The Rockefeller Foundation was founded in 1913 as the primary philanthropic vehicle for the charity of Standard Oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1839-1937). Its projects over the past century have included funding medical research, supporting the “Green Revolution” of agricultural production innovation, and backing controversial population control movements. The Foundation Center reports that in 2014 the Rockefeller Foundation was the 16th largest U.S.-based foundation by total assets, with assets in that year of $4.24 billion. 
The Rockefeller Foundation is a major funder of liberal advocacy and public policy efforts, providing major support to New America, a left-of-center think tank; the Urban Institute, a left-of-center hybrid civil rights group and policy advocacy organization; and the Funders Committee on Civic Participation, a project coordinating left-of-center advocacy on Census and electoral issues, among other left-of-center interests. 
Rajiv Shah, the Rockefeller Foundation’s current president, is an alumnus of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from the Obama administration. The organization’s former president, Judith Rodin, sought appointment to the President’s Council on Global Development during the Obama administration; she did not receive the appointment. Emails later reported on by Politico illustrated her closeness with Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation as she sought the appointment. 
Rockefeller Philanthropy before the Foundation
John D. Rockefeller was a devout Close Communion Baptist who began to give money away when he was 16. He thought that helping the less fortunate was a necessary purpose of life. “There was no question that Rockefeller’s exclusive motivation for giving,” note biographers John Ensor Harr and Peter J. Johnson, “was his religious conviction and the old-fashioned concept of stewardship, not the expiation of guilt or the buying of public favor.” 
In 1891, Rockefeller hired Frederick T. Gates to be his assistant to handle philanthropic and business concerns. Gates wrote in his memoirs that he considered his first task to shield his employer from people who wanted a share of his fortune. “Neither in the privacy of his home or at his table, not anywhere else, was Mr. Rockefeller secure from insistent appeal,” Gates wrote. “Mr. Rockefeller was constantly hunted, stalked, and hounded almost like a wild animal.” 
Gates encouraged Rockefeller to practice “retail” philanthropy and donate to nonprofits rather than “wholesale” philanthropy to individuals. In 1905, Rockefeller gave $100,000 to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to promote Congregationalism overseas. Rockefeller’s lawyer, sister-in-law, and Gates were Congregationalists.
Creation of the Foundation
Controversy over the Foreign Missions grants prompted Gates to recommend that Rockefeller transfer his wealth to a series of foundations “which should be so large as to attract the attention and intelligence of the world, and the administration of each would command the highest expert talent.”  Rockefeller agreed, and planning for the Rockefeller Foundation began in 1909. Four years later, the Rockefeller Foundation began operations.
The first controversy was over what the foundation should fund. According to historian Robert E. Kohler, the Rockefeller Foundation trustees split into two factions. The liberals, led by the foundation’s secretary, Jerome Greene; John D. Rockefeller’s lawyer, Starr Murphy; medical researcher Abraham Flexner; and former New York City Police Commissioner Arthur Woods, wanted the foundation to address “criminology, alcoholism, drug addiction, feeblemindedness, venereal disease, family structure, and delinquency.” 
Allies of longtime Rockefeller aide Frederick Gates wanted the foundation to deal with less-partisan medical and scientific issues. Gates called Greene’s proposal “scatteration,” as it would give many small grants instead of a few large ones. 
Transfer of Authority
John D. Rockefeller began transferring his fortune to his son, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., beginning in 1916. Although the younger Rockefeller was a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation for most of his life, he decided not to exercise any more power than any other trustee.
Two further moves weakened the elder Rockefeller’s ties to the Rockefeller Foundation. When the foundation was created, Rockefeller requested that $2 million be set aside each year for the donor’s personal projects, which he called “founder’s designations.” But under pressure from his son, Rockefeller rescinded this clause, removing the last portion of the Rockefeller Foundation directly under the founder’s control. 
In 1919, John D. Rockefeller wrote to his attorney, Starr Murphy, stating that “I could wish that the education which some professors furnish was more conducive to the most sane and practical and possible views of life rather than drifting, as it does, in cases, to socialism and some forms of Bolshevism. It seems to me that some influences ought to be brought to bear upon the universities and colleges with reference to the textbooks which, from my standpoint at least, are calculated to lead astray and do more harm than good.”
Murphy responded that “the placing of limitations…upon academic freedom must be left to the trustees and faculties of the institutions” and that “it would be extremely unwise to place limitations” on what professors could teach. 
Rockefeller backed off, and, although he lived for 18 years after this exchange, made no further attempt to assert his intentions.
Medical Research Efforts
The Rockefeller Foundation’s early successes were in medical research. In 1910, before the foundation’s creation, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. committed $1 million in an effort to eradicate hookworm, a parasite disease that ravaged the southern United States. The public health effort, which was taken over by the Rockefeller Foundation when it was created in 1913, was largely finished by 1915. Although hookworm remained a continuing problem in the South until the worms were finally eradicated around 1985, the Rockefeller-backed hookworm prevention effort alerted officials in states affected by the disease to the extent of the problem and showed strategies that were effective in killing the disease-bearing worms. 
The Rockefeller Foundation also engaged in an effort to fund medical schools in an effort led by Abraham Flexner, who in 1910 had written Medical Education in the United States and Canada (otherwise known as the “Flexner Report”), an investigation of shoddy medical schools done for the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The Rockefeller Foundation hired Flexner in 1913, and he led an effort that ensured that the foundation was the leading provider of funds for medical schools in the U.S. 
Flexner approved grants for medical schools on one condition: doctors who taught in these schools could not have outside practices, but could only make their living from medical school salaries. Flexner refused to accept any compromises. When the Harvard Medical School in 1913 proposed allowing medical school professors to have private practices as long as doctors’ offices were on-campus, Flexner rejected the request and blocked Rockefeller Foundation medical funding to Harvard. 
Flexner continued his intransigent policy until 1928, when a reorganization of the Rockefeller philanthropies eliminated his position and ended the “full time in medicine” program. Nearly all the medical schools receiving Rockefeller Foundation aid ended their restrictions against doctors having private practices after Flexner’s departure. 
The Green Revolution
In 1943 the Rockefeller Foundation, after being urged by then-Vice President Henry Wallace (D), began programs in Mexico designed to increase the productivity of Mexican agriculture. “The philosophy of the Rockefeller Foundation,” said Norman Borlaug, a leader of the effort who would later win a Nobel Peace Prize for his work to increase agricultural productivity, “was to ‘help Mexico help itself’ in solving its food production problems, and in the process work itself out of a job.” 
The Rockefeller-backed researchers and their Mexican counterparts found their greatest success in growing new strains of wheat. The team distributed wheat seeds developed by Mexican agronomists that were resistant to stem rust, and Borlaug led an effort to cross-breed Mexican varieties of wheat with a Japanese dwarf variety of wheat, which resulted in a highly productive strain of wheat. Mexico became self-sufficient in wheat production by 1956, and Mexican wheat yields increased from 750 kilos per hectare in 1948 to nearly 3,000 kilos per hectare in 1970. 
The Mexican successes led to similar Rockefeller-funded projects in Chile, Colombia, and India. Because of the efforts of Norman Borlaug, Pakistan became a self-sufficient grain producer by 1968 and India by the mid-1970s.
The Rockefeller Foundation gradually curtailed high-yield agricultural projects by the mid-1980s, in part due to pressure from environmentalists. In a 1997 interview in The Atlantic, Borlaug said that, despite his Nobel Prize, he had become politically toxic to the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations “because all the ideas the greenies couldn’t stand were sticking to me.” 
The Rockefeller Foundation’s interest in population control programs is credited to the interests of John D. Rockefeller, III, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. In 1952, Rockefeller convened 31 experts at Williamsburg, Virginia to create the Population Council, an advocacy group targeting supposed world overpopulation. Rockefeller funded the council’s budget from his personal fortune in its early years, while the Rockefeller Foundation began funding it from the late 1950s onwards.
Associations with Eugenics
Many of the members of the Population Council were eugenicists. Historian Linda Gordon counted six of the ten members of the council’s medical and scientific boards as having been associated with the eugenics movement.  Warren Weaver, the delegate to the Williamsburg Conference from the Rockefeller Foundation, said that “I will be blunt…We are talking about population from the viewpoint of Western Protestant philosophy,” highlighting the anti-Catholicism of some attendees. 
Public Policy Advocacy
The Rockefeller Foundation continued to fund population control activities into the 1970s, but its efforts were overshadowed by far larger efforts by the Ford Foundation. In addition, Dean Rusk, who served as Rockefeller Foundation president in the 1950s, led an effort to dramatically expand federal population control funds when he served as Secretary of State in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. 
Major Grant Recipients
By the 21st century, the Rockefeller Foundation had become a pillar of the liberal philanthropic establishment. Among the liberal groups receiving the largest share of Rockefeller Foundation funds through 2011 were the Urban Institute, which received $11.9 million; the New America Foundation (now New America), which received $11.3 million; PolicyLink, which received $8.8 million between 2000-2011; and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which received $7.5 million. 
The Rockefeller Foundation supports strict government control of development and zoning, including restrictions on farming. Rockefeller grants pushing these so-called “smart growth” regulations through 2011 were directed to Living Cities, which received $16.7 million; the Brookings Institution, which received $14.7 million; and Smart Growth America, which received $9.7 million. 
