From his very first paycheck, Rockefeller tithed ten percent of his earnings to his church. As his wealth grew, so did his giving, primarily to educational and public health causes, but also for basic science and the arts. Philanthropy on a large scale was Rockefeller's second career, in which he came to be almost better known than in oil. Cynics have scoffed at his notion of religious stewardship, but Rockefeller deeply believed that he had a duty to transfer some of his huge fortune to humanitarian use rather than merely leave it to his heirs. He eventually devoted hundreds of millions of dollars to the improvement of American medical practice, education, and research. The Rockefeller Foundation was the chief vehicle for his philanthropy, but the General Education Board, devoted to improving the deplorable state of education in the South, and the University of Chicago also were major beneficiaries.
Rockefeller embodied in one person most of the traditional traits of the Victorian businessman. Fully materialistic in his equating of business profit with its social significance, he nevertheless realized that wealth was no substitute for religious faith and personal virtue. Outliving by many years all of the men who once shared with him the epithet of "robber baron," he came in the end to be a spry old gentleman, whose habit of carrying a pocketful of shiny new dimes to present to small children was the delight of newspaper photographers everywhere.