U.S. Corporate Philanthropy and Foreign Relations in the 20th century

In 1896 Andrew Carnegie supported an exhibition of then-contemporary art which became the first Carnegie International – an exhibition that repositioned the steel town of Pittsburgh as a hub for global cultural exchange. On his 75th birthday, November 25, 1910, Andrew Carnegie announced the establishment of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the purpose of which was to support a think tank dedicated to advancing the cause of world peace. Inspired by his family’s missionary work to Japan, John D. Rockefeller 3rd founded the Asia Society and was at one time a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Association, and the Institute of Pacific Relations. In 1963 he created the JDR III Fund, a philanthropic organization whose signature initiative, the Asian Cultural Program, encouraged East-West cultural exchange. This tradition of global philanthropy followed suit with his father, John Rockefeller Jr. who had supported the restoration and rehabilitation of major buildings in France for which he was awarded France's highest decoration, the Grand-Croix de la Legion d'honneur. Rockefeller Jr’s also provided support for the excavations in Luxor, and the reconstruction of Lingnan University in China, and St. Luke's International Hospital in Tokyo. Efforts such as these not only cemented the names of these philanthropists in history, but also strengthened U.S. diplomatic relations and cultivated U.S. soft power. While championing global initiatives, these titans of industries faced challenges domestically. Seen by many in the U.S as hubristic, overreaching into governmental affairs, or simply laundering the donor’s reputation, this work did little to help these philanthropists in the US. This presentation will explore why these, and other, industrialists prioritized global philanthropy and the role that their contributions play in U.S.-foreign relations today.