauty
President Lyndon Johnson selected Laurance Rockefeller to be chairman and coordinator of the White House Conference on Natural Beauty, which was held May 24-25, 1965. The conference, with nearly 1,000 participants from all sections of the nation, marked the beginning of a new conservation effort in the United States. Quality of the environment was lifted up to a high priority.
In his address opening the conference, Rockefeller emphasized that natural beauty must be an integral part of our national life -- and not regarded as a frill or afterthought or luxury; that it is basic to the nation's spiritual life, determining "whether we create a good land for our children and grandchildren," and that it greatly influences the quality of the individual lives we lead -- where we live, work, relax and on the highways. He described natural beauty as a very important expression of national character, adding: "How we treat our land, how we build upon it, how we act toward our air and water will in the long run tell what kind of people we really are."
The conference presented the president with a series of proposals to beautify the American city, the countryside and the highway system. Other proposals dealt with ways to achieve these ends by action of government at all levels and by citizen action.
As a forerunner to the conference, Rockefeller had served in 1964 as a member of the President's Task Force on Natural Beauty.
Presidential Citizens' Advisory Committee
When President Johnson set up the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Recreation and Natural Beauty in 1966, he chose Laurance S. Rockefeller to be its chairman. The 12-member committee received a broad mandate from the president, who said its task was "to tell us where to go from here" in the fields of outdoor recreation and natural beauty.
In annual reports in 1967 and 1968 to the President's Council on Recreation and Natural Beauty, a Cabinet-level group, the Citizens' Committee emphasized recommendations aimed at safe-guarding environmental values and increasing the supply of park and recreation lands. Its recommendations ranged from a call for the President's Council itself to play a stronger role to basic changes in highway planning to disposal of federal surplus lands at no cost to public bodies for park and recreation purposes.
Rockefeller also was chairman of the Citizens' Committee's Electric Utility Industry Task Force on Environment, which sought practical action to eliminate conflicts between natural beauty and the industry. Its report in 1968 gave emphasis particularly to the placement of distribution lines underground and the location of nuclear energy plants.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon created the Citizens' Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality, replacing the Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Natural Beauty. The committee's new name reflected the emphasis on protection and improvement of all aspects of the environment, from air and water to open space, the look of industrial plants and the quiet of neighborhoods. Rockefeller served as chairman of the new 15-member committee for four years and after resigning as chairman, continued to serve as a member for three more years.
The main line of Laurance S. Rockefeller's investment activities involved new or young enterprises operating on the "frontiers of technology." This approach reflected his absorption with the new, the scientific, the imaginative. He put risk capital to work in backing development engineers and small businessmen, first in aeronautics, then moving from air transport and aircraft manufacturing into the space industry. "I like doing constructive things with my money, rather than just trying to make more," he once remarked.
He developed an investment approach to accompany his risk capital and the careful research by himself and his associates: the "three-legged stool" basis of ownership of the new companies. One leg consisted of Rockefeller and others allied with him; a second was the operating management, and the third, other private investors or the "public." The arrangement, he said, provided a healthy balance, prevented domination by any one group and "tends to prevent any one of the three parties from wandering off on a tangent." It also was in line with a strong belief that the incentive to management provided by ownership of a significant share of a new company was crucial to its success.
Laurance was among a number of Rockefeller family members who joined in 1969 to form the venture capital partnership that developed into Venrock, Inc.
Laurance Rockefeller's investments in young, science-based companies kept pace with scientific developments and changing technology over the years. His first venture capital investments in the field of aviation occurred in the late 1930s. In 1938, he participated in the refinancing of Captain Eddie Rickenbacker's fledgling Eastern Air Lines, which grew into one of the nation's largest airlines. He also served the company as a director (1938-1960, 1977-1981) and an advisory director (1981-1987). In 1939, he backed J.S. McDonnell, Jr., an airplane designer with a small experimental shop in St. Louis who had an idea for an advanced type of fighter plane. Rockefeller invested $10,000 in McDonnell Aircraft Corporation to help finance the development of the air- craft, and although that particular model never got into production, the company went on to become a major producer of military aircraft. When Rockefeller entered the Navy as an aircraft procurement officer during World War II, he sold his McDonnell holdings, but reinvested on a larger scale after the war. With the company successfully established and growing, Rockefeller began to dispose of his holdings in 1949.
Immediately following World War II and into the early 1950s, venture capital investments were primarily made in the fields of aviation, space and electronics. These included Piasecki Helicopter Corporation (1946), a pioneer in developing tandem rotors for helicopters, which eventually became part of the Boeing Company; and Reaction Motors, Inc. (1947), a leader in the field of liquid propellant engines for rockets, missiles and manned aircraft. Among Reaction's achievements was the development of the rocket engine for the famous Bell X-1, the first aircraft to exceed the speed of sound. Reaction was acquired by Thiokol Chemical Corporation in 1958. Other investments during this period also included: the Marquardt Aircraft Corporation, developer of the ramjet engine; Airborne Instruments Laboratories, Inc., aerospace electronic systems; and New York Airways,, Inc., operator of helicopter passenger service in the New York area.
