For twenty-one years a confidential advisor to John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Frederick Taylor Gates was the architect of modern American philanthropy. This autobiography, written in 1928, a year before his death, is a forthright account of his role in organizing and directing Rockefeller’s immense and ever-growing philanthropies.
The son of a Baptist minister and a Baptist minister himself, Gates first met Rockefeller when he was raising money to establish a Baptist college in Chicago. Gates was instrumental in obtaining from Rockefeller the large sum needed to found the University of Chicago. Rockefeller was so impressed with him that he asked Gates to move to New York to assist him with his “benevolences.” Rockefeller was inundated with appeals for philanthropic causes and wanted Gates to investigate the requests and report to him on their merit.
Gates soon introduced the principles of “scientific” giving — giving wholesale through approved public agencies rather than to individuals and local charities. In this book he briefly describes the origin, aims, and policies of Rockefeller’s great philanthropic organizations. Gates was concerned with the destiny of Rockefeller’s vast fortune, lest it be “handed on to posterity, as other great fortunes have been handed down by their possessors, with scandalous results to their descendants and powerful tendencies to social demoralization.” He recommended that Rockefeller “form a series of great corporate philanthropies for forwarding civilization in all its elements in this land and in all lands.” A single company would finance all the other organizations. Thus, the Rockefeller Foundation was born. Later other philanthropies were independently incorporated and controlled.
Besides his work with the philanthropies, Gates was also involved in Rockefeller’s many business affairs. In his Personal Reminiscences Rockefeller praised Gates’ business ability, saying he had a “great store of common sense.” But, although he was a great success in business, Gates clearly saw his activities with the philanthropies as his most important contribution. And it is this for which he shall be remembered.