David Rockefeller Biography

Business Leader, Philanthropist (1915–2017)
David Rockefeller, the youngest of John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s five sons, was a prominent American banker and philanthropist.


The youngest son of John D. Rockefeller Jr., David Rockefeller was born in New York City in 1915. He joined Chase National Bank in 1946, rising in the hierarchy to become senior vice president in 1952, and was key in the merger of Chase National and the Bank of the Manhattan Company, resulting in Chase Manhattan Bank. With a specialty in international banking, he became a prominent figure in the world of finance, foreign relations and public service. He died on March 20, 2017, at the age of 101.

Early Years

David Rockefeller was born on June 12, 1915, in Manhattan, New York, where he grew up in the Midtown district. He was the youngest of six children born to John. D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil.

He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Harvard University in 1936, and then completed post-graduate work at Harvard, the London School of Economics and the University of Chicago, where he received a Ph.D. in economics in 1940. After finishing his graduate studies, he worked as secretary to New York City Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. He also worked briefly as an assistant regional director of the United States Office of Defense, Health and Welfare Service.

Five months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, David Rockefeller enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in North Africa and France, and had a post as an assistant military attache in Paris. He was discharged in 1945, having earned the rank of captain. For his service, he was awarded with the U.S. Legion of Merit, the U.S. Army commendation Ribbon and the French Legion of Honor.

Chase Manhattan Bank

After returning to the United States, Rockefeller began a storied career in banking. He first joined Chase National Bank in 1946, and rose through the ranks to become a senior vice president in 1952. His work involved expanding Chase's business in Latin America, as well as helping to oversee the 1955 merger of Chase National and the Bank of Manhattan, resulting in what is now known as Chase Manhattan Bank. By 1969, Rockefeller had become CEO of the bank, as well as chairman of its board of directors.

By the time he retired in 1981, David Rockefeller had built a reputation as a global leader in the world of finance, foreign relations and public service.

Philanthropic Pursuits

In the same spirit as his grandfather, David Rockefeller spent decades engaging in philanthropic pursuits in a variety of areas, including medicine, science and education. In 1940, he served on the board of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. In the mid-1960s, he worked with Detlev Bronk to transform the institute into the Rockefeller University—the first U.S. institution devoted solely to biomedical research.

Rockefeller was also instrumental in Manhattan's cultural development. Among his efforts in the borough, he served on the Museum of Modern Art's board of directors, and helped develop lower Manhattan while chairman of the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association.

In 2002, Rockefeller was the first in his family to publish an autobiography, Memoirs. According to the New York Times, Rockefeller wrote his life story because he said: “Well, it just occurred to me that I had led a rather interesting life.”

In 2008, Rockefeller donated $100 million to his alma mater, Harvard University—the largest gift by an alumnus in the school's history. When asked if he planned to make additional donations, he told reporters, "I won't guarantee that there won't be another one," he said. "I won't live forever, but I hope to be around for a while to enjoy the ones I've already made."

On March 20, 2017, Rockefeller died at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York, at the age of 101.

(Photo credit: Jim Smeal/WireImage)

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