From the mid-fifties to the early sixties, investment participations were in the emerging technological areas of information management, nuclear technology, optics and high temperature physics. Investments in these areas included: Nuclear Development Corporation of America, a designer and engineer of nuclear reactors for electric power, propulsion and research; Itek Corporation, a producer of information handling and duplicating equipment using photographic, electro-optical and photochemical processes; GCA Corporation, a producer of scientific instrumentation; Scantlin Electronics, Inc., developer and producer of electronic devices for disseminating stock quotations and financial data; and Thermo Electron Corporation, designer and producer of thermionic energy devices, small steam engines and compact combustion systems.
Starting in the early 1960s, Rockefeller's investments were directed toward companies engaged in advanced technologies such as composite materials, lasers and high temperature chemistry, as well as those involved in the computer and data processing fields. Among these investments were: Thermokinetic Fibers, Inc., a research based company producing new forms of material configuration ("whiskers") having extraordinary physical and electromagnetic properties; Coherent Radiation Laboratories, designer and producer of lasers for use in industrial applications; Plasmachem, Inc., developer of processes in the field of high temperature chemistry; Evans & Sutherland Computer Corporation, designer and producer of computer graphic systems, and Intel Corporation, developer and manufacturer of high speed semi- conductor memory systems for computer and peripheral equipment manufacturers. Many of these companies subsequently were purchased by or merged into other corporations.
Rockefeller also has participated in enterprises overseas, in situations where financial risks were balanced by a potential for giving employment and improving standards of living as well as profits. When his brother, Nelson, formed the International Basic Economy Corporation (IBEC) in 1947, Laurance and the other Rockefeller brothers participated in its financial backing, and Laurance served as a director for the first ten years. IBEC was founded in the belief that the introduction of American business methods and techniques in developing areas would help to raise living standards and earn a profit at the same time.
Rockefeller Center and Business Leadership
Laurance S. Rockefeller was associated actively with Rockefeller Center for 42 years, starting in 1936 when he joined the board of directors of the center, which owned and operated the world- famous business and entertainment center in midtown Manhattan. He served as board chairman (1953-1956 and 1958-1966) and as a member of the executive and finance committees.
Rockefeller Center consists of a group of buildings, plazas and gardens covering a 22-acre area in the heart of Manhattan. Initially, construction was carried out by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., during the depression years of the 1930s when the Center construction project gave jobs to 75,000 persons. Fourteen buildings were erected then, the fifteenth in 1947. Next came the Uniroyal Building addition, opened in 1955, and the Time & Life Building, built jointly with Time Inc. and opened in 1959, during Laurance Rockefeller's stewardship as board chairman. He also had a hand in the construction of two neighboring skyscrapers, the Sperry Rand Building in 1962 and the New York Hilton Hotel at Rockefeller Center, completed in 1963, and in the purchase of the Sinclair Oil Building, also in 1963. Subsequent additions included the 54-story Exxon Building, the McGraw-Hill Building, 51 stories, and the 45-story Celanese Building with first occupancy in 1973.
Laurance Rockefeller once observed that Rockefeller Center means many things to many people -- jobs, business, entertainment, shopping - but that "to members of my family and to me, it substantiates my father's belief that a gleam of the future can be realized -- if one is persistent and practical in pursuit of it."
For ten years beginning in 1947, Rockefeller was a member of the board of directors of Chase National Bank and its successor, The Chase Manhattan Bank, resulting from a merger with The Bank of Manhattan Company.
In 1937 Laurance Rockefeller purchased from his grandfather's estate the seat on the New York Stock Exchange that had been owned by John D. Rockefeller. He sold the seat in 1958.
The New York University Graduate School of Business Administration conferred its 1963 C. Walter Nichols Award on Laurance Rockefeller as a business leader whose career has demonstrated integrity, enterprise and service. In his acceptance remarks, he stressed that business leadership carried with it a responsibility for "involvement in good works in our society." The business leader's "ability, temperament and imagination are needed just as much in the pursuit of intelligent philanthropy as in, say, venture capital enterprise. Incidentally, those two fields -- intelligent philanthropy and venture capital -- have a challenge in common. Good opportunities are hard to find in both."
Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Laurance S. Rockefeller was president and, later, chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) from 1958 to 1980, when he stepped down and was vice chairman for two years, becoming an advisory trustee in 1982. The RBF was established by the five Rockefeller brothers in 1940, and its operations reflect the wide range of their philanthropic interests and responsibilities. Its program has included financial support of projects in the fields of international relations, conservation and environment, population and equal opportunity, among other areas.
