Until the 1970s, when they became the focus of a controversial book, the family dynamics of the Rockefeller dynasty were one of America's best-kept secrets.

That's exactly how John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had always wanted it. Even in his personal letters, he avoided any intimate details or private confessions.

And yet, in all its Victorian restraint, Rockefeller's correspondence with his docile son John D., Jr. is surprisingly eloquent. Between the lines, these letters reveal the strong personalities and the sometimes strained relationships of these two very different Rockefellers.

Below is a sample of the correspondence, spanning the years 1887 to 1922:

Correspondence between John D. Rockefeller, Sr. and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

26 Broadway 
New York 
November 28th 1887

Dear John: 
Yours, of the 22nd, duly received. Excuse delay in answering. Have also your telegram of today for the cutter [sleigh], and will attend to it tomorrow morning. I assume you want the one to carry two persons. I had a pleasant time in Washington. It is a beautiful city. The weather was mild and lovely. After receiving my testimony they did not wish any other although they had subpoenaed eight of us. We feel very well about the experience over there. The New York World hasn't any further ammunition in this direction, is now going back to its first love, the Buffalo suit, trying to rake up something against us. Had a delightful Sunday at home yesterday. Feeling well and ready for business. Looking forward with pleasure to seeing you the last of this week.

Concur in your decision about painting the storm doors. You and Mother will surely have your own way in all these affairs, what's the use of my saying a word. You are monarch of all you survey.

Your loving, 
Father

26 Broadway 
January 20th 1888

My Dear Son:
We all welcomed yours of the 15th. Were very pleased to hear of your daily experience, and hope both you and Mother will be much better for this quiet country life. I am glad you know about it. It carries me back to my boyhood days. I am having a pair of shoes made to lace up. I am told they support the ankles better. I will bring them with me. Please tell Mother that everything is being done that can be in reference to the telephone wire to Forest Hill. A new route is desired and the effort to secure it makes a little delay. Aunty and I went to the Harlem River this morning with Flash and Midnight in a new cutter [sleigh] which cost $300. Very extravagant, I know, but the sleighing is so good could not resist the temptation to buy it and hope to get the worth of our money. I drove four times day before yesterday and three times yesterday making an aggregate in the two days of about 80 miles. Don't you think I am an enthusiastic youth? I am looking forward with great pleasure to seeing you next week but may not leave until Friday.

Lovingly, 
Your Father

Home 
4 West 54th St. 
New York
January 26, 1895

My Dear Son:
I enclose check to your order for twenty-one dollars, for your twenty first birthday, being one for each year.

It would be very pleasant if we could all spend the day together at home, but I think under the circumstances, it is better for you to remain at college as you have been obliged to be away from your work so much of late.

I cannot tell you how much happiness we all have in you. And how much we are looking forward to, and relying on you for in the future.

We are grateful beyond measure for your promise and for the confidence your life inspires in us, not only, but in all your friends and acquaintances and this is of more value than all earthly possessions.

We all join in the hope that this and all the days to come, may bring only good to you, and we rejoice that you know from experience, that good for you, is inseparably connected with the good you bring to others. But this is not a lecture, only a kind word from an affectionate father to a much loved and only son on the occasion of his 21st birthday.

John D. Rockefeller

11 Slater Hall 
Prov. R.I.
February 3, 1895

Dear Father,
I want again to thank you for the check which you sent me last week and also for the letter that accompanied it.

I am grateful if my life brings happiness to you; it should bring much more than I have made it. But had I done infinitely better than I have in this particular, I should not even then have made anything like an adequate return for all that you have done for me.

I am glad for the confidence which you say my life inspires in you. I feel that I have but too little confidence in myself; but the very fact of you having faith in me will help me to make the most of my life.

Be assured, dear Father that my greatest happiness will ever be to do my utmost for you and Mother, and not only to keep clean, but be a credit to the honorable and noble record which you have made. People talk about sons being better than their fathers, but if I can be half as generous, half as unselfish, and half as kindly affectionate to my fellow men as you have been, I shall not feel that my life has been in vain.

Affectionately, 
John

4 West 54th Street 
New York
November 11, 1899

Dear Father
I want to tell you again of my very deep appreciation of the generous, patient and kindly way in which you have treated me during the anxiety and pressure which has been brought upon you this week largely through me. Most Fathers would have upbraided and stormed, and that too, justly. Because of your forbearance and gentleness you have caused me to feel the more deeply the lesson which this has taught. I would rather have had my right hand cut off than to have caused you this anxiety. My one thought and purpose since I came into the office has been to relieve you in every way possible of the burdens which you have carried so long. To realize now that instead of doing that I have been partially and largely instrumental in adding to your burdens, is bitter and humiliating. My effort has been an honest one although I have failed in its accomplishment. I want fully to acknowledge my mistake and to shoulder the blame which rightfully belongs to me. With your expression of continued confidence which I most truly appreciate, I shall try again in the hope that I can live my appreciation of your magnanimity far better than I can express it in words. This has been a hard lesson but it may help me to avoid harder ones in the future.

Affectionately, 
John

Hotel Bon Air 
Augusta, Georgia
January 18, 1909

Dear Son:
I thank you a thousand times for the fur coat and cap and mittens. I did not feel that I could afford such luxuries, and am grateful for a son who is able to buy them for me. Be assured that they are much appreciated. Mother unites with me in thanking you.

