David Rockefeller, one of capitalism’s greatest champions and a billionaire philanthropist, died in his home Monday in Pocantico Hills, New York, a spokesman confirmed. He was 101.
Rockefeller was the last in his generation that hailed from the old billionaire families. After graduating from Harvard in 1936, and the University of Chicago in 1940, he served in the Army during World War II. Afterward, he climbed the ladder at Chase Bank until he became its chief executive and chair in 1961. From there, he took from a small time business and turned it into a vast banking international powerhouse now known as J.P. Morgan and Chase.
Rockefeller was known as one of capitalism’s greatest proponents, spreading its message and influence far and wide.
“American capitalism has brought more benefits to more people than any other system in any part of the world at any time in history,” he once said. “The problem is to see that the system is run as efficiently and as honestly as it can be.”
He often supported measures that would bring capitalism to third-world countries, under the belief that doing so would create more customers for America. Rockefeller’s influence as a businessman and philanthropist was visible around the world. He is said to have met with over 200 rulers in more than 100 countries and was often treated as if he himself were a dignitary of great political importance.
Rockefeller wasn’t afraid to be critical of officials who deserved it. He was infamously not a fan of President Jimmy Carter, whom Rockefeller said didn’t do “what most other countries do themselves, and expect us to do — namely, to make U.S. national interests our prime international objective.”
During his famous trip to 10 different socialist countries in Africa, Rockefeller came away with the impression that America’s capitalist market was beginning to attract governments away from the Marxist, Soviet style that they had been operating under. He said at the time:
My feeling is that all of the ones I visited would like to see a move away from the Soviets and toward the United States. They feel they have much greater opportunities in working with us than with the Soviets.
Most of them have been disillusioned by the lack of support from the Soviet Union and the strings attached to any kind of Soviet aid. And therefore their wish is for more understanding and support from the United States.
Rockefeller was also a fan of the arts and chaired the Museum of Modern art, which was founded with the help of his mother in 1929. He took over the museum as its president in 1958. He collected a vast array of 15,000 pieces, some of which line the walls of his offices on the 56th floor of Rockefeller Center in New York. His collection is estimated to be worth around $500 million.
He also encouraged and influenced other businesses and corporations into displaying, sponsoring, and supporting artwork in their own buildings, as well as subsidizing local museums to further foster artistic growth in the community.
Aside from his generosity to the arts, his philanthropy was such that it earned him the Presidential Medal of Honor — the highest civilian award one can earn — in 1998. In 2015, for his 100th birthday, Rockefeller gave away 1,000 acres next to Acadia National Park in Maine to the Land and Garden Preserve of Mount Desert Island.