Among the RBF activities in which Laurance Rockefeller has taken a direct role was the work of the Special Studies Project. Its first project was an in-depth inquiry into the problems and opportunities confronting the nation in foreign policy, military preparedness, education and social and economic affairs. More than one hundred citizens participated in its deliberations and the production of the first six "Rockefeller Panel Reports" issued between 1958 and 1960 and then collected in the book, Prospect for America.
The RBF continued the family interest in African-American education, to which Rockefellers gave pioneering leadership. Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga., is named for Mr. Rockefeller's grandmother and Spelman Halls at Princeton University also is named in her honor. At the dedication of Spelman Halls in 1973, Mr. Rockefeller said: "I hope that the name will long serve to remind those who pass this way that this gentle, but strong and loving woman had an inspired vision of a nation free from prejudice and wholly dedicated to the ideal of equality of opportunity for all people."
Laurance Rockefeller has been interested in the status of women -- in their making fullest use of their talent and training. He and the RBF have concentrated on programs of education, or reeducation in the case of mature women with grown children. These have included programs undertaken by the American Association of University Women and Radcliffe College. He served (1960-1965) on the executive committee of the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, set up specifically to encourage intellectually idle women to put their "wasting education" to use. He also participated in efforts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to increase the number of women trained in the sciences and engineering. He was instrumental in MIT's creation of a chair for a distinguished woman lecturer, the Mrs. Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professorship, named for his sister.
Another facet of this work involves the Young Women's Christian Association. Laurance Rockefeller became a trustee in 1956 and was president of the Board of Trustees of the National Board of the YWCA of the U.S.A. from 1969 to 1973. In 1962-63, he accompanied his wife, Mary, then chairman of the YWCA's World Service Council, on a trip that covered 53,000 miles and 18 countries to see at first hand the organization's activities around the world. Mrs. Rockefeller later became chairman of the International Division.
Laurance S. Rockefeller maintained an active interest in Princeton University, from which he graduated with a B.A. degree in philosophy in 1932. He was a member of the Department of Philosophy's Advisory Council (1941-1980) and became a trustee of the university in 1967, serving until 1980 when he became a trustee emeritus. As a trustee, he held memberships on a number of committees, including the executive committee as well as the committees on curriculum, student life, finance, grounds and buildings, honorary degrees and plans and resources.
He has been a major contributor to the university over the years, including $4 million in 1970 for new dormitories -- Spelman Halls -- following the admission of women to Princeton. In 1980, he contributed $5 million in honor of his late brother, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, who graduated from Princeton in 1929; this and other gifts from family members were designed to develop from existing university facilities a new residential college, Rockefeller College, in memory of JDR 3rd.
In 1990, Laurance Rockefeller donated $21 million to Princeton for the creation of the University Center for Human Values. The Center promotes interdisciplinary studies concerning moral, political, social and spiritual questions and issues. In 1987, Rockefeller received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Princeton and in 1991 Princeton presented him with the Woodrow Wilson Award, the University's highest alumni award, for his service to the University and the nation.
Airports and Aviation Safety
Vitally interested in New York City's role as a great airport center, Laurance S. Rockefeller in 1941 became chairman of the Aeronautical Committee of the Commerce and Industry Association of New York. In 1946, Mayor O'Dwyer appointed him to the newly created New York City Airport Authority.
He took a leading role in activities of the Flight Safety Foundation from its creation in 1945 as a research, testing and information agency concerned with aviation safety. He served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Science, 1947-1964.
In 1953 Rockefeller served as chairman of a 23-member federal special grand jury impaneled to investigate waterfront crimes in New York, particularly interference with interstate commerce by threats of violence. After conducting more than fifty sessions over a year's time and issuing several indictments, the members of the grand jury were dismissed by District Judge Edward A. Conger with a commendation for performing an "outstanding public duty." The work of this and other investigating groups led to enactment of anti-racketeering laws.
Throughout the 1950s, many citizens and groups in New York City worked toward the establishment of a Family Court which would have jurisdiction in cases involving family and youth problems. Laurance Rockefeller took part in this effort, financing a two-year study that produced a strong recommendation for creation of such a court. The study was sponsored by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The Mayor's Committee on the Courts was appointed in 1956, and Rockefeller served for three years as a committee member and chairman of the sub-committee dealing with children, youth and family matters. A Family Court finally was established in 1962 as part of a general court revision.
Prepared by Rockefeller Family & Associates, June 1982 and in 2004.
See also Robin W. Winks, Laurance S. Rockefeller: Catalyst for Conservation (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 1997) and other books listed on the Rockefeller Archive Center's online Bibliography on the Rockefeller Family and Their Philanthropies.