Research at the Rockefeller Archive Center
Resources for Educators
Papers in Other Repositories
I'd like to conduct research at the Rockefeller Archive Center. What do I need to do?
Appointments are required. Contact us in writing, via email, fax, or
mail with a brief description of your research project, the names of individuals and institutions that
are central to the study, the years covered by the study, and any geographic restrictions on the study.
A staff member will respond with a description of the scope and content of relevant materials in the
collections and to schedule an appointment. The Center's staff can respond most efficiently and
effectively to inquiries that are specific.
Does the Rockefeller Archive Center offer any funding or grants?
The Rockefeller Archive Center has a competitive grant program that is designed to provide assistance
to scholars who need to visit the RAC to conduct research in its collections. The Archive Center's
programs do not support research at other institutions. For more information, please visit our
Grants Programs page.
Is the Rockefeller Archive Center open to the public?
We encourage scholars to do research at the Center, but because of limited space in the reading room, appointments are required. The Archive Center is not generally open to the public outside of scholarly research. Its grounds and facilities are not available for weddings or other such events.
I've set up an appointment to do research at the Archive Center. What do I need to know in advance?
I have a minor question that doesn't merit a visit to the Center - can you help me?
For questions not relating directly to our collections, please review the Frequently Asked Questions, the links section, and the family tree. If these sources do not answer your question, you may contact us by email and we will try to help.
How should I cite material from the Rockefeller Archive Center?
I have identified some photographs that I would like copies of. Can the Rockefeller Archive Center send me photographic prints or digital copies?
To an extent, the Rockefeller Archive Center is able to send photographic prints or digital scans of images to researchers for a small fee, assuming that the researcher uses the image for personal or academic purposes. However, some images may be too fragile to scan, and, as with all our material, the RAC still puts the burden of copyright law on the researcher.
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I am a teacher who would like suggestions for lesson plans. Can the Rockefeller Archive Center help me?
In 2006, the Rockefeller Archive Center sponsored an experimental Summer Institute for Teachers, and four years later the RAC began the
Teaching Fellows Program. The lesson plans that resulted from this program are available here. More information
about the program is available here.
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What kind of causes have the Rockefellers funded?
Visitors and researchers at the Rockefeller Archive Center often are surprised to learn of the international scope and the broad range of subjects that have received support from the philanthropy of the Rockefeller family.
"Rockefeller philanthropy" is the short-hand term that encompasses both the combined personal charitable gifts of members of the Rockefeller family and the grants awarded by the various philanthropic institutions established
by generations of family members. Documents at the Rockefeller Archive Center trace this rich legacy back to 1855, when John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) first went to work in Cleveland, Ohio, and began to donate part of his
earnings to the Baptist church he attended. Rockefeller entered the oil business in the 1860s and in 1870 founded the Standard Oil Company, which grew to dominate the oil industry and made Rockefeller and his partners wealthy
men. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) joined his father's office in 1897 but soon focused his efforts on philanthropy rather than business and helped his father develop several major institutions in medical science,
education, and philanthropy. Together, he and his wife Abby (1874-1948) expanded the Rockefeller philanthropic legacy in new directions, such as art and historic preservation, and passed the family tradition of philanthropic
stewardship on to their children - Abby (1903-1976), John 3rd (1906-1978), Nelson (1908-1979), Laurance (1910-2004)), Winthrop (1912-1973), and David (b. 1915), known collectively as the Brothers generation. They, in turn,
have passed the legacy on to their children, the Cousins, such that four generations of Rockefeller family members have collaborated to establish major foundations - the Rockefeller Foundation (1913), the Rockefeller Brothers
Fund (1940) and the Rockefeller Family Fund (1967) - to address the collective concerns of their era, while particular family members also have established their own philanthropic institutions to address issues of concern to
them. Select Rockefeller Philanthropies offers a brief introduction to the subject.
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What is the Rockefeller University Archives Campus Office and how is it related to the Rockefeller Archive Center?
The Rockefeller Archive Center maintains an office on the campus of the Rockefeller University which provides services to faculty and staff. It also functions as an archival liaison office between the Archive Center and the University. The vast majority of the records of the University and all the papers of the faculty are not kept on campus but are at the Archive Center in Sleepy Hollow. Researchers interested in using material from the Rockefeller University Archives should plan to come to the Archive Center since our campus office does not have a reading room. Also, non-campus affiliated researchers should direct their Rockefeller University-related research inquiries to the same email address as they would for all our other archival collections.
