John D. Rockefeller

What a Guy

"If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success."

The many titles of Rockefeller

  • Industrialist
  • Business man
  • Entrepreneur
  • Philanthropist
  • Richest person in U.S. history


Early Life:

  • Rockefeller's early life consisted of scraping of their 70 acres of land in Granger, New York, and he was born July 8, 1839
  • His father, William Avery Rockefeller, known as "Big Bill", was essentially a drifter that wondered around swindling people into his "miracle medicines" and other such things
  • John was left with his mother, Eliza, a very religious Baptist, who was deeply in love with Bill, was left to care for him, becoming very influential to Rockefeller, giving him his strong sense of religion. She moved the family to Cleveland, Ohio
  • During Rockefeller's senior year, his father had given him money to build a house for the family, left, and eventually informed John that he had remarried

Path to Success and Controversy:

  • After quitting high school and attending a course at a commercial college, Rockefeller became an assistant bookkeeper, and in the following year he left to open his own commission house, which do financial services like buying and selling bonds and stock.
  • During his time there, Samuel Andrews, a chemist, convinced Rockefeller to invest and beomce a partner in a local refinery in Cleavland in 1863
  • The following year (1864), Rockefeller married Laura Spelman, daughter of a prominent business man and ex-abolitionist. The couple would eventually have 4 daughters (one died during infancy) and one son
  • As the refinery became the biggest in Cleveland, Rockefeller borrowed money and bought out his partners in 1865.
  • Just five years later, Rockefeller established The Standard Oil Company of Ohio with his brother, William, Henry Flager, and various men, with Rockefeller being the president and largest share holder, after what is now called "The Cleveland Massacre" where he bought out 22 out of 26 oil refineries at a hugely discounted price.
  • Standard Oil grew exponentially and controlled 90% of the US' oil refineries and pipelines. This was due to Rockefeller's tactic of simply buying out the competition.
  • The more controversial issues regarding Standard Oil's growth, which was brought to the public eye by muckrakers, was the fact that Rockefeller would threaten companies into being bought out so they wouldn't be driven out of business, spying on the competition, and getting deals with the railroad companies so he would get rebates when he used the trains for transportation and such. Rockefeller was so ruthless that he would buy all the barrels and chemicals related to the oil business so his competitors could not store or create oil products. He even made his higher ups in the company speak in code, and referred to Rockefeller as "The Chowder".
  • The secret pact between the refineries & the railroads allowed the railroads to raise their prices for transportation but refunded the oil companies an amount they paid, allowing for the railroads to profit from regular consumers and having steady business from the oil companies.
  • In 1882, Rockefeller combined all of these companies into the Standard Oil Trust in order to avoid Ohio Laws of Incorporation, a genius and legal, but ridiculed move
  • The federal government passed the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890 in order to prevent trusts, such as the Standard Oil Trust, restricting fair trade and competition. And so the Ohio Supreme Court dissolved the Standard Oil Trust 2 years later In another genius move, Rockefeller put all the businesses in the trust into a new holding company, Standard Oil of New Jersey. During the anti-trust trial, Rockefeller would often times act bewildered on the witness stand, making it difficult for the prosecutors to prove anything with his testimonies.
  • Finally, in 1911, Standard Oil was dissolved into 30 separate companies after the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil was violating the Sherman Antitrust Act. However, this made Rockefeller the richest man in the world, with all the stock of the separate companies worth more than when they were together, and he had a lot of stock.
  • In 1902, Ida Tarbell, a daughter of a oil refiner who went out of business because of Standard Oil, released a series of articles that eventually became a book called "The History of Standard Oil". She exposed Rockefeller's shady business practices, revealed to the public about his father's bigamy and con artist ways, and tried to convince the public that Rockefeller was America's biggest enemy.

Motivations/Personal Life:

  • He wanted to be independent from his father's image and provide for his family
  • Rockefeller wanted to live to 100, but died at the age of 97 on May 23, 1937 and was buried at Lakeview Cemetary in Cleveland
  • He celebrated every year the anniversary of when he got his job as the assistant bookkeeper
  • He ran a strict household with his wife, where they checked every bill and their children worked for their money by completing chores, which was a quite quiet and sparse lifestyle then how the media portrayed him as a ruthless, greedy, money wasting "octopus", as his company and himself seemed to have an unending reach. His wife made their son wear hand me downs until he was 8!
  • It was during the mid 1890's when he started his career in philanthropy
  • Rockefeller inspired his son, John D Rockefeller Jr, to carry on these religious beliefs and the philanthropy that his father had started
  • He took great joy in giving dimes to children he met
  • To the few people that knew him, he was very kind with them and always allowed them a say in matters


  • His mother, Eliza, instilled Rockefeller with his strong Baptist convictions and work ethic that would guide him in life
  • Rockefeller's Baptist beliefs led him into his pursuit of charity work
  • Andrew Carnegie inspired Rockefeller to start his large scale philanthropy as well as his desire to prove his critics wrong.

Parallels and Conclusions:

  • Rockefeller was a man of his time taking up the typical role of a captain of industry or to some, a robber baron with his cost cutting business practices and neglect of the common man but extreme wealth and influence from this
  • His business, like many other successful businesses of that age, relied on the railroads that were recently built up
  • Rockefeller's rise to wealth was a typical rags to riches story that brought immigrants from all over the world to the US during the Gilded Age


  • Rockefeller felt as if God gave him his extraordinary wealth and that it was his duty, influenced by his Baptist upbringing, to help a worthy cause. At first he only did small acts of kindness, such as giving money to those in need at his church
  • Initially, with his first large scale philanthropy, he supported northern Baptist conventions and missionary work abroad for his large scale philanthropy
  • In 1890 he teamed up with William Harper to establish the University of Chicago, eventually donation over 35 million dollars, yet he denied any figure dedicated to him or any mention of his name
  • Rockefeller retired from Standard Oil in order to focus on philanthropy entirely, giving the reigns of the company to his son, John D Rockefeller Jr in 1897
  • Rockefeller created the Rockefeller Medical Research Institute in 1901, now known as Rockefeller University. Within a decade of creating the institute, they had created a vaccine for cerebral meningitis and over 24 Nobel Prize winners have worked there, including America's first winner
  • His next step was creating the Education Board in 1902, which helped educate whites and blacks in the still recovering South by creating public high schools and training African American teachers and whites alike
  • In 1913, Rockefeller focused his efforts in curing hookworm and other diseases such as typhus, tuberculosis, and scarlet fever by funding the International Health Commission
  • Rockefeller later created the first public health and hygiene school in 1918 at John Hopkins University
  • He took an interest in China and created the China Medical Board to modernize medicine within the country
  • Eventually, after giving away over 50 million dollars worth of Standard Oil shares, the Rockefeller Foundation was established, which has been credited with funding the Green Revolution, the Yellow Fever vaccine, the Montreal Neurological Institute, and a section of Oxford's Bodleian Library that holds over 5 million books
  • Overall, Rockefeller gave away in excess of 540 million dollars, making him one of the greatest philanthropists in US history, despite the negative criticisms of his business practices. However, I only wish he had contributed more towards the hard working man that he was so often portrayed as destroying with his cost cutting techniques and aggressive business practices. This would have made him much less of a controversial figure regarding his philanthropy and he could have shaken off the image he had of a robber baron.

My political cartoon

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How would Rockefeller stack up today?

Rockefeller would, in today's modern climate, still be as influential as he was during his time period. He pioneered the oil refining industry, drove innovation with the creation of a multitude of petroleum based products, monopolized an entire business, yet shared his wealth in pursuits of philanthropