John Sterling Rockefeller

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John Sterling Rockefeller
Born(1904-10-28)October 28, 1904
DiedMay 10, 1988(1988-05-10) (aged 83)
EducationThe Taft School (1924); Yale University (1928)
Paula Watjen
(m. 1931, his death)
Children2 daughters
Parent(s)William Goodsell Rockefeller
Elsie Stillman
RelativesWilliam Rockefeller (grandfather)
James Stillman (grandfather)
James Stillman Rockefeller (brother)

John Sterling Rockefeller (1904 – 1988) was an American philanthropist, conservationist, and amateur ornithologist. He purchased Kent Island in the Bay of Fundy in order to establish a bird sanctuary, and later donated the island to Bowdoin College for use as a research station.

Family and education[edit]

John Sterling Rockefeller was a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family, he was the grandson of William Avery Rockefeller and the grand-nephew of John D. Rockefeller. He was the fourth of five children of William Goodsell Rockefeller, his maternal grandfather was the investor and banker James Stillman.

Rockefeller attended the Taft School and Yale University, where he was a member of the Scroll and Key Society, he graduated from Yale in 1928.[1]

Contributions to ornithology and conservation[edit]

Collecting in Africa[edit]

In July 1928 Rockefeller, his Yale classmate Charles B. G. Murphy, and the Canadian collector and taxidermist Allan Moses went to Africa on an ornithological expedition to collect specimens for the American Museum of Natural History.[2] The survey was funded by a grant of approximately $150,000 from the Rockefeller Foundation;[3]:59 the main goal of the expedition was to find and collect the rare Grauer's broadbill, which was known only by one 1908 specimen in the Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum in England, and which had eluded collectors for twenty years.[4]

On July 26, 1929, in a mountainous area at the northern end of Lake Tanganyika, Moses was the first to find and shoot a Grauer's broadbill;[4] the party collected several more broadbill specimens and spent a further three months collecting before returning to the United States.[3]:101

Purchase and donation of Kent Island[edit]

In order to thank him for his work on the expedition and for collecting the first Grauer's broadbill, Rockefeller undertook to purchase three small islands near Allan Moses's home on Grand Manan Island in the Bay of Fundy and make them a bird sanctuary; the common eider population had been declining for several years and there were estimated to be at most 30 breeding pairs from the Gulf of Maine southward along the Atlantic Coast. Most of these nested on Kent Island, one of the three islands in question.[5]

The owner of Kent Island, the largest of the three, sold it for $25,000, but the owner of the two smaller islands refused to sell them.[3]:104 Rockefeller hired two resident wardens for Kent Island, one of whom was Moses himself, they moved to the island in June 1930 and over the following years the eider population increased dramatically, reaching several hundred nesting pairs by 1935.[3]:114

In 1936, after visits to Kent Island by scientists including Ernst Mayr and Alfred O. Gross of Bowdoin College, Rockefeller donated the island to Bowdoin College as a research station in exchange for the nominal fee of one dollar ($1.00) and the college's commitment to maintain it as a bird sanctuary.[5]

Expedition sponsorship[edit]

Rockefeller funded a 1932 ornithological expedition to Timor and Sumba under the direction of Erwin Stresemann. Ernst Mayr later studied the resulting collection.[6]:121–122

Eponymous recognition[edit]

Rockefeller is commemorated in the names of two birds. Turdus poliocephalus sterlingi (Sterling's thrush) is a subspecies of island thrush which was described by Ernst Mayr in 1944. Cinnyris rockefelleri (Rockefeller's sunbird) is found in Central Africa, it was described by James Chapin in his 1932 work The Birds of the Belgian Congo, Part I.[7]

Business and personal life[edit]

In 1931 Rockefeller married Paula Watjen, her father was the central European representative of the Guaranty Trust Company, a New York bank. At the time of his marriage Rockefeller was "associated with" the Chatham Phenix National Bank and Trust Company of New York.[1] In 1948 he joined with other Rockefeller and Thomas Fortune Ryan heirs in forming the Enterprise Development Corporation to invest in "securities of privately owned companies making mechanical end-products".[8]

The Rockefellers had two daughters. Rockefeller died in 1988 and his widow died in 2000.[9]


  1. ^ a b "J.S. Rockefeller engaged to marry". The New York Times. March 4, 1931. p. 36.
  2. ^ "To study birds in Africa: J.S. Rockefeller and C.B.G. Murphy sail on survey for museums". The New York Times. July 6, 1928. p. 24.
  3. ^ a b c d Ingersoll, L. K (1991). Wings over the sea: the story of Allan Moses. Fredericton, N.B., Canada: Goose Lane Editions. ISBN 978-0-86492-101-7.
  4. ^ a b Rockefeller, J. Sterling; Murphy, Charles B. G. (1933). "The rediscovery of Pseudocalyptomena" (PDF). The Auk. 50 (1): 23–29. doi:10.2307/4076544.
  5. ^ a b Wheelwright, Nathaniel T. (March 2008). "First, there was an albatross". Bowdoin Magazine. 79 (2). pp. 26–33. Retrieved 18 March 2018.
  6. ^ Haffer, Jürgen (2007). Ornithology, Evolution, and Philosophy: The Life and Science of Ernst Mayr 1904-2005. Springer. ISBN 978-3-540-71778-2.
  7. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2014). The Eponym Dictionary of Birds. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4729-0574-1.
  8. ^ "Trust to supply "venture capital": Enterprise Development will invest $4,000,000 subscribed by Ryan heirs and others". The New York Times. 1948. p. 39.
  9. ^ "Rockefeller, Paula Watjen". The New York Times. August 3, 2000. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 17 March 2018.