The life of John D. Rockefeller Jr. reads like a long, fascinating novel, with a chapter dedicated to his love for ancient Greece.
He was the heir of the first billionaire in history, John D. Rockefeller, the richest man in the world. He was also a great philanthropist.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. adored antiquity and the history of ancient Athens, Pericles and the creation of the Acropolis.
That love that his family had for all things historical continued with his son, John III — and even through today, with his great-granddaughter, Ariana Rockefeller.
The legacy of John D. Rockefeller Sr.
Born on July 8, 1839, John D. Rockefeller was one of the first people who discovered the importance of “black gold” — oil.
In 1863 he founded the first oil refinery in Cleveland and seven years later, at the age of 31, he established the Standard Oil Company.
The company grew gradually, with Rockefeller Junior’s father expanding into other industries such as metallurgy and transportation.
By 1882, John D. Rockefeller Sr. had created one of the most powerful trusts in the world. When the Supreme Court decided in 1911 to dismantle the trust, Standard Oil split to 34 smaller companies, operating independently.
Two years later, John D. Rockefeller Sr. retired from the management of the companies he had founded, but he remained the main shareholder.
On May 14, 1913, father and son founded the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City.
His fortune skyrocketed, thanks to a stock rally in 1916, breaking the $1 billion barrier, making him the first billionaire in modern history.
John D. Rockefeller Sr. spent the last 40 years of his life on his palatial estate in Westchester County, New York, away from the world.
He spent most of his time doing targeted philanthropy work by creating foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research.
He was also the founder of the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller University and the Central Philippine University in the Philippines, with John D. Rockefeller Jr. continuing his philanthropic work.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. continued his father’s philanthropy
John D. Rockefeller Jr. was born on January 29, 1874 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was the fifth child and only son of John D. Rockefeller and heir to his vast fortune.
He is known for building the monumental Rockefeller Center in New York City and was instrumental in the decision to locate the United Nations headquarters in that city.
He is also known for being one of those blamed for the Ludlow Massacre (April 20, 1914), in which sit-in strikers at the Rockefeller-controlled Colorado Fuel and Iron Company were fired on by militiamen, resulting in 17 deaths.
However, Junior stepped forward, reaching out to the miners union, boldly speaking to the press, and testifying before the U.S. Commission on Industrial Relations. Finally, his public persona was rehabilitated and the tide turned.
The tragedy, however, was said to have shaken the man, who from then on became devoted to humanitarian causes.
Impressed by his son’s leadership abilities during the crisis, JD Rockefeller Sr. began transferring his fortune to his son. Between 1916 and 1922, Rockefeller Jr. received gifts of approximately $450 million.
That gave him financial independence to continue his charitable work independently.
After World War I, Rockefeller Jr. used his philanthropy to promote the cause of international harmony.
He gave a library to the League of Nations, and later contributed the Manhattan real estate that allowed the United Nations building to be constructed there rather than abroad.
In the late 1920s, he traveled to Paris and contributed $2 million to the restoration of the Palace of Versailles, making him naturally quite popular among the French.
An admirer of ancient Greece and the art in the Acropolis, he gave grants to the American School for Classical Studies in Athens. That helped archaeologists excavate the Ancient Agora of Athens.
In 1929, the Rockefeller Foundation provided the capital for the completion of the construction of the Museum of the Ancient Agora along with scholarships to train archaeologists.
In addition, he funded continuing excavations in the Agora throughout the 1930s.
Historians estimate that John Rockefeller Jr. gave away $537 million during his lifetime, slightly less than his father’s total lifetime giving of $540 million.
The great-granddaughter of Rockefeller visits Greece
Ariana Rockefeller, the granddaughter of philanthropist David Rockefeller Sr. and great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller Jr., visited Athens in October of 2019.
During her stay in Greece, she visited with the Minister of Culture and Sports, Lina Mendoni, and stated that she will continue to be involved in Greek issues.
The Rockefeller heir also related that her family’s relationship with Greece goes back decades. Her great grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Jr., appreciated and adored all things ancient, especially the history of ancient Athens, Pericles and the creation of the Acropolis.
Her father, David Rockefeller maintained his family’s love for Greece and ancient Greek culture by visiting Mount Athos as well.
During their meeting, she presented the Minister of Culture and Sports with a volume of her grandfather’s memoirs, along with a copy of the record of a donation from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1949.
This bequest gave $150,000 to the American School of Classical Studies to continue their work excavating the ancient Agora. The original document is found in the archives of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York.
Ariana Rockefeller is frequently seen supporting major New York arts and culture organizations.
She is a Junior Associate at the New York Museum of Modern Art and supports the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as the New York Botanical Garden and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
As of 2015, the Rockefeller Foundation was ranked as the 39th largest U.S. foundation by total giving. By the end of 2016, its assets were tallied at $4.1 billion (unchanged from 2015), with annual grants of $173 million.