The Rockefeller Family Tree Explained

The Rockefeller family is one of the richest families in the United States. Their ancestors immigrated to America from Germany in the early 17th century, where they settled in Philadelphia. One of the first members of the family who was born in New York was William Avery Rockefeller Sr., who came from a poor family. It was later revealed that William, who was also called "Devil Bill," was a con artist who pretended to be a physician to sell what he claimed was patented cure-all medicine, as reported by History Net. It was William's son, John D. Rockefeller Sr., who put the Rockefeller name on the map.

As of 2021, the Rockefeller family is worth a whopping $8.4 billion, according to CEO World Magazine. The family name can be seen in different places in New York, including the Rockefeller Center and Rockefeller University. The family also donates to a number of charitable institutions, which is one of John D. Rockefeller Sr.'s philosophies. "I have always indulged the hope that during my life I should be able to establish efficiency in giving, so that wealth may be of greater use to the present and future generations," he said (via The New York Times).

John D. Rockefeller Sr.

John D. Rockefeller Sr. was born in New York in 1839, but his family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, when he was in his early teens. He was a hardworking boy and had a steady job at 16 years old as an assistant bookkeeper. Four years later, John started his own business by selling grains, hay, and meat products. According to Biography, the business made $450,000 in its first year. John was a smart businessman, and his next investment would have the biggest rewards. In 1963, he built an oil refinery in Pittsburgh after seeing oil production scaling up in Pennsylvania, and within two years, his refinery was the biggest in the area.

In 1870, John, together with a couple of associates, established the Standard Oil Company, and just eight years later, the business controlled about 90% of the oil refineries in the country. Furthermore, John was able to increase his wealth by investing in other industries, such as mining, transportation, and manufacturing, per the Rockefeller Archive Center. He left his position at Standard Oil in 1896 to focus his efforts on philanthropy. A bulk of his fortune was donated to charitable institutions, including churches, schools, and research institutes. At its peak in 1912, John's personal fortune was approximately $900 million (equivalent to about $25.2 billion in today's money). However, as reported by The Hustle, his estate was worth only $26 million at the time of his death in 1937, as he gave most of his wealth to charity.

John D. Rockefeller Jr.

John D. Rockefeller Jr. was the only son of John Sr. He was born in 1874 in Ohio, and graduated from Brown University in 1897. He worked in his father's oil business for several years, but he eventually decided to leave the company and focus on philanthropic efforts. John Jr. collaborated with his father to set up charitable institutions as well as the Rockefeller Center, as reported by Britannica. Construction of the Rockefeller Center was completed in 1940, and the development was able to provide about 75,000 jobs during the Great Depression.

John Jr.'s philanthropic efforts didn't stop in the United States. In the 1920s, he went to Versailles to attend a party and was surprised to see the state of the former royal residence. He then decided to donate a million dollars to aid in the restoration of the structures and grounds (via Chateau Versailles). John Jr. was also a conservationist and made significant contributions to national parks and the preservation of historic landmarks. According to PBS, John Jr. donated an estimated $537 million to different causes during his lifetime.

John D. Rockefeller III

John D. Rockefeller III, John Jr's eldest child, was born in New York in 1906. He followed in his father's philanthropic endeavors. John III graduated from Princeton University in 1929 with a degree in economics, and he also served in the Navy during World War II. Thereafter, he decided to lead a private life, but his philanthropic efforts never waned. John III was especially interested in international relations, and he supported the arts as well (via The Rockefeller Foundation). His interest in Asian culture led to the establishment of the Asia Society. In a speech in 1967, he said that the organization "should lead us to a mutual understanding and respect based, not on our mere tolerance of our differences, but on our awareness that the world is richer for those differences, and we as individuals are thereby richer in our humanity" (via Asia Society).

In 1978, John III died in a head-on collision accident. The car that he was riding was struck by a vehicle driven by a 16-year-old, who also died in the crash, which occurred near the Rockefeller estate at Pocantico Hills. He was 72 years old.

Winthrop Rockefeller

Winthrop Rockefeller is the second youngest son of John Jr. He initially worked in various Rockefeller businesses before he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1941. In 1953, Winthrop eventually left New York and headed to Arkansas where he decided to establish a cattle business called Winrock Farms. Winthrop was a civil rights and social justice advocate. In fact, he enlisted his African American friend to manage his cattle farm. In addition, he also appointed African Americans in government positions during his time as a governor — the first Republican to hold the position in Arkansas since the Reconstruction — as reported by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. After Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in 1968, Winthrop was the only governor in the southern states to hold a memorial service.

In 2018, Winthrop was inducted into the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail for his contributions to the state. Today, his legacy lives on through Winrock International, Winthrop Rockefeller Institute, and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation — organizations that are geared toward equality, education, and development (via Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage).

The Rockefellers today

The Rockefellers have now grown into a family of more than 200 members who are descendants of John D. Rockefeller Sr. It is often said that wealth is gained and lost in three generations, and according to C2 Wealth Strategies, about 90% of rich families prove the saying true. The Rockefeller family, however, is part of the other remaining 10% and is still one of the wealthiest after seven generations.

In an interview with CNBC, David Rockefeller Jr. — John D. Rockefeller Sr.'s great-grandson — shared how his family was able to sustain their wealth throughout the years. One of the things they do is have bi-annual meetings as a family. Anyone over the age of 21 is invited to attend, and in most cases, more than a hundred Rockefellers gather together. "The family talks about is direction, projects, new members and any other family news related to careers or important milestones. It's important that everyone feel a part of the family, even if they married into it," he said. David also said that not having a family business means that there is nothing to fight over. The Rockefellers haven't had a family business since 1911 when the government dissolved Standard Oil. Most importantly, the Rockefellers value philanthropy, and that's what keeps them united.