Born in New York, John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937) was the world’s first billionaire1 (he’d be worth around $13.7 billion in today’s money). As a Republican, Rockefeller supported Abolition, back when southern Democrat-voting industrialists profited from their human property. He was also a Methodist/Baptist Christian who believed that god had made him rich.
In 1864, he founded the grain and produce company, Clark, Rockefeller, & Co., with business partner, Maurice Clark (1827-1901). The company profited from the American Civil War (1861-65)2 and Rockefeller used his money to establish the company that made him his fortune: Standard Oil of California. With notions of the Protestant work ethic and Christian charity, Rockefeller and his employees attempted to craft an image of the family dynasty as philanthropic.
John Davison Rockefeller (1839-1937)
Rockefeller’s various institutes and foundations spawned other entities, including the University of Chicago, the General Education Board, and the eponymous Institute for Medical Research. But diary entries, papers, letters, and memos from the time confirm that the motive was primarily to make the public healthier and more educated in order to get them to work for the businesses in which Rockefeller had invested. By the mid-20th century, it was clear that “philanthropy” was also a massive, legal tax dodge.3
Rockefeller’s profit-making agenda included the promotion of so-called “scientific medicine,” which has now become the norm. Although Rockefeller personally championed natural remedies, including homeopathy, publicly he funded allopathic medicine and was a major cog in the machine that brought America’s medical practices up to Europe’s technological standards. But institutions, be they religious, corporate, or national, are not self-containing. They expand. Rockefeller’s philanthropy was de facto colonialism in countries including China and the Philippines, where the offshoots of his Foundation trained indigenous elites to use Western “scientific medicines” and lessen their traditional, natural cures.
THE FOUNDATION AT HOME: “HEALTH IS PROFITABLE”
Former US President Bill Clinton (in office 1993-2001) says: “The academic study of public health owes its origins to Rockefeller, who financed the earliest programs at institutions like Johns Hopkins and Harvard [Universities].”4
Not all 19th century US physicians had formal qualifications. Founded in 1846-47, the American Medical Association lobbied to ensure that physicians were qualified and trained up to particular standards.5 But the formalisation of healthcare training reinforced the race, gender, and class structure in that females, poor people, and non-whites were typically excluded.6 In addition to producing young, white, male doctors from the middle- and upper-classes, the system also battled natural health in favour of the new “scientific medicine.”7 By contrast, the Popular Health Movement was a natural health lobby which, in the 1850s, sought to remove legal protections for reckless physicians.
Despite Rockefeller’s private belief in homeopathy, one of the effects of his Foundation’s work in medicine was to undermine natural alternatives to chemical prescriptions. The formalisation of GP training led to monopolies. Most medical courses were offered by just three universities: Dartmouth, Harvard, and Pennsylvania.8 As late as the early-20th century, US doctors typically trained in Europe. Rockefeller’s agenda was to bring the US medical profession up to Europe’s standards.9 Rockefeller modelled his health foundation on Berlin’s Koch Institute (founded 1891) and Paris’s Pasteur Institute (1887).
After studying in France and Germany, the American parasitologist, Charles Wardell Stiles (1867-1941), went to work at the Rockefeller Foundation’s forerunner, the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission. Stiles advised on the abdominal disease hookworm, which mainly affected agricultural workers and thus Rockefeller et al.’s profits in his textiles investments. Stiles believed that hookworm caused “some of the proverbial laziness of the poorer classes of the white population.”10
Frederick Taylor Gates (1853-1929)
One of Rockefeller’s main ideologues was the Baptist clergyman, Reverend Frederick Taylor Gates (1853-1929, no relation to Bill). In the capitalist spirit of the age, Gates saw the human body as an amalgam of separate parts, akin to a factory. Gates’s view was that “the great organs of the body like the liver, stomach, pancreas, kidneys, gall bladder, are great local manufacturing centres, formed of groups of cells in infinite number, manufacturing the same sorts of products, just as industries.”11
Gates initially advised Rockefeller’s Standard Oil before promoting the magnate’s health ventures. Gates noted that at any one time, 20 per cent of staff in any given institution was home sick each day and said that “health is found in a variety of ways to be profitable.”12 He objected to the Rockefeller-founded University of Chicago’s 1898 efforts to align with the pro-homeopathy Rush Medical College. After studying in Germany, the bacteriologist and pathologist William H. Welch (1850-1934) co-founded the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health. Gates asked Welch to run the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which by 1928 had received $28m in funding (around $385m today).13
Hookworms are parasitic organisms that live in the abdomen and are typically picked up by affected persons when walking barefoot and consuming soils near to which people have defecated. The roots of the Foundation’s global health hegemony were planted in the American south, where Black agricultural labourers continued to toil in cotton fields.14 The Foundation’s failed efforts to eradicate hookworms nevertheless gave the planners enough confidence that their work could be exported. But their methods sought to integrate foreign traditional healers into “scientific” medical practices.
