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Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, 1912-1973

Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, 1912-1973

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Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, 1912-1973 UALR.MS.0001

UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture
401 President Clinton Avenue
Little Rock, AR, 72201

Profile Description

Creation: This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2012-04-26T14:51-0500

Repository: UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture
Title: Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, 1912-1973
Dates: 1912-1973
Quantity: 967.0 Linear feet1,934 Document Boxes not including photographs, audio, and video
Identification: UALR.MS.0001


This collection is organized in nine record groups.After WR's death the records from Rockefeller's various offices or in storage were gathered together and organized under the direction of Joe Ernst, then director of the Rockefeller Family Archives in Sleepy Hollow, New York. The records were then microfilmed and the current organization of the materials reflects that order.Thus files on the same topic or subject area are often located in several of the record groups. Examples include materials Arkansas prisons which can be found in Record Groups I, III and IV. Another example is the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (AIDC) which are also located in Record Groups I, III and IV. A third example would be materials on the Arkansas Arts Center which are located in Record Groups I and X (Jeannette Rockefeller's Files). A recommended research strategy is to conduct word searches in the respective pdf finding aids, e.g. AIDC, prisons, GOP, Arts Center, Bumpers, Faubus, Purcell, etc,. to locate relevant files.

Scope and Content

The collection includes materials on WR's life from 1912 until his death in 1973. It documents his activities before he arrived in Arkansas in 1953 and then as a public figure from 1953 until his death in 1973 and as governor from 1966-1970.

Biographical Note

Winthrop Rockefeller was born May 1, 1912 the fourth son of John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Although his family lived comfortably he, his brothers and sister were taught that they had the responsibility to see that their resources were also used wisely in the service of others. Over his lifetime Rockefeller supported numerous charities with not just his money but his time and personal leadership. In his lifetime, he reported gifts of $20 million on his income tax forms, but the real figure is estimate to be much higher. His interests included racial equality, education and youth, culture and the arts, physical and mental health, religion, military and veterans' services, strengthening America's place in the world, and building Arkansas. Rockefeller's progressive vision for Arkansas is alive today through the work of the organizations he founded and through organizations his life and example inspired.

In 1936, after leaving college before he graduated, he went to work as a roughneck in the Texas oil fields where he lived in a $4.50 a week room and was paid 75 cents an hour; he worked up to assistant driller and eventually made 83 cents per hour. His son, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, said “Somehow, he managed to fit in with the hard men who no doubt wondered what a Rockefeller was doing there.” When restaurants would not serve black co-workers, Rockefeller went inside to order the meals and ate with them outside.

On active duty in the Pacific during World War II, Rockefeller's division made assault landings on Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. During the invasion of Okinawa, a Japanese kamikaze carrying two 500-pound bombs hit the troop transport Henrico. Rockefeller was the most senior officer left alive and, although wounded, he assumed command until he was relieved the following day.

Rockefeller came back to the New York desk job he did not enjoy, working in the family business. While his brothers married and began their families, he enjoyed New York's café society. In 1948, he wed Barbara “Bobo” Sears, the mother of his only son, Winthrop Paul, but the couple later divorced.

In 1953 WR accepted the invitation of Army buddy Frank Newell and traveled with his friend Jimmy Hudson to the small southern state that would become his home – Arkansas. The plan was for him to live in Little Rock, but Newell helped Rockefeller look about for a weekend retreat and they found a spot on a mountain 60 miles from Little Rock that would become his lifelong home. The 927 acres atop Petit Jean Mountain, originally called Twin Trees, near Morrilton were just what Rockefeller wanted and he set to work immediately converting the property into a working farm and cattle ranch.

Governor Orval Faubus appointed WR to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and soon he was chairing the group, bringing in out-of-state experts and making personal calls to business leaders throughout the country. These prominent leaders were more than happy to speak with a Rockefeller. Through his leadership AIDC brought in 90,000 new jobs with annual payrolls exceeding $270 million and the Arkansas General Assembly passed a resolution commending his efforts.

Not a politically ambitious man, nevertheless Rockefeller determined he would have to personally lead the fight to establish two parties in Arkansas in order to make the changes in Arkansas that he believed were necessary. After an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1964, Rockefeller came back to win the office in 1966. The first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, Rockefeller was at odds with the largely Democratic General Assembly. Still he managed to pass 39 administration-sponsored bills in his first legislative session.

Among Rockefeller's accomplishment during two gubernatorial terms were improvements in education, initiation of prison reforms, a business regulation cleanup, the state's first minimum wage law, the first model cities program, the addition of many minority state employees, the first young citizen's camp for disadvantaged youngsters, and the Freedom of Information law. Many of his proposed reforms were not enacted by a hostile legislature. Much of his legislation, including reorganization of state government and tax reform, was passed under the progressive Democrat who followed him, Dale Bumpers.

In October 1972, Rockefeller announced that he had inoperable cancer, went to Palm Springs for the remainder of his illness and died February 22, 1973. At Rockefeller's March 4, 1973, memorial service it was William L. “Sonny” Walker, the first African American named by Rockefeller to lead a state agency in Arkansas, who spoke of a man who came to the state to change his life and stayed to change the lives of all Arkansans, “Although he will never be acclaimed as a master politician or an accomplished political scientist, the record indicates to me that Winthrop Rockefeller was probably the greatest Governor this state ever had.”


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for viewing at the Arkansas Studies Institute.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright law of the United States (Title 17-U.S. Code) governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions of copyrighted material. The person using this material is liable for any infringement.

Copyright for correspondence in the collections belongs to those correspondents or their beneficiaries. Persons wanting to re-use those materials are advised to obtain permission from copyright holders.

Administrative Information

Citation Notes

Bibliographic citation:

Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, 1912-1973, UALR.MS.0001. UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture, Arkansas Studies Institute, Little Rock, AR.

Footnote or Endnote info:

Description of item, location of item in the collection (e.g. File, Box, Subseries, and Series Numbers as applicable).

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