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.

The day after incorporating the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the five sons of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr.—John 3rd, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David—gathered at the family home in Pocantico Hills, New York.

All five Rockefeller brothers served in the war. While the Fund made some grants during the war years, its work became more robust after 1946, when the brothers returned to their offices at Room 5600, 30 Rockefeller Center in New York City.

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.

In 1950, Dana S. Creel was appointed director of the RBF, and later became its first president.

In 1951, the RBF elected its first non-family trustees, Dr. Detlev W. Bronk and Wallace K. Harrison.

In 1951, a $58 million gift from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave the RBF an interest-generating principal fund for the first time. With this endowment, the Fund could now make larger grants and design its own experimental and even operating programs.

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.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., father of the founding RBF trustees, died in 1960 and left half of his estate, approximately $65 million, to the Fund.

As the 1960s progressed, five new program officers joined the RBF staff: William S. Moody, Thomas Wahman, Gerald Davenport, Russell Phillips, and William M. Dietel.

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 Creel Committee surveyed 25 of the Fund’s significant ongoing commitments and assessed the organizations for a “payout” grant of at least $1 million.

William M. Dietel, who came to the Fund in 1970 after serving as principal of the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York, succeeded Dana Creel as president of the Fund when Creel retired in 1975.

Following the deaths of four members of the third generation of Rockefellers during the 1970s, as the decade drew to a close the fourth generation (known as the cousins) held the majority of family seats on the board for the first time.

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.

The One World Program was the Fund’s first major, comprehensive reorganization of its program architecture. Developed by a review committee chaired by David Rockefeller, Jr., One World was unveiled in 1983.

David Rockefeller, the youngest of the founding trustees, served as the Fund’s chairman beginning in 1980, and would be the last founding trustee to lead the Fund.

William Dietel, president of the Fund since 1975, retired alongside David Rockefeller in 1987. Colin G. Campbell, then president of Wesleyan University, was selected to replace him as of July 1988.

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 1992, Abby M. O’Neill succeeded David Rockefeller, Jr., as chair of the board of trustees, becoming the second chairperson drawn from the “cousins,” or fourth generation, and the first woman to serve in this capacity at the RBF.

In 1994, the RBF opened its Pocantico Conference Center in the renovated coach barn of the Kykuit estate, formerly the home to four generations of the Rockefeller family, in Westchester County, New York.

In 1999, the RBF completed a formal merger with the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, a Connecticut-based foundation. The merger, in which the RBF became the “surviving corporation,” brought to the Fund new trustees, program staff, and financial resources.

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.

After an extensive search, the Fund appointed Stephen B. Heintz as its next president, replacing Colin Campbell who had left to head the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in 2000. Heintz took office in February 2001.

In 2001-2003, for the first time since the 1983 adoption of the One World program rubric, the RBF undertook a comprehensive redesign of its program architecture.

In 2009, the Fund moved its offices from midtown Manhattan to The Interchurch Center on the upper West Side, providing an opportunity to redesign the space in accordance with LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards.

As the Fund moved into the 2000s, the “cousins,” or fourth generation of the Rockefeller family, began to welcome the fifth generation of family members onto the board.

Given its deep commitment to combating climate change, in September 2014, the Fund began a two-step process to divest from fossil fuel companies.

David Rockefeller, who founded the Rockefeller Brothers Fund with brothers John 3rd, Nelson, Laurance, and Winthrop in 1940, passed away on March 20, 2017. David served as a trustee of the Fund for 40 years.

In 1924, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., asked New York Architect Duncan Candler to prepare plans for a “playhouse” where he and his family could relax and entertain. David Rockefeller bequeathed the Playhouse upon his death in 2017 to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In 2018, it joined Kykuit as part of The Pocantico Center.