Laurance Rockefeller

Laurance Rockefeller Biography

Business Leader, Philanthropist, Environmental Activist (1910–c. 2004)
Venture capitalist and environmentalist Laurance Rockefeller founded the American Conservation Association and put conservationism on the American agenda.


Laurance Rockefeller was born on May 26, 1910, in New York City. Following his service in WWII, he was a pioneer of venture capitalism. His work with the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission and the American Conservation Association—which he founded—made conservationism a part of America's agenda. In 1991, Laurance Rockefeller won a Congressional Gold Medal. He died on July 11, 2004, in New York City.

Early Years

Laurance Rockefeller was born in New York City on May 26, 1910, to wealthy philanthropists John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. The fourth of the family's six children, he had an older sister named Abby and four brothers: John III, Nelson, Winthrop and David.

The Rockefeller's family trips to national parks instilled in Laurance an early love of nature. During one trip to Yellowstone, Laurance formed a bond with Park Superintendent Horace M. Albright. Under Albright's mentorship, Laurance developed a sense of personal responsibility concerning environmental preservation—to which he would remain passionately committed his entire life.

Laurance and his siblings attended the progressive Lincoln School in Morningside Heights. Founded by John Dewey, the experimental school promoted learning by doing. In 1929, Laurance went on to attend Princeton University, followed by Harvard Law School. After two years at Harvard, Laurance decided that he didn't want to be a lawyer after all.

Personal Life

In August 1934, Laurance Rockefeller married Mary French, whose grandfather was Frederick Billings, president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The couple's marriage produced three daughters and one son. In 1942, Rockefeller left his family to serve in the Navy during WWII. By the time he returned in 1945, he had achieved the rank of lieutenant commander.

Venture Capitalism

Following his military service, Laurance Rockefeller became a pioneer of venture capitalism. After his grandfather died, Laurance inherited his seat on the Stock Exchange. Rather than building up his blue chip holdings, Rockefeller invested in a number of young enterprises focused on scientific and technological advancements. In 1969, he and the Rockefeller family formed the venture capital group Venrock Associates. Through his business ventures, including an investment in Eastern Airlines, Laurance multiplied his wealth many times over.


Throughout his business career, Laurance Rockefeller steadily retained his passionate commitment to environmental conservation. A member of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, in the 1940s, he donated to the U.S. government the tract of land that was to become Tallman Mountain State Park. He would go on to sign an additional 30,000 acres at Jackson Hole to the government, and build visitor accommodations on the outskirts of Grand Teton National Park.

Rockefeller belonged to a number of organizations promoting environmental protection. During the Eisenhower administration, he was appointed chair of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission. Under his direction, the ORRRC launched an environmental research study of unprecedented scope, culminating in a report full of suggestions which was then presented to Congress.

In addition to holding memberships with existing environmentalist groups such as the New York Zoological Society and the National Geographic Society, Rockefeller founded several of his own, including the American Conservation Association, a private organization that allocates funds towards increasing knowledge and awareness of environmental preservation.

In 1960, Rockefeller became vice chairman of the New York State Council of Parks under Robert Moses. For the better part of the 1970s, Rockefeller served as president of the PIPC. Considered a foremost authority in environmental matters, he was a trusted advisor to several U.S. presidents, including Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

President George H.W. Bush called Rockefeller a "hidden national treasure" and awarded the lifelong conservationist a Congressional Gold Medal in 1991. In 2003, Rockefeller was named the first honorary citizen of the British Virgin Islands for his contributions to the region.

Laurance Rockefeller died of pulmonary fibrosis on July 11, 2004, in New York City. During his lifetime, his unwavering dedication to the environment made conservationism a part of America's agenda. His legacy promotes a comprehensive approach to environmentalism—one in which the individual assumes the same sense of responsibility he first felt as a child awed by the beauty of unspoiled land.

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