Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
"Rocky," as he was called, was born in Bar Harbor, Maine. A member of the prominent Rockefeller family, he was the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and the grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and Senator Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island, for whom he was named. He was also the brother of Governor Winthrop Rockefeller of Arkansas and the uncle of Governor and Senator John Davison Rockefeller, IV of West Virginia. Nelson Rockefeller was born on the same day of the year as his paternal grandfather, and from childhood was the leader of the five Rockefeller brothers, John, Nelson, Laurance, Winthrop, and David. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1930, where he was a member of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity.
Rockefeller worked for a time in several family-run businesses and philanthropies before entering public service. He became an Assistant Secretary of State during World War II, where he mainly dealt with issues in the geographical areas of Central and South America. After the war he headed the International Development Advisory Board , part of Truman's Point Four Program .
The election of fellow-Republican Dwight Eisenhower to the presidency saw Rockefeller appointed first as chair of the President's Advisory Committee on Government Organization and later as an undersecretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare.
Governor of New York
Rockefeller left federal service in 1956 to concentrate on New York state politics, where he served in various capacities before being elected governor (winning with a plurality of over 600,000 in a year mostly dominated by state Democrats).
He served as governor of New York from 1959 to 1973 (elected to four terms, he served three and a half). As governor of New York, he successfully secured the passage of extremely strict laws against the possession and/or sale of drugs; these laws — which became known as the "Rockefeller drug laws" — took effect in 1973 and are still on the books, and rank among the toughest in the United States: The mere possession of four ounces or more of such drugs as heroin and cocaine — or the sale of two ounces or more of the same substances — carries the same penalties as those imposed for second-degree murder. Despite this, he was still considered one of the leaders of the moderate wing of the Republican Party of the United States, and is hailed as an example of one of the chief figures of the "1960s and 1970s Republican" movement. Compared to other Republicans, Rockefeller was a liberal, and Republicans who hold views similar to his are often referred to as "Rockefeller Republicans".
Rockefeller engaged in massive building endeavors that left a profound mark on New York State. He was the driving force in turning the State University of New York into the largest system of public higher education in the United States. He also created many major highways (such as the Long Island, the Southern Tier, the Adirondack, and Interstate 81) which vastly improved road transportation in New York State. To create more low-income housing, Rockefeller created the unprecedented-in-its-power New York State Urban Development Corporation (UDC), which could override local zoning, condemn property, and create creative financing schemes to carry out desired development. (UDC is now called the Empire State Development Corporation, which forms a unit, along with the formerly independent Job Development Authority, of Empire State Development .)
Rockefeller's massive construction programs (not just the aforementioned, but others such as the US$2 billion Albany South Mall (later renamed the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza) project—the most expensive project that had ever been undertaken by any US state government), his generous pension programs for many public workers in the state (firefighers, many police officers, sanitation workers, and corrections officers), and highest-in-the-nation minimum wage that he was able to push through the legislature (or carry out through some existing public-benefit authority such as the UDC) greatly drove up costs and debt in the state. Public-benefit authorities (some 230 of them, like UDC, were brought into existence by Rockefeller) were often used to issue bonds in order to avoid the requirement of a vote of the people for the issuance of a bond; such authority-issued bonds bore higher interest than if they had been issued directly by the state. The state budget went from US$2.04 billion in 1959-60 (Rockefeller's first year in office) to US$8.8 billion in 1973-74 (at the end of Rockefeller's time in office). This occurred on top of a state economy that was in significant decline.
Rockefeller also reformed the governance of New York City's transportation system. He created the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 1965, which merged the New York City subway system with the publicly-owned Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and the Long Island Railroad and Metro North Railroad, which were purchased by the state from private owners. In taking over control of the Triborough authority, Rockefeller overcame Robert Moses, who controlled several of New York state's public infrastructure authorities. Under the New York MTA, toll revenue collected from the bridges and tunnels, which had previously been used to build more bridges, tunnels, and highways, were shifted to support public transport operations.
Rockefeller's dream was the presidency; he spent millions in attempts in 1960, 1964, and 1968. His bid in 1960 was ended early when then-Vice President Richard Nixon surged ahead in the polls; after quitting the campaign Rockefeller backed Nixon enthusiastically, and concentrated his efforts on introducing more moderate stances into Nixon's platform.
Rockefeller was considered the front-runner for the 1964 campaign against the more conservative Barry Goldwater of Arizona (Nixon had declined to run after a major defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial election). However, Rockefeller's divorce and quick remarriage to a woman (who had until then been married to someone else) twenty years his junior turned many people off. After polls predicted Rockefeller would win the California primary, he lost by a slim margin and dropped out of the race, endorsing Goldwater (but more hesitantly than he had previously supported Nixon). Rockefeller lost again to Nixon in 1968.
Rockefeller left office as governor in 1973 in what was rumored at the time to be a move toward a fourth bid for the presidency; however this never materialized. Some analysts speculated that his appointment to the vice presidency by Gerald Ford was calculated to forestall a Rockefeller presidential campaign in 1976.
Vice President of the United States
Rockefeller underwent a lengthy series of Congressional hearings but ultimately was confirmed, beginning his service on December 19, 1974. He became the 2nd Vice President to be appointed to the position under the 25th Amendment — the first being Ford himself. Less than a year later however, (on November 3, 1975), he notified President Ford that he would not seek election to the Vice Presidency in 1976, saying that he "didn't come down (to Washington) to get caught up in party squabbles which only make it more difficult for the President in a very difficult time..."
Perhaps the most memorable moment of Rockefeller's Vice Presidency occurred during a public speech at Broome County Airport in Binghamton, New York. A group of hippies started to heckle him, which obviously irritated him, causing him to retaliate by giving the group the finger, in a widely circulated photo.
Senator Robert Dole, who would be the Republican nominee to succeed Rockefeller in the 1976 election, was on hand at the speech. When questioned by an ABC reporter as to why he didn't join in with Rockefeller, Dole replied "I have trouble with my right arm.", reminding them of his injury in the Second World War.
Rockefeller was a great collector of modern art. He continued his mother's work at the Museum of Modern Art and turned the basement of his Kykuit mansion into a first-class museum. While he was overseeing construction of the State University of New York system, he agreed with his lifelong friend Roy Neuberger to build a museum on the campus of SUNY Purchase College. The Neuberger Museum , designed by Philip Johnson, hosted several paintings collected by Neuberger and helped popularize several artists. His 1933 decision to purchase and then destroy Diego Rivera's mural at Rockefeller Center, which included a portrait of Lenin, is still controversial.
On January 26, 1979 Rockefeller suffered a heart attack and died. It is officially recorded that this occurred during sexual intercourse with his mistress and staff member Megan Marshak. However there is a good deal of rumour and speculation about all the details of what happened, see the Megan Marshak article for a full discussion of this.
The Rockefeller family is one of the most famous blue-blooded clans in America. As of 2004, Forbes estimates that the family fortune could be as much as $9 billion. Nelson Rockefeller was worth approximately $1 billion at the time of his death.
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Gerald Ford | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Vice President of the United States
December 19, 1974 – January 20, 1977 | width="30%" |Succeeded by:
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