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Just how rich was John D. Rockefeller? Rockefeller’s numbers may appear dwarfed by modern-day success stories. (As of last month, Facebook was valued at over $110 billion, and is projected to make around $7 billion in revenues this year alone.) However, unlike yesterday’s Rockefeller legacy, today’s dotcom fortunes and hasty start-ups are unlikely to continue to generate dynastic wealth over the next twenty years, much less into the next century. The coupling of deep foundations and vast manpower that rocketed the Standard Oil conglomerate into unforeseen riches produced a lasting infrastructure as well as a familial commitment to the business, which ensures the name Rockefeller—not Zuckerberg—will remain carved into the annals of time. Immortalized as the world’s first billionaire, the Gilded Age industrialist was earning about $192,000 a week by the late 19th century . . . when the average American brought home less than $10. Often regarded as the wealthiest person in history, the oil tycoon boasts an adjusted personal fortune of $300 billion to $600 billion—tantamount to buying out Gates, Buffet, Ellison and the entire Walton family (Wal-Mart Corporation). A devout Baptist, John D. Rockefeller often attributed his fortune to the Big Guy upstairs, typically stating, “God gave me my money.” (Woman's Home Companion, 1915)

has never been known with any precision. That said, the family’s trusts have been estimated to fall into the range of $5 billion to $10 billion. Not listed on any wealth list is David Sr.’s sustained philanthropic initiative. In 2005, he pledged $100 million dollars to MoMA and Rockefeller University . . . each. Three years later, he delegated another $100 million to Harvard University. To date, David Rockefeller’s charitable donations total around $900 million. As the senior member of the Rockefeller family, David is currently the principal beneficiary of the family fortune. Is the Rockefeller family wealth declining? Not declining per se, just dispersing. In recent years, pundits habitually claim the Rockefeller family name has surpassed its

governor, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller is currently the only serving politician of the clan, as well as the only office-holding Democrat in the traditionally Republican family dynasty. Are the Rockefellers obsessed with philanthropy? Yes, like it’s going out of style. Instead of filling a pool with Benjamins and swimming around in it à la Scrooge McDuck, the Rockefellers have opted, instead, to give away much of the family fortune. Presently, the Rockefeller family donates around $200 million annually to various causes. In truth, the only thing John D. Rockefeller pursued with a vigor equal to what he expended on besting competitors— quivering in their oil-stained boots—was charity. From his first paycheck to his last, Rockefeller tithed 10 percent of his earnings to his church. The oil magnate also founded the University of Chicago, Rockefeller University and, in his silvered years, the Rockefeller Foundation, to carry out philanthropic objectives after his passing. To date, the Rockefeller Foundation has disseminated more wealth than the oil patriarch personally accumulated during his lifetime. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874–1960) continued his father’s philanthropic vision, donating $56 million to restore Colonial Williamsburg; six blocks of Midtown Manhattan, to house the United Nations (18 acres worth $8.5 million!); and 33,562 acres out West that would become the Grand Teton National Park (value: $1.4 million). Awarding the Metropolitan Museum of Art an endowment grant—as well as his personal collection of masonry—John D., Jr. facilitated construction of The Cloisters, a stunning cliff-side complex of medieval abbeys in Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson. And his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, who was similarly inclined toward the arts, developed the original proposal for the Museum of Modern Art, urging her husband’s gifting of land and priceless objects to the museum. Junior’s foray into real estate further led to the construction of the winter holidaysynonymous Rockefeller Center, in 1939. Absorbing his investment of $250 million, the Center was the grandest commercial development of its time, the only large-scale private project executed between the start of the Great Depression and the end of the

“God gave me my money.”

How many Rockefellers are currently on the Forbes 400? Just one. At 98 years old, David Rockefeller, Sr. also holds the title of oldest member of the Forbes 400. Ranked #193, the former CEO and chairman of Chase National Bank boasts an estimated personal net worth of $2.8 billion. Wealth lists such as Forbes Billionaires or Forbes 400 rank individuals rather than large, multi-generational families who share fortunes. Ownership breakdown among siblings and relatives is often unclear, and, as is the case with the Rockefellers, records of the family archives relating to both the family's and individual members’ net worth may be closed to researchers. The true combined wealth of the Rockefeller family

actual net worth; they cite a dual drop in public influence and private wealth. Over time, the family has grown substantially and, naturally, in tandem with the number of claims to the family trusts. Quite noticeably, in the last 20 years, not a single Rockefeller has amassed a separate personal fortune from undertaking an entrepreneurial venture. Many speculate that merely collecting interest on family holdings may no longer be enough to sustain the entire Rockefeller clan, including members of the latest “fifthsixth” generation. Just how many Rockefellers are there? Many. There are currently between 150 and 200 living blood-relatives of John D. Rockefeller Sr. Are the Rockefellers politically active? In the past and present. Nelson Rockefeller, grandson to the original family patriarch, served as assistant secretary of state for inter-American (Latin American) affairs, as governor of New York and later as vice president under Gerald Ford. His brother Winthrop became the lieutenant governor of Arkansas.Previously having served as

Clockwise: The Museum of Modern Art; The landmark Standard Oil Building; John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and John D Rockefeller, Jr.; the Memorial Chapel at the University of Chicago; Eileen Rockefeller Growald and David Rockefeller, Sr.; Abby Aldrich Rockefeller; A family portrait: From left to right, David Rockefeller, Jr., Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Neva Rockefeller, Margaret Dulany Rockefeller, Richard Gilder Rockefeller and Eileen Rockefeller. Middle: At 13,775 feet, Grand Teton is the highest mountain in Grand Teton National Park, which was donated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr.


Profile for AVENUE Magazine

AVENUE December 2013  

Founded in 1976, AVENUE is a must-read among the city’s most discerning, stylish and savvy audiences. As Manhattan’s oldest society magazine...

AVENUE December 2013  

Founded in 1976, AVENUE is a must-read among the city’s most discerning, stylish and savvy audiences. As Manhattan’s oldest society magazine...