A couple of weeks ago we were so pleased to visit with J&R and their new baby, A. This was our first time meeting A so we were tickled pink. It was also just nice to chat with my friends since I don’t get to see them regularly. Somehow the conversation turned to John D. Rockefeller and I remembered one of my favorite letters ever – it’s from John Jr. to John III. I got a book several years ago from Costco – an anthology of letters from great Americans to their children on varying subjects ranging from I miss you (e.g. from a General to his son during wartime) to You had better pull it together right quick and study harder at school or ELSE. That book is in storage in Oregon now but the particular Rockefeller letter was easily found (thanks, Google!) on the Smithsonian website. It is from 1920 and details the terms on which John III (the 14-year old son) will receive an allowance from his dad (46-year old John Jr.).
Let’s just set the stage here and say that the Rockefeller family was not strapped for cash. If anything, the children might have been at risk for not understanding the value of money since their environment must have been characterized by abundance. John Jr., however, set about cultivating a stewardship-mindset in John III (who grew up to be the chairman of the board of the Rockefeller Foundation), as outlined in this letter. I love that John Jr. emphasizes accountability (proper records were always to be kept), neatness/clarity (good penmanship and figuring were required), giving, and saving. The gist is that there would always be “enough” – e.g. if John III wished to make a special purchase there was a pre-decided manner in which to make the request – however, it was made abundantly clear that he would have to give an account for every penny that passed through his hands.
May 1, 1920
Memorandum between PAPA and JOHN. Regarding an Allowance.
1. Beginning with May 1st, John’s allowance is to be at the rate of One dollar and fifty cents ($1.50) per week.
2. At the end of each week during which John has kept his accounts accurately and to Papa’s satisfaction, the allowance for the succeeding week will be increased ten cents (10¢) over the week just ended, up to but not beyond a total per week of two dollars ($2.00).
3. At the end of each week during which John has not kept his accounts accurately and to Papa’s satisfaction, the allowance for the succeeding week shall be reduced ten cents (10¢) from the week just ended.
4. During any week when there have been no receipts or expenditures to record the allowance shall continue at the same rate as in the preceding week.
5. During any week when the account has been correctly kept but the writing and figuring are not satisfactory the allowance shall continue at the same rate as in the preceding week.
6. Papa shall be the sole judge as to whether an increase or a decrease is to be made.
7. It is understood that at least Twenty Per cent (20%) of the allowance shall be used for benevolences.
8. It is understood that at least Twenty Per cent (20%) of the allowance shall be saved.
9. It is understood that every purchase or expenditure made is to be put down definitely and clearly.
10. It is understood that John will make no purchases, charging the same to Mama or Papa, without the special consent of Mama, Papa or Miss Scales [a family governess].
11. It is understood that when John desires to make any purchases which the allowance does not cover, he will first gain the consent of either Mama, Papa, or Miss Scales, who will give him sufficient money with which to pay for the specific purchases, the change from which, together with a memorandum showing what items have been bought and at what cost and what amount is returned, is to be given to the person advancing the money, before night of the day on which the purchases are made.
12. It is understood that no governess, companion or other person in the household is to be asked by John to pay for any items for him, other than carfare.
13. To any savings from the date in this account which John may from time to time deposit in his bank account, in excess of the twenty per cent (20%) referred to in Item No. 8, Papa will add an equal sum for deposit.
14. The allowance above set forth and the agreement under which it shall be arrived at are to continue in force until changed by mutual consent.
The above agreement approved and entered into by
John D. Rockefeller Jr.
John D. Rockefeller III
This is another favorite letter of mine: a real winner from Clementine Churchill to Winston C. Churchill during WWII