Another group supported by the Rockefeller Foundation was “Imagining America,” a coalition of colleges engaged in left-wing curriculum development. (The consortium’s 2017 conference addressed such topics as “demistifying environmental racism,” “silk-screening as a political movement,” “equity, social justice, and inclusion in the age of white supremacy,” “feminist pedagogies and participatory media,” and “sanctuary, solidarity, and resistance.” ) “Imagining America” is not a nonprofit, but a “project” currently housed at Syracuse University. Rockefeller Foundation grants to support the group went to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and to the University of Michigan. 
Funders Committee for Civic Participation
Along with over 70 other donors, including the Ford, MacArthur, Knight, and Kellogg Foundations and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Rockefeller Foundation contributed $3.2 million from 2001-2015 to the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation, a project of NEO Philanthropies. The committee has three “action funds” designed to support immigrants’ rights, reform state juvenile justice laws, and support “community-directed efforts working to organize educational excellence, equality, and opportunities for every child in low-income communities.” Because of IRS restrictions against electoral interference by 501(c)(3) charities, these “action funds” claim to be nonpartisan. 
100 Resilient Cities
The Rockefeller Foundation’s chief philanthropic project during the presidency of Judith Rodin was an environmentalist effort to help cities become more “resilient” to the expected effects of climate change, culminating in the formation of the advocacy group 100 Resilient Cities in 2013.  Rodin, who served as Rockefeller Foundation president for the period 2004-2017, wrote The Resilience Dividend, published in 2014. She appeared on “The Charlie Rose Show,” where she said that “in the 21st century, crises will be the new normal…And so those who are going to do the best are those who are prepared for the worst, no matter what the worst may be.” 
The foundation appeared to award 100 international cities, chosen from 2013-2016, $1 million to hire a “chief resilience officer.” However, a list of frequently asked questions says that the foundation would only pay for the salary of the chief resilience officer, and that most cities would get far less than $1 million, but “the value of our core offerings exceeds $1 million.”  Partners in the project included Cisco, Microsoft, and the Jacobs Engineering Group. 
In 2019, Rodin’s successor, Rajiv Shah, announced that the Rockefeller Foundation would scale back the “resilience” efforts, closing 100 Resilient Cities and shifting grantmaking to support the efforts of the Atlantic Council on similar issues. 
Involvement with Clinton Foundation Controversies
In 2015 Politico reported on a controversy concerning Huma Abedin, who in April 2012 was an advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Later that year, she would leave her full-time position in the State Department to become a part-time advisor to Hillary Clinton and a part-time consultant to Teneo, a consulting company whose president, Doug Band, was, Politico reported, “a close confidant of Bill Clinton.” 
Band wanted to get then-Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin nominated to be on the President’s Global Development Council, an unpaid position. His email to Abedin had as its subject: “She is expecting us to help her get appointed to this.” Band wrote, “Judy Rodin, huge foundation/cgi [sic] supporter and close pal of wjc [sic] Teneo reps her as well Can you help?” According to Politico, “Wjc” meant former president William Jefferson Clinton, “foundation” was a reference to the Clinton Foundation, and “cgi” to the Clinton Global Initiative. The Rockefeller Foundation had donated to the Clinton Foundation in the past, and had paid Teneo $5.7 million in consulting fees in 2012. A chain as part of the email included other emails from Teneo employees, including one from senior vice president Orson Porter, who said Rodin “was not on anyone’s friend list.” 
A month later a second email was sent to Abedin, asking if anything had been done to support the Rodin nomination. It is not clear if Abedin was working for Teneo at the time. She also was working part time for the Clinton Foundation. Abedin forwarded the email to her private email address. 
Rodin did not receive the appointment, but U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) told Politico that the episode “is a troubling example of Teneo and the Clinton Foundation seeking State Department help for a Teneo client and Clinton Foundation supporter.” 
Nonprofit Quarterly national correspondent Rick Cohen noted that Teneo had received $16.5 million in consulting fees from the Rockefeller Foundation from 2011 through 2013, while the next four largest contractors (all banks or investment firms) received a combined $11.5 million in this period. He observed that if Rodin wanted a federal government appointment, “it probably doesn’t hurt if a foundation can shell out high seven-figure contracts to a PR firm that happens to be run by an aide to former President Clinton and a close associate to key staff of Hillary Clinton.” 
Rockefeller Foundation chief of staff Patrick Brennan, in an undated response, said the Teneo contract was to handle public relations for the Rockefeller Foundation Global Centennial Initiative and that Judith Rodin “followed standard procedures” in her failed attempt to join the President’s Global Development Council. 
Rajiv Shah, a career liberal advocacy philanthropy official, leads the Rockefeller Foundation. Prior to taking over as president at Rockefeller, Shah served in the Obama administration as Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and worked for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.