Affectionately, 
Father

26 Broadway 
New York
January 11, 1910

Dear Father:
Since you have upon previous occasions expressed an interest in the total amount of money which I spend in a year you will be interested to know that my total expenditures for the year 1909 is $86,288.35. Subtracting from this amount $25,000 which I gave to Brown, leaves a total of $58,238.35. The total last year was $65,918.47. This excess in 1908 is accounted for by the amount which I gave away during that year as compared with the amount given away in 1909 less the $25,000 above referred to.

Affectionately, 
John

Golf House 
Lakewood, NJ
May 9, 1917

Dear Son:
A brief word only! History is making so rapidly, I can hardly keep up with it, but this fact is being very forcibly impressed upon my mind that my individual ability to do things for others is only a fraction of what it was before the Government took a first mortgage on my possessions and my income, requiring me to pay for governmental purposes many millions of dollars each year. With this in view, we must all reflect very carefully before any further committals are made for gifts of money, especially as I can now see where I shall require to pay in a very few months no less than twenty millions of dollars, not including what I have already paid and for which I am already in debt.

All goes well with us, and we are happy and contented and hope that you and Abby will be rational, restful, retiring, and right minded, and you will look with righteous indignation upon any overtaxing of your time and strength, remembering that you have much work to do in the world and it cannot all be done in a day. Be patient and be moderate. Allow other people to bear some of their share of the burdens of life, and in the end you will accomplish more, live longer and be happier.

Affectionately, 
Father

Golf House 
Lakewood, NJ
July 30, 1918

Dear Son:
I am this day giving you 18,800 shares of the Common stock of the American Linseed Company and 22,400 shares of the Preferred, and 500 shares of the Lakewood Engineering Company, 4,200 shares of the International Agricultural Corporation Preferred and 12,423 shares of the Atlantic Refining Company and 37,269 shares of the Vacuum Oil Company and 13,000 shares of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, and I have requested Mr. Houston to have the same transferred to you.

Affectionately, 
Father

26 Broadway 
New York
February 11, 1919

Dear Father:
Once more my breath is taken by the receipt of your letter of February 5th announcing the stupendous gift of New Jersey stock which you are making to me. I need not tell you how deeply I realize the great responsibility which each of these gifts bring, for every day of my life I realize more fully the peculiar obligations which rest upon those of large means. A sense of the burden of the responsibility which, through your great generosity has come so rapidly to me during the passing years, would be almost crushing were it not off-set by the vision of the wonderful opportunity for useful service which comes with responsibility.

I appreciate more and more each day what your wisdom and intelligence and broad vision in giving has meant to the world. I realize increasingly the tremendous value that attaches to your endorsement of an enterprise, business or philanthropic, and I need not assure you that it will be my great pride, as well as my solemn duty, to endeavor, while emulating your unparalleled generosity, to live up to the high standards of intelligent giving which you have set. Whenever I am discouraged because of the littleness and the meanness and the petty jealousy of men I find renewed courage as I contemplate your patience, your bigness of heart, your Christian tolerance. Whenever I am oppressed with the feeling that one man can do so little even when he is doing his utmost, I only have to review the marvelous accomplishments of your extraordinary life in order to be heartened for the task which lies before me.

May the God who has led you so wonderfully during all these years of your life, Whom you have served so faithfully and so untiringly, lead me in the same path of duty and of service, and help me to carry on worthily the works for mankind which with marvelous prevision you have so solidly and wisely established.

I thank you, dear Father, for this great gift, and for the continued confidence in me which it implies. May God bless you and help me to live up to the high ideals which have guided your life.

Lovingly, 
John

Kijkuit 
Pocantico Hills 
New York
October 22, 1920

Dear Son:
I am giving you a check for $500,000. It will be available for use on Monday next.

Affectionately, 
Father

Kijkuit 
Pocantico Hills 
New York
October 23, 1920

Dear Son:
I am giving you a check for $500,000. It will be available for use on Tuesday next.

Affectionately, 
Father

Kijkuit 
Pocantico Hills 
New York
October 28, 1920

Dear Son:
I am today giving you a check for $500,000. It will be available for use at once.

Affectionately, 
Father

26 Broadway 
New York
October 28, 1920

Dear Father:
What a delightful habit you are forming! This third gift, of which your letter of October 28th advises me, is as acceptable as was the first.

Again I would express my truest thanks. How can I ever make clear to you how much I appreciate your wonderful generosity!

Affectionately, 
John

Ormond Beach 
Florida
January 26, 1922

Dear Son:
As to the sums which I have handed you from time to time, it is to be remembered that I have already set aside large amounts in our different trusts, for benevolent purposes, in addition to my regular giving personally, and with the careful and protracted study which I give to each object of any considerable moment, it is evident that I shall not fulfill to the complete extent, my heart's desire to make everything that I can give to the world available, for many years to come.

As you are in touch with the world from a somewhat different angle from mine, and there have been ample means left by a kind Providence. I have hoped that with your constant and careful studies, and wide and broad knowledge of the needs of the world, you would have the fullest enjoyment in personally determining and carrying out plans of your own for helping the world, and I rejoice to afford you this opportunity, in the confident assurance that great good will result therefrom.

I am indeed blessed beyond measure in having a son whom I can trust to do this most particular and most important work. Go carefully/Be conservative. Be sure you are right — and then do not be afraid to give out, as your heart prompts you, and as the Lord inspires you.

With tenderest affection, 
Father

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

We invite you to tell us your own stories - whether you lived through a tumultuous time period or learned about it from a relative, a book or a movie.