Nelson Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1908 in Bar Harbor Maine. He was born into one of the richest families in the United States; his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller I, made the family fortune with Standard Oil, and his four brothers became prominent in their respective fields. He went to elementary and high school at an experimental school run by Teacher's College of Columbia University. He received a college degree from Dartmouth College. Nelson entered public service in 1940, becoming coordinator of inter-American affairs in the State Department. In 1944, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America, helping to formulate and implement President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy.
During the Truman Administration, Rockefeller served as chairman of the International Development Advisory Board on aid to underdeveloped countries, and under President Eisenhower he was appointed Undersecretary of the Department of Heath, Education and Welfare (1953-1955), after which he was a special assistant to the President for foreign affairs.
Rockefeller ran successfully for the New York governorship in 1958, defeating W. Averell Harriman. During his four successive terms, Rockefeller began large-scale welfare and drug rehabilitation programs, reorganized the New York transportation system and built major public works projects. In order to finance his programs, he raised taxes and began a state sales and income tax.
In 1971, Rockefeller came under attack for the manner in which he handled a violent uprising at Attica State Prison.
Rockefeller campaigned for the Republican nomination for President in 1960, 1964 and 1968, but was considered too liberal by the party. After the Watergate Scandal that resulted in the resignation of President Nixon, Gerald Ford became President and chose Rockefeller as his Vice President. Sworn in on December 19, 1974, he went on to head the Rockefeller Commission investigating allegedly illegal activities of the CIA.
In addition, Rockefeller advised the administration on domestic and economic issues. When Ford ran for election in 1976, Rockefeller declined to be his running mate because of opposition from the conservative wing of the Republican Party. At the end of his term as Vice President, Rockefeller retired to private life.