Historian Angela Matysiak writes that during the 1917 campaign to eradicate hookworm in Brazil, civil society feared that Rockefeller’s International Health Board (IHB) would replace curanderos: natural healers. “To address these tensions, the staff of the IHB in Brazil, Costa Rica, and other countries looked for ways to integrate native healers into public health campaigns.” But Rockefeller opposed domestic natural medicines; at least for the public. For example, it was only when the supply of the drug thymol was disrupted by the First World War (1914-18) that Rockefeller’s IHB gave patients oil of chenopodium (the flower of the goosefoot plant). With zero ethical protocols in place, Rockefeller’s doctors poisoned to death 222 children with the oil between 1914 and 1932, something that natural healers were unlikely to have done.15
ROCKEFELLER ABROAD: “HEALTH HAS ADVANTAGES OVER MACHINE GUNS”
The Rockefeller Foundation established a series of successive health entities to exploit foreign medicines and assimilate other people’s traditional practices into Western-led methods. The International Health Board and its successors spent billions of dollars (tens of billions in today’s money) in over 100 countries, establishing 25 schools and institutes, and sponsoring over 2,500 nurseries.16
The entities included the International Health Commission (1913-16) and International Health Board (a.k.a., Division, 1916-27). At the time, representatives of the global body, the League of Nations, described Rockefeller’s International Health Board as “the only existing truly international agency which is working at present to further constructive work in the domain of public health all over the world.”17 The motives were profit-driven. Rockefeller Foundation President, George E. Vincent (1864-1941), said that when it came to conquering foreigners, public health had “advantages over machine guns.”18 The Philippines International Health Commission visited the Moro tribes and acted, in the words of Foundation officers, as “wedge for permanent civilising influences.”19
After the British Empire’s occupation (circa 1842-1912), but before the economic nationalism of Chairman Mao (1893-1976), US investors sought to exploit China’s huge working population and raw materials. Rockefeller and his successors funded the Peking Union Medical College to the tune of $45m (or half a billion today). Chinese traditional medicine includes but is not limited to acupuncture, cupping, diet, herbs, and qigong. It has been used for thousands of years and is regularly attacked in the West by advocates of Big Pharma. Rockefeller money started the anti-traditional medicine movement in China while taking some of its ideas and products to synthesise them as modern drugs.
For instance, ephedra plants are shrubs that grow in most countries and produce certain green teas. Known in Chinese medicine as ma-huang (right, above), ephedra shrubs have been used for 5,000 years and were first catalogued by Emperor Shen Nung in 2700 BCE.20 The Japanese Professor, Nagayoshi Nagai, isolated ephedrine from the shrub in 1885 to produce synthetic chemicals for blood pressure treatment. The Rockefeller-funded Peking Union Medical College took credit for isolating and synthesising the chemical. The Lancet reports that the College “spread modern medical sciences throughout China.”21
Today, we hear about the dangers of “vaccine nationalism.”22 Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine against Sars-CoV-2 (COVID-19) was demonised by Western media23 before being accepted as >90 per cent efficacious by Western journals.24 The UK’s AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was sold to the British public as effective,25 yet several heads of state at the European Union, which is promoting the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, publicly cautioned against the UK vaccine.
Vaccine nationalism began with the Rockefeller Foundation. Yellow fever is a deadly (50 per cent death-rate) mosquito-derived, tropical virus.26 Rockefeller’s International Health Board stoked controversy by pointing to side effects in yellow fever vaccines developed by rival institutes, such as the Pasteur Institute, which was operating in France’s colonial subject, Tunisia. Rockefeller’s vaccines were initial failures. The authors of an article on biological history state: “the success of [Rockefeller-]sponsored anti-yellow fever campaigns was obtained through a traditional means: the elimination of the disease’s vector, the mosquito.”27
“Paris Green” was named after its use against rats in the sewers of the famous French capital. It is an arsenic-based toxin that was used as an insecticide. It was mass-produced in New York. The Bulletin of the Industrial Commission reported at the time that “[c]onsiderable illness has been found to exist among many of the workers engaged in this production.” The Department of Labor described it as “a dangerous poison and sickness results from the breathing of air containing it, through broken skin, and through the mouth.”28 The Rockefeller International Health Board experimented in anti-malaria techniques in Brazil, Bulgaria, El Salvador, India, Italy, the Netherlands, Nicaragua, Palestine, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. The League of Nations argued that sanitation was key to beating disease, but Rockefeller lobbyist and physician Lewis Hackett (1884-1962) argued for the use of “Paris Green.” The International Health Board used its propaganda to promote the results of a dubious, preliminary study in Italy.
One historian writes: “the anti-mosquito strategy… laid the groundwork for the subsequent DDT revolution in malariology.”29 DDT is also a toxin trialled by the US Typhus Commission. During the Second World War (1939-45), the Rockefeller Foundation’s health institutes tested DDT on German and Italian prisoners of war, as well as on Algerian inmates before heralding DDT operations a success in Sardinia.30
Rockefeller’s motives for eradicating mosquitos are exemplified by the case of Mexico. Disease historians note that the yellow fever virus mainly affected the nation’s shipping ports that were crucial for US corporate profits, including Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The company relied on the malaria-ridden port of Veracruz.31 In addition to using poison to blitz mosquitos to clear ports for profit, the Foundation used its eugenics ideas to encourage Mexican women to produce “strong” babies that could grow into healthy workers.32
After WWII, the Foundation lost its direction. The so-called third world became a battleground between US imperialism and Soviet dominance, with the Rockefeller Foundation struggling to design an internationalist, post-War policy. The giant, US, post-War machine referred to by future President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the “military-industrial complex” meant that research grants were awarded through the government’s National Science Foundation, making Rockefeller money less immediately appealing to young researchers. The Rockefeller Foundation initially succeeded by funding the shift in research from chemistry to biology, particularly the study of proteins for vaccination. “That decision has been widely viewed as stimulating the rise of the new field of molecular biology.” What began as schools for research turned into captive instruments that awarded funding for clear proposals, not for theoretical research. But theoretical research is where major breakthroughs tend to occur.33
The founding of the World Health Organization in 1948 coincided with the dissolution of the Rockefeller Foundation’s International Health Board, which was subsumed into the Division of Medicine and Public Health in 1951.34 The Rockefeller Foundation failed to make the shift from protein to DNA research and lost ground to big biotech firms, like Monsanto (now Bayer). But cultural changes began to take shape.
The Foundation started out taking natural plants from traditional medicine practitioners and using them to promote synthetic pharmaceuticals. But, having been part of the mechanisms that destroy the world with their interests in oil, banking, and pesticides, the Rockefellers have now seen profit-potential in solutions to the problems they allegedly helped to create. In more recent years, the Foundation and Rockefeller’s successors have come to recognise the value of naturopathy.
A few years ago, scientists contrived a new epoch: the Anthropocene. In the Anthropocene, the dominant species causing potentially irreversible destruction to the planet’s ecosystem is the human. The Rockefeller Foundation and The Lancet published a report stating: “Far-reaching changes to the structure and function of the Earth’s natural systems represent a growing threat to human health.”
Having gone from seeing the human body as a factory comprised of separate parts in the 19th century and promoting molecular biology to stimulate biotech profits in the 20th, the Foundation now decries “an increasingly molecular approach to medicine, which ignores social and environmental context.”35
Sometimes, the parasitic greed of the ruling classes destroys the host, in this case the planet, forcing our “betters” to modify their propaganda in the new ages they contrive.
About the Author
1. Natalie Burclaff, “Rockefeller: Making of a Billionaire,” Inside Adams Science, Technology and Business, Library of Congress, 14 January 2020, blogs.loc.gov/inside_adams/2020/01/rockefeller-billionaire
2. Ron Chernow (1998) Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, London: Random House, 25-31
3. Berrien C. Eaton (1949) “Charitable Foundations, Tax Avoidance and Business Expediency,” Virginia Law Review, 35(7): 809-61
4. Bill Clinton, “Introduction” in Eric John Abrahamson (2013) Beyond Charity: A Century of Philanthropic Innovation, New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 23
5. American Medical Association, “AMA history,” no date, www.ama-assn.org/about/ama-history/ama-history
6. Robert B. Baker (2014) “The American Medical Association and Race,” American Medical As-sociation Journal of Ethics, 16(6): 479-88
7. J.T.H.J. Dekkers (2009) What about Homeopathy? A comparative investigation into the causes of current popularity of homeopathy in The USA, The UK, India and The Netherlands, Master’s thesis, University of Utrecht, 20-24, dspace.library.uu.nl/bitstream/handle/1874/35695/ScriptieJorisDekkers.pdf
8. Robert G. Slawson (2012) “Medical Training in the United States Prior to the Civil War,” Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 17(1): 11-27
9. J. Andrew Mendelsohn (2002) “‘Like All That Lives’: Biology, Medicine and Bacteria in the Age of Pasteur and Koch,” History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 24(1): 3-36
10. Quoted in E. Richard Brown (1980) Rockefeller Medicine Men: Medicine and Capitalism in America, Berkeley: University of California, 115-16
11. Quoted in Brown, op. cit., 120
12. Quoted in Brown, op. cit., 113
13. Brown, op. cit., 105
14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US), “Hookworm FAQs,” no date, www.cdc.gov/parasites/hookworm/gen_info/faqs.html
15. Angela Matysiak (2014) Health and Well-Being: Science, Medical Education, and Public Health, New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 59-75
16. A.E. Birn (2014) “Backstage: the relationship between the Rockefeller Foundation and the World Health Organization, Part I: 1940s-1960s,” Public Health, 128: 129-40
17. Ilana Löwy and Patrick Zylberman (2000) “Medicine as a Social Instrument: Rockefeller Foundation, 1913–45,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 31(3): 365-79
18. Quoted in Brown, op. cit., 124
19. Quoted in Brown, op. cit., 124
20. M.R. Lee (2011) “The history of Ephedra (ma-huang),” Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, 41: 78-84
21. Editorial (2014) “China Medical Board: a century of Rockefeller health philanthropy,” The Lancet, 384: 717-19
22. United Nations News, “WHO chief warns against COVID-19 ‘vaccine nationalism’, urges support for fair access,” 18 August 2020, news.un.org/en/story/2020/08/1070422
23. One of many: Denise Chow, “‘Reckless and foolish’: Why Russia’s vaccine has experts alarmed,” NBC News, 11 August 2020, www.nbcnews.com/science/science-news/reckless-foolish-why-russia-s-vaccine-has-experts-alarmed-n1236466
24. Ian Jones and Polly Roy (2021) “Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine candidate appears safe and effective,” The Lancet, 2 February 2021, doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)00191-4
25. Maria Deloria Knoll and Chizoba Wonodi (2020) “Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine efficacy,” The Lancet, 397(10269): 72-74
26. World Health Organization, “Yellow fever,” 7 May 2019, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/yellow-fever
27. Löwy and Zylberman, op. cit.
28. Monthly Review of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Dangers in the Manufacture of Paris Green and Scheele’s Green,” 5(2): 78-83
29. Darwin H. Stapleton (2004) “Lessons of History? Anti-Malaria Strategies of the International Health Board and the Rockefeller Foundation from the 1920s to the Era of DDT,” Public Health Reports, 119(2): 206-15
31. Andrew L. Knaut (1997) “Yellow Fever and the Late Colonial Public Health Response in the Port of Veracruz,” Hispanic American Historical Review, 77(4): 619-44
32. Linnete Manrique (2016) “Dreaming of a cosmic race: José Vasconcelos and the politics of race in Mexico, 1920s–1930s,” Cogent Arts & Humanities, 3(1218316): 1-2, 11n5
33. P. G. Abir-Am (2010) “The Rockefeller Foundation and the Post-WW2 Transnational Ecology of Science Policy: from Solitary Splendor in the Inter-war Era to a ‘Me Too’ Agenda in the 1950s,” Cenataurus, 52: 323-37
34. Rockefeller Foundation, “International Health Division,” Archive, rockfound.rockarch.org/international-health-division
35. Sarah Whitmee et al. (2015) “Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch: report of The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on planetary health,” The Lancet, 386: 1973-2028
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