Stories from the History of American Philanthropy
Welcome to RE:source, the Rockefeller Archive Center‘s storytelling platform. We are a team of historians, archivists, and educators working from the idea that philanthropy has impact on everyday life, sometimes in ways that many of us don’t realize. Our stories and images mine the archival record to bring to light events, people, innovations, and turning points from the past that have relevance for understanding the present. Read more.
"Investment Philanthropy:" A Century-Old Concept
The Beginnings of Renewed U.S.-China Relations
Philanthropy and Inequality
In the years leading up to Brown v. Board of Education, the prospect of school desegregation loomed large in the South. The Fund for the Advancement of Education, a Ford Foundation creation, launched a massive research project in 1953 to gather and analyze data on American schools. The racially integrated research team believed that the numbers would speak for themselves and usher in a new era of education equality. They were mistaken.
A fundraising appeal from the United Negro College Fund in 1962 prompted the Rockefeller Foundation to design and launch a full-blown Equal Opportunity program, the first in its history. How did a simple request come to have such a broad impact?
In 1968, the Ford Foundation began to fund minority enterprise and other social investments using a new tool, the Program-Related Investment (PRI). This photo essay shows the breadth of these investments and diversity of activities that PRIs funded in both inner city and rural environments.
During the height of the US civil rights movement, the Rockefeller Foundation supported the Princeton College Summer Program, aiming to increase the number of minority students going on to college. Despite raising admissions rates successfully, the program also raised larger questions about philanthropy’s capacity to address systemic inequality.
Preserving the Natural Landscape
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. created the Snake River Land Company in 1927 to purchase 35,000 acres of land in Jackson Hole, a valley adjacent to Wyoming’s Grand Teton mountain range. He planned to donate the land to the National Park Service. Local ranchers supported the idea, eager to protect the area from commercialization and retain its “Old West” character. But when word got out that Rockefeller was behind the purchases, a fierce backlash ensued.
Philanthropy Engages the Private Sector
Business education as it exists today came out of a massive mid-century philanthropic effort to transform the field. Why would an American foundation take this on and what was the program’s impact? Ford Foundation leaders were looking for ways to encourage economic growth and stave off the negative aspects of economic cycles, but they saw that a real theory of business practice was absent.
Environmental education was once a new, almost marginal idea. The rise of its acceptance traces partly to a series of grants from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund to the National Audubon Society, totaling nearly one-million dollars. This funding helped Audubon reach out to youth and other new audiences in the 1960s and 1970s. In the process, Audubon itself transformed into a more modern, relevant organization.
More than 700 major contributors and countless individual donations helped restore the Statue of Liberty and create a museum devoted to immigration on Ellis Island. This massive fundraising campaign underscores the power of philanthropy and philanthropic giving to preserve important symbols of history and culture.
In 1923, a large donation of funds by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., helped ensure the wide distribution of the newly mass-produced treatment for diabetes, insulin. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.’s gift, known as the “Insulin Gift,” also provided funds to train patients, nurses, physicians, and families to administer this new wonder treatment.
The scientific, intensive agriculture that the Rockefeller Foundation pioneered on a large international scale (eventually in partnership with the Ford Foundation) was touted as a “Green Revolution” in a 1968 speech. The name stuck. How the Mexican Agriculture Program created a method for intensifying agriculture on a global level.