Why were many of the papers of early members of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research donated to the archives of other institutions?
In the early years of the Rockefeller Institute, members were encouraged to donate their records to other institutions since the Institute did not have an archives. Some scientists chose archives based on their education or on other professional affiliations. The University Archives was first created as a function of the University library during the 1960s. The Rockefeller University became one of the founding institutions of the Rockefeller Archive Center, which opened in 1975. The researcher should be reminded that although the personal papers of these early scientists may be elsewhere, the University Archives does have much of the administrative records of these individuals as well as sets of their annual scientific reports. In some cases, there are extensive collections of reprints, photographs, and biographical material.
Which members of the RIMR/faculty at RU had some of their personal papers deposited at the American Philosophical Society (APS)
Harold Lindsay Amoss
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James B. Murphy
Where are the personal papers of Rockefeller University-related personnel?
Where are the papers of Rockefeller Family-related personnel and associates?
Where are the papers of Rockefeller Foundation-related papers in other repositories?
Appleget, Thomas B. - Brown University
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Arnett, Trevor - University of Chicago
Arnold, Virginia - Boston University
Arnstein, Margaret Gene - Boston University
Barnard, Chester - Harvard University
Bates, Marston - University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library
Beard, Mary - Cornell University
Carter, Henry Rose - University of Virginia (Charlottesville)
Day, Edmund E. - Cornell University
Embree, Edwin - Yale University
Favrot, Leo M. - Tulane University
Ferrell, John A. - University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill)
Flexner, Abraham - Library of Congress
Flexner, Simon - American Philosophical Society
Fosdick, Raymond B. - Princeton University
Frank, Lawrence K. - National Library of Medicine
Gates, Frederick T. - Harvard Medical School
Grant, John B. - National Library of Medicine
Greene, Jerome D. - Harvard University
Greene, Roger S. - Harvard University
Gregg, Alan - National Library of Medicine
Heiser, Victor - American Philosophical Society
Howland, Charles P. - Yale University
Jacocks, William P. - University of North Carolina
James, Henry (War Relief Commission papers) - Harvard University
Mason, Max - American Institute of Physics
Ruml, Beardsley - University of Chicago
Sawyer, Wilbur A. - National Library of Medicine
Smith, Hugh H. - Arizona College of Medicine
Soper, Fred L. - National Library of Medicine
Stevens, David - University of Chicago
Stokes, Anson Phelps - Yale University
Thompson, Kenneth - University of Virginia
Walcott, Frederic Collin - Yale University
Williamson, Charles Clarence - Columbia University
Where can I find the records of other foundations?
American Academy & Institute of Arts and Letters - In-house Library/Archives
What should I keep and what should I throw out when saving foundation records?
Anna T. Jeanes Foundation - In Southern Education Foundation Records, Archives and Special Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
Belgian American Educational Foundation, Inc. - The Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Buhl Foundation - The Zelienople (Pennsylvania) Historical Society
Bush Foundation - The Minnesota Historical Society
Carnegie Corporation of New York - Columbia University
Castle (Samuel N. and Mary) Foundation - Hawaiian Historical Society's Library
Chicago Community Trust - The Chicago Historical Society
Cleveland Foundation - The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland
Duke Endowment - The Perkins Library at Duke University
Fels (Samuel S.) Fund - Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Field Foundation - Barker Texas History Collection, University of Texas at Austin
General Service Foundation - Minnesota Historical Society
Grundy Foundation - The Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library and Museum-foundation Complex in Bristol, Pennsylvania
Gund (The George) Foundation - Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland
Harmon Foundation - Library of Congress
Haynes (The John Randolph) and Dora Haynes Foundation - University of California at Los Angeles
Ittleson Foundation, Inc. - Payne Whitney, New York City
Julius Rosenwald Fund - Fisk University
Kempner (Harris and Eliza) Fund - Rosenberg Library, Galveston
Kentucky Foundation for Women - Duke University Manuscript Collection
Kettering (Charles F.) Foundation - Hoover Institute, Stanford University
Kress (Samuel H.) Foundation - Photographic Archives/National Gallery of Art
Kulas Foundation - Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio
Laurel Foundation - Hillman Library, University of Pittsburgh
Macarthur (John D. and Catherine T.) Foundation - In-house archives
Milbank Memorial Fund - Yale University
Negro Rural School Fund, Inc. - In Southern Education Foundation Records, Archives and Special Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Atlanta, Georgia
Noble (Edward John) Foundation, Inc. - In-house
Pew Charitable Trusts - Hagley Museum and Library, Wilmington, Delaware
Research Corporation - Smithsonian Archives; Library of Congress
Saint Paul Foundation - The Minnesota Historical Society
San Francisco Foundation - The Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley
The Shubert Foundation, Inc. - In-house Archives
Slater (John F.) Fund - In Southern Education Foundation Records, Archives and Special Collections, Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
Spencer Foundation - The University of Chicago
Van Ameringen Foundation, Inc. - Oskar Diethelm Historical Library, Joan and Sanford I. Weill Medical College, Cornell University
Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation - Weyerhaeuser Company Archives
Wilder (Amherst H.) Foundation - Minnesota Historical Society
(This list presents the results from the Rockefeller Archive Center's survey of the 1,000 largest foundations in the United States, conducted in 1988. Additional information on later deposits of foundation records was added in 1993 and in subsequent years.)
For answers to general questions about placing records in an archival setting, please consult the Society of American
"Donating Your Archival Records to a Repository". New inquiries from foundations wishing to consider donating records to the Rockefeller Archive Center should be directed to our Head of Donor Relations and Collection Development to initiate discussions. Our Lead Archivist for Appraisals and Donor Services will be happy to assist current donors with specific questions about sending additional records to the Rockefeller Archive Center.
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Can you provide me with a family tree of the descendants of John D. Rockefeller?
You can browse through biographies of three generations of Rockefellers on our Virtual Family Tree.
I'm trying to confirm if a relative of mine worked for the Rockefellers. Can the Archive Center help?
As a matter of policy, the Rockefeller Archive Center does not provide information about, or access to unpublished materials about, living members of the Rockefeller family. A number of books published in recent years, including Ron Chernow's biography of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Titan (1998), and Harr and Johnson's The Rockefeller Century (1988), contain genealogical charts for the Rockefeller family. Perhaps the most extensive is in The Rockefeller Family Home, Kykuit (1998), with photographs by Mary Louise Pierson and text by Ann Rockefeller Roberts. Henry Rockefeller's Rockefeller Genealogy has been reprinted and is available for purchase from the Higginson Book Company. The Higginson Book Company website is at http://www.higginsonbooks.com
The Archive Center often receives genealogical inquiries from people who have heard that a family member worked for the Rockefellers. These are difficult to trace, and very rarely are we able to confirm the story that is being conveyed to us. The difficulty lies both in the nature of the records and in the understandably unspecific nature of many of the requests: there is no good single body of material about Rockefeller family employees; the material that exists is not complete; and it is often unclear in which of the numerous Rockefeller households the person was supposed to have worked and when. When sufficient information is provided, the Archive Center's staff will check existing payroll records and various indexes to the extent possible. However, the results of such searches often are unsatisfying. We are well aware that even when we cannot confirm employment, we can never rule out the possibility that someone worked for the Rockefellers.
I'm researching my family tree. Can the Archive Center help?
The Rockefeller Archive Center focuses on the family of John D. Rockefeller, (1839-1937), founder of the Standard Oil Company and of several philanthropic boards. The collections at the Archive Center do not have much information about the Rockefeller family's genealogy beyond what is available in a series of publications, now out of print, from the Rockefeller Family Association, which, as far as we know, no longer exists. The publications include three volumes of Transactions of the Rockefeller Family Association, with Genealogy, Volume I, 1905-1909; Volume 2, 1910-1915; Volume 3, 1919-1925; and Volume IV, a compilation of the Rockefeller Genealogy, with no publication date. There is also a slim volume entitled R.F.A News, which is a collection of newsletters issued by the Association, 1927-1937. We do not have copies of these available for purchase, and the volumes in our library are too fragile for extensive photocopying.
However, these volumes have been reprinted and are available for purchase from the Higginson Book Company. The Higginson Book Company website is at http://www.higginsonbooks.com
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Note: As a matter of policy, the Rockefeller Archive Center does not provide information about living members of the Rockefeller Family.
What does the inscription under the statue at Rockefeller Center say?
On July 8, 1941, in a radio broadcast appeal on behalf of the USO and the National War Fund, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., gave a statement of principles that was widely reprinted under the title, "I Believe". In 1962 these words were included in a commemorative marble tablet beneath Paul Manship's Prometheus, where they continue to inspire readers.
What is the history of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree?
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What is the Rockefeller connection with Cleveland, Ohio?
John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) was a resident of the Cleveland, Ohio, area for about thirty years after moving to the area with his parents in 1853.
He got his first job in Cleveland in 1855, and ran the Standard Oil Company there until he moved to New York City in the early 1880s. It was in
Cleveland that Rockefeller became one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. The Cleveland area also was the beneficiary of Rockefeller's philanthropy,
beginning with his membership in and donations through the Erie Street Baptist Church as early as 1855.
What companies were created by the breakup of the Standard Oil trust in 1911?
About the only structure still standing in Cleveland with an association to Rockefeller is the Rockefeller Building at the corner of Superior and
West 6th Street. Rockefeller also donated a lot of park land to the City of Cleveland -- Rockefeller Park -- and his former estate of Forest Hill
became the site of Forest Hill Park on the border of Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, as well as a housing development planned by his son,
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1925.
More information on Rockefeller's impact on Cleveland may be found in the Encyclopedia of
Cleveland History. The numerous biographies of John D. Rockefeller discuss his Cleveland years in various depths, and one book, Grace Goulder's John D. Rockefeller: The Cleveland Years (Cleveland: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1972), focuses on Cleveland. In 2000 Jane Hirz, a documentary film producer in Cleveland, visited the Rockefeller Archive Center to produce a video, "Rockefeller in Cleveland," for the local public television station, WVIZ, that was broadcast that fall in conjunction with the multi-part series on the Rockefeller Family that was part of "The American Experience" on PBS.
The Rockefeller Archive Center holds a great deal of material on Rockefeller in Cleveland in terms of his ledgers and account books, correspondence,
and photographs. The description of the John D. Rockefeller Sr. Papers
outlines this material and includes some interesting links. Also see the Archive Center's 1999 Newsletter,
pp. 3-5, which reproduces one of his
ledger pages and includes a photo of him from the 1860s; the 2000 issue of Research Reports from the Rockefeller Archive Center, pp. 3-6, for an
article on Rockefeller and civic affairs in Cleveland; and Ken Rose's essay "Why a
University for Chicago and Not Cleveland? Religion and John D. Rockefeller's Early Philanthropy, 1855-1900," which also deals with Rockefeller's
philanthropy in Cleveland.
In May 1987, Joseph W. Ernst, Rockefeller Family Archivist and founding director of the Rockefeller Archive Center, calculated that John D.
Rockefeller's contributions between 1855 and 1934 went to 178 different institutions and totaled $3,369,650. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was also
involved with Cleveland charities, giving gifts of $100,000 or more to four Cleveland institutions. Together, Ernst determined, father and son
gave more than $5,520,000.00 to organizations in Cleveland. Source: Memo, Joe Ernst to George Taylor, May 19, 1987, Administrative Files of the
Rockefeller Archive Center.
When the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1911 that the Standard Oil trust be dissolved, the Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) was reorganized into thirty-four new companies. As Rockefeller biographer Ron Chernow has pointed out, several of these companies enjoyed enormous success after 1911, "controlling a significant fraction of both the American and world oil industry. Rockefeller's stepchildren would be everywhere: Standard Oil of New Jersey (Exxon), Standard Oil of New York (Mobil), Standard Oil of Indiana (Amoco), Standard Oil of California (Chevron), Atlantic Refining (ARCO and eventually Sun). Continental Oil (Conoco), today a unit of DuPont, and Chesebrough-Ponds, which had begun by processing petroleum jelly. Three offspring-Exxon, Mobil, and Chevron - would belong to the Seven Sisters group that would dominate the world oil industry in the twentieth century; a fourth sister, British Petroleum, later took over Standard Oil of Ohio, then known as Sohio." (Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998), pp. 558-559)
What can you tell me about the Rockefeller family home Kykuit? Where can I find information about tours?
The 34 companies to emerge from the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust were:
Anglo-American Oil Company, Limited
Atlantic Refining Company - later Atlantic Richfield, then ARCO, and then Sun
Borne, Scrymser Company
Buckeye Pipeline Company
Chesebrough Manufacturing Company, Consolidated - later Chesebrough-Ponds
Colonial Oil Company
Continental Oil Company - later Conoco
Crescent Pipe Line Company
Cumberland Pipe Line Company, Inc.
Eureka Pipe Line Company
Galena-Signal Oil Company
Indiana Pipe Line Company
National Transit Company
New York Transit Company
Northern Pipe Line Company
Ohio Oil Company - later Marathon
Prairie Oil and Gas Company
Solar Refining Company
Southern Pipe Line Company
South Penn Oil Company
South-West Pennsylvania Pipe Lines
Standard Oil Company (California) -- later Chevron
Standard Oil Company (Indiana) - later Amoco
Standard Oil Company (Kansas)
Standard Oil Company (Kentucky)
Standard Oil Company (Nebraska)
Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) - later Esso and then Exxon
Standard Oil Company of New York -- Socony, then Socony-Vacuum, later Mobil
Standard Oil Company (Ohio) - later Sohio and the merged with BP
Swan & Finch Company
Union Tank Line Company
Vacuum Oil Company - later merged to form Socony-Vacuum, later Mobil
Washington Oil Company
Waters-Pierce Oil Company
[List and genealogy derived from George Sweet Gibb and Evelyn H. Knowlton, History of Standard Oil (New Jersey): The Resurgent Years, 1911-1927 (1956), Table 1: Companies Disaffiliated from Jersey Standard in 1911; Daniel Yergin, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power (1991); and Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998)]
For more information on Standard Oil, see the Guide to the
ExxonMobil Historical Collection, 1790-2004 from The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
Historic Hudson Valley the non-profit educational organization commissioned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. to preserve historic sites in the Hudson Valley, runs Kykuit. Their website offers vast information about Kykuit and other historic sites, and information about tours.
What happened to the family home Rockwood Hall?
Rockwood Hall was the home of William Rockefeller (1841-1922), brother of John D. Rockefeller and a co-founder of the Standard Oil Company. In 1886,
William Rockefeller bought the 200-acre estate and castle in Westchester, NY, from the heirs of William Henry Aspinwall, a wealthy New York City resident
with interests in merchant banking, a New York-California steamship company and railroads.
What has become of other Rockefeller properties?
William Rockefeller intended Rockwood Hall, as he called the property, to be his summer home, and he increased the size of the estate to more than 1,000 acres.
He imported stone masons from Scotland, master wood carvers from Switzerland, gardeners from England, horticulturists from Japan and employed the best
American artists and craftsman. Accounts differ as to whether he demolished Edwin Bartlett's original castle and then built another on the same site,
or if he undertook extensive renovations to Bartlett's structure. In any event, at least one observer at the time labeled it "the most magnificent
residence on the Hudson."
Among the structures built were a three-story coach stable, a farm barn, a hennery, 17 greenhouses and a steel bridge spanning the New York Central
Railroad tracks from the estate to a two-story boat house on the Hudson River. A siding was added to the New York Central tracks, where Rockefeller
kept his private railroad car.
William Rockefeller lived at Rockwood Hall until his death on June 24, 1922, at the age of 81. His heirs decided to sell the property,
but when an individual buyer could not be found, a group of individuals formed Rockwood Hall, Inc. and purchased the estate. They converted the
property into an exclusive country club with an 18-hole golf course, swimming pool and other recreational facilities. Their venture was unsuccessful,
however, and in 1936 Rockwood Hall, Inc. declared bankruptcy.
After obtaining control of the property in bankruptcy court in 1937, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. leased the mansion to the short-lived Washington Irving
Country Club. In the late 1930s the coach house and stable were remodeled and some summer theater productions were held, but these ceased after 1939.
John D. Rockefeller, Jr. had no real use for Rockwood Hall and, in late 1941 and early 1942, had the buildings razed. On April 8, 1946 he deeded the
Rockwood Hall property to his son, Laurance S. Rockefeller.
In 1970 Laurance sold 80 acres to the International Business Machine Corporation (IBM) for its world trade center. Beginning in the early 1970s,
Laurance Rockefeller leased the property to the State of New York as a public park for one dollar a year, and underwrote the maintenance costs.
In 1999 he donated the property to the State of New York as part of Rockefeller State Preserve.
Visible remnants of the estate buildings included the foundations of the main house and one gate house along Route 9 in Sleepy Hollow, NY.
Forest Hill is a unique community spanning Cleveland Heights and East Cleveland, Ohio, on property that was John D. Rockefeller, Jr.'s boyhood home.
What papers do you hold relating to the Attica prison riot in 1971?
Euclid Golf Allotment is a housing development on land once owned by John D. Rockefeller.
The Casements was John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s winter home in Ormond Beach, FL.
The collections at the Rockefeller Archive Center have very little primary material on the Attica Prison riot of 1971. Due to the many lawsuits arising from the events of September 1971, the New York state attorney general took possession of much of Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller's documentation on the matter, which was then never returned to be included in the Rockefeller family archives.
What can you tell me about the Diego Rivera mural in the RCA Building that was destroyed?
The Nelson A. Rockefeller Papers at the Rockefeller Archive Center contain such items as the Governor's press releases throughout the crisis, speeches he made during that time period, state corrections monthly or quarterly departmental reports following the riot, and the complete proceedings of the U.S. House and Senate confirmation hearings on Rockefeller's nomination for Vice President in 1974. Attica is one of the many subjects about which Rockefeller was questioned during those lengthy hearings. Additionally, the Archive Center's non-circulating library has The Official Report of the New York State Special Commission on Attica, another book on the topic written by then Commissioner of Corrections Russell G. Oswald (Attica, My Story, 1972), and New York Times columnist Tom Wicker's account of the riot (A Time to Die, 1980).
In the fall of 1932, the Mexican artist Diego Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural on a wall in the RCA Building, the main building of the new
Rockefeller Center being built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Both his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and his son, Nelson A. Rockefeller, were major
supporters of Rivera's work and promoted the idea of including Rivera among the artists asked to create works for the new buildings. Rivera was to
be paid $21,000 to create a mural on the theme of "Man at the Crossroads Looking with Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better Future."
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According to Cary Reich's Worlds to Conquer: The Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1908-1958 (1996), Rivera provided the building managers and architects with "a vague sketch . . . [and] a lengthy verbal description of what he intended." Despite the fact that "the description was rife with socialist imagery," Rivera's plans were approved (pp. 106-107). Rivera began work on the fresco in March 1933 and within a matter of days was showing completed sections to visitors, including Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Nelson Rockefeller, both of whom were enthusiastic about the work.
Rivera's recent work for the Institute of Art in Detroit had created some controversy, and his new work at Rockefeller Center soon caught the attention of the press. While the New York World -Telegram chided the Rockefellers for funding Rivera's depictions of "Communist activity," Reich notes that "various Communist Party functionaries derided Rivera for not going far enough with the RCA Building mural" (Reich p. 108). This criticism prompted Rivera "to up the ante," in Reich's words, and he decided to include an image of Lenin in the mural. In the new design "a soldier, a worker, and a Negro farmer would be shown holding hands with the Soviet leader," Reich reports (p. 108).
Soon after the RCA Building opened to the public on April 30, 1933, Nelson A. Rockefeller sent Rivera a letter protesting Lenin's inclusion
in the mural and demanding that the image be replaced. Rivera argued that he had included Lenin in the original design for the mural,
although Reich notes that "in fact, it was nowhere indicated in the sketch, or in Rivera's verbal plan" (p. 109). Rivera refused to remove the
image of Lenin, but, as a compromise, offered to add a portrait of Lincoln.
"Rather than mutilate the conception" of the mural, Rivera wrote, "I should prefer the physical destruction of the conception in its entirety." (Quoted in Reich, p. 109) Whether he meant it or not, Rivera got his wish. On May 9, 1933, Rivera was called down from the scaffolding by the building's managing agent, Hugh Robertson, paid in full for his work, and the mural was covered with canvas. The press portrayed the controversy over the mural as a battle over free speech and artistic expression between Rivera and Nelson A. Rockefeller. For the rest of 1933, Rockefeller struggled with what to do with the mural, finally suggesting that it be donated to the Museum of Modern Art. For whatever reason, however, this did not happen, and the fresco was destroyed in February 1934.
(See Cary Reich, Worlds to Conquer: The Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1908-1958 (New York: Doubleday, 1996), pp. 105 -111.)
Documentation of this incident is located at the Rockefeller Archive Center in the Rockefeller Family Archives, Record Group 2 Office of the Messrs Rockefeller, Business Interests series, box 94, folder 706 and additional material in box 93, folder 704. This material includes a brief series of letters between Nelson A. Rockefeller and Diego Rivera, with some correspondence to Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Also included are numerous letters from people and organizations in support of Rockefeller's handling of the disagreement over, and the removal and destruction of, the mural. The files also include a fairly extensive set of copies of editorial columns from U.S. newspapers commenting on the dispute and its conclusion.
See PBS's "American Experience: the Rockefellers" for Diego Rivera's side of the story.
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