John D. Rockefeller

Date: 1905
Owner: Granger Collection, The
Source Type: Images


This 1905 cartoon depicts John D. Rockefeller Sr. (1839-1937) as a saint for his philanthropic donations to education and the Baptist church. Rockefeller made his fortune by investing in petroleum refinement and creating a near monopoly of the U.S. oil industry. He retired from the business world when he was fifty-six in order to devote his time to giving away his hundreds of millions of dollars (he is often considered to be the richest businessman in history).

His donations were based on extensive research as to how his money could do the most good, an effort led by his son John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his advisor Frederick T. Gates. Ivy League universities and churches were the earliest recipients of his largess but, in 1901, he began to invest in medicine, creating the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. In 1909, he founded the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission, an organizations that successfully eradicated hookworm in the southern United States.

Rockefeller's impact on Latin American science began with the formation of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) in 1913, an organization created "to promote the well being of mankind throughout the world." The RF's efforts in Latin America included public health initiatives (like the fights against hookworm, yellow fever, and malaria), scientific education, medical centers, fellowships for advanced research in the U.S., and agricultural innovations (most notably the Green Revolution in Mexico during the 1940s).

Historians of Latin American science call attention to the RF because it had a massive impact on the institutions, infrastructure, and attitude towards science throughout the region. The RF has been accused of promoting U.S. economic and political interests and exporting a decidedly North American way of doing science that marginalized local practices. Although there is much truth in these claims, the RF has provided much real aid to Latin America in many different forms, and Rockefeller and his foundation deserve credit for their philanthropy.

CITATION: "John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937)." 1905. The Granger Collection, New York. 0002490.