Rockefeller Brothers Fund Timeline

1940s: Beginning at the Brink of War

In its first decade, the Fund’s largest combined giving was to war relief and reconstruction worldwide.

Housed since 1899 in the Bronx through an agreement with the City of New York, the New York Zoological Park, known as the “Bronx Zoo,” remains one of the largest and most-visited wildlife conservation parks in the world.

1950s: The Fund at Mid-Century

By the early 1950s, the Fund had an endowment for the first time, it began operating its own programs, and used these to respond to world events with more experimental initiatives.

Beginning in 1956, the Fund supported the Regional Plan Association’s three-year, in-depth study of the New York City metropolitan area. The study was the first to produce long-term projections of trends in population, economy, housing, transportation, industry, and land use affecting the tri-state area.

In 1956, the Fund gave $1 million to Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc., for the development of a large tract on the Island of St. John in the American Virgin Islands for national park purposes.

In 1958, a gift from the Fund helped the Palisades Interstate Park Commission expand the Palisades Interstate Park on the Hudson River northwest of New York City.

1960s: Tradition and Tumult

Against a backdrop of political protest and social upheaval, the 1960s saw the RBF increase its endowment and make between $6 and $8 million in grants each year.

The Fund’s support for the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation (AWLF) reflects its interests in both international relations and environmental conservation.

Beginning in 1969, the Fund targeted its support to the Society’s Nature Centers Division for educational outreach including publications, training centers, workshops for the general public, and environmental curricula for elementary and secondary schools.

1970s: Decade of Disquiet

Despite intergenerational conflicts, the Fund responded to the concerns of the era with programs in equal opportunity, urban problems, U.S. Southern development, the environment, and fostering the health of the private sector.

The Fund’s support for the Worldwatch Institute was one of the first actions under its revised Environmental Program, which had extended its goals beyond traditional stewardship and conservation to predicting and ameliorating environmental crises.

The RBF was an early backer, contributing to the Institute’s general expenses from 1974 through 1981. RBF staff strove to connect NAI with potential funders and colleagues in alternative environmental design.

The Lindisfarne Association, which began in 1973 in Southampton, New York, promoted the integration of spiritual practices, scholarship, and alternative education. It received support from founding RBF trustee Laurance Rockefeller as well as the Fund.

1980s: Global Interdependence

The 1980s saw the Fund focusing on issues at home and abroad in the areas of agricultural reform, post-apartheid democracy in South Africa, and nuclear non-proliferation. In New York City, it worked on the social toll of AIDS, affordable housing, sustainable urban development, and public education.

In 1980 the Fund helped establish the American Farmland Trust (AFT), the first national, nonprofit institution committed exclusively to the conservation of agricultural resources.

The Eastern Caribbean Natural Area Program was a cornerstone of the RBF’s Caribbean program, which focused on promoting the areas of sustainable development, natural resource conservation, and job creation in tandem with one another.

Created by the merger of agricultural nonprofits founded by Rockefeller brothers Winthrop and John 3rd, Winrock International works in more than 60 countries to empower the disadvantaged, increase economic opportunity, and sustain natural resources.

The Fund’s grants to the Beijer Institute (the International Institute for Energy, Related Resources and the Human Environment) in Sweden were its first in climate change, an area with which it became increasingly concerned throughout the 1980s.

Building upon its broad work in East-West relations, the Fund seized an opportunity in the 1980s to revitalize Polish agriculture, aided by a personal involvement of RBF chair David Rockefeller and exploratory trips to Poland by Rockefeller Foundation agricultural expert and Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug.

1990s: Changing Geopolitics and Civil Society

The 1990s witnessed the fall of two seemingly entrenched political orders: Communist regimes in the Eastern bloc and apartheid in South Africa. These seismic geopolitical shifts both invited the Fund’s response and reaffirmed its existing involvement in both regions.

In 1990, the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the RBF organized the Environmental Partnership for Central Europe as a means of nurturing community-based environmental activity in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary through small grants and technical assistance.

In 1994, the RBF began encouraging sustainable forest management (SFM) to provide a continuous yield of high-quality forest products while preserving the ecological integrity of healthy, self-perpetuating forests.

Beginning in 1995, the RBF and the Pew Charitable Trusts collaborated on reforming U.S. fishery management in response to the overfishing of almost every monitored species in U.S. waters.

In 1998, the Fund supported a region-wide initiative to improve the nearly 600 miles of New York-New Jersey waterfront and the possibilities for restoration, redevelopment, and public access.

2000s: Globalization’s Discontents

The years since 2000 have witnessed rapid and chaotic trends in globalization as well as violent regional conflicts with devastating immediate consequences and far-reaching global effects.

Throughout the 2000s, climate change became a larger and increasingly central objective at the Fund, spanning program areas and driving cross-program cooperation.

In 1999, the RBF began contributing to the redevelopment of former industrial sites, or brownfields, in New York City. The organizations’ research, advocacy, and policy work resulted in the passage of the 2003 New York State Brownfield Reform Act.

RBF grantmaking began focusing on Southern China in 2006, working at the intersection of environment and health to heighten awareness of the health impacts of pollution.

Since 2008, support for IPE has been an important component of the Fund’s commitment, begun in 2006, to work at the intersection of environment and health and strengthen public participation in environmental governance in China.

In the early 2010s, grantees of the RBF’s Democratic Practice–Global Challenges and Pivotal Place: Western Balkans programs began developing research and public information campaigns on the proposed construction of a new 500-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Kosovo.