Skip to main content

A Postscript By Allan Nevins

March 2023
2min read

As this is a selection from a much longer autobiography, still in manuscript, a word remains to be said about some of Frederick T. Gates’s associates.

He never faltered in his devotion to John D. Rockefeller, whose gifts complemented his own. Gates was emotional, oratorical, impetuous, and (as he himself wrote) “withal exacting and irritable.” Rockefeller was unemotional, highly reserved, generally taciturn (though with a fund, on occasion, of chat and anecdote), and cautious. As Mr. Raymond B. Fosdick, who knew Gates well, says in his volume on the Rockefeller Foundation, he was “overwhelming and sometimes overbearing in argument”; Rockefeller never lost his measured calm, and was never seen by anyone to show excitement. Gates was often impatient, Rockefeller always the soul of patience. It was probably with some envy that Gates said of Rockefeller, in a sentence quoted by Mr. Fosdick: “If he was very nice and precise in his choice of words, he was also nice and accurate in his choice of silences.” Yet both were adventurers—Rockefeller a pioneer in the planning and organization of business, Gates a pioneer in social experiment.

It is recorded that Gates used to exhort the elder Rockefeller: “Your fortune is rolling up, rolling up like an avalanche! You must keep up with it! You must distribute it faster than it grows! If you do not, it will crush you and your children and your children’s children.” Evangelistic exhortation was second nature to Gates. Yet he knew well that such an exhortation was hardly needed. Rockefeller had begun giving as a very poor boy when it hurt to give; he had kept on giving as his fortune grew. What he needed most were ideas as to the wisest mode of giving. These Gates contributed. It is worth repeating his statement that he felt Rockefeller was entitled to his frankest ideas most candidly expressed. “I did not consciously allow his anticipated views to control or to modify my own views in the least degree. On the contrary, when I knew there would be a conflict of view I took special pains to fortify my position instead of yielding it or concealing it.”

Rockefeller, who was ever sparing with praise, more than once paid public tribute to Gates’s extraordinary talents. One day in 1917, when he was riding with a reporter for Forbes Magazine, the Forbes man asked: “Who is the greatest of all the businessmen you have known?” Rockefeller gave him no direct answer but finally began talking of Gates, saying: “He combines business skill and philanthropic attitude to a higher degree than any other man I have ever known.”

When Gates finally left Rockefeller’s service he received this letter:

Forest Hill,July 25th, 1913.

Dear Mr. Gates:

I am grateful for all you have done, in connection with our organizations to continue helpful and uplifting influence to the world, after we have all passed on. You have been so thoroughly devoted to the various schemes for advancing the interests of our fellow men, and so resourceful in organizing plans to carry out the work, that your name will be forever inseparably linked with them all. There was a Providence in our coming together, long years ago, and we saw “eye to eye.” The work grew upon our hands and we are made happy in these years on account of what has already been accomplished for good, in connection with these united efforts. I hope we will both be spared, and our dear ones, to see many years of blessing to the world.

Mrs. Rockefeller and Miss Spelman unite with me in warm regards for you and yours,

Sincerely,( Signed ) John D. Rockefeller

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "April 1955"

Authored by: Clay Perry

How tough Henry Knox hauled a train of cannon over wintry trails to help drive the British away from Boston

Authored by: Alvin M. Josephy Jr.

This nautical chart, lost for five centuries, gives evidence that Portuguese captains had found the New World by 1424

Authored by: Walter Havighurst

A century ago the Soo canal was an insignificant ditch in a remote northern wilderness. Today it serves as the busiest industrial highway on earth.

Authored by: The Editors

Written in haste, on an April midnight in 1803, the unedited text of the message that led to the Louisiana Purchase is printed for the first time.

Authored by: Ralph Nading Hill

A determined collector brings a steamboat to her museum of Americana—by rail.

Authored by: Clifford Dowdey

A southern writer analyzes the handicaps unwittingly laid on the general by President Davis

Authored by: Arnold Whitridge

Having given slavery a new lease on life, he then made Northern triumph inevitable

Authored by: Oliver Jensen

‘The ingenious Captain Peale” sired a dynasty of painters and started America’s first great museum.

Authored by: Lynn W. Turner

From her chaplain’s diary comes this graphic story of the final sea battle of America’s famous frigate

Authored by: Milton S. Eisenhower

A famous educator reviews 100 years of service by the land-grant colleges

Featured Articles

Rarely has the full story been told about how a famed botanist, a pioneering female journalist, and First Lady Helen Taft battled reluctant bureaucrats to bring Japanese cherry trees to Washington. 

The world’s most prominent actress risked her career by standing up to one of Hollywood’s mega-studios, proving that behind the beauty was also a very savvy businesswoman. 

Often thought to have been a weak president, Carter was strong-willed in doing what he thought was right, regardless of expediency or the political fallout.

Why have thousands of U.S. banks failed over the years? The answers are in our history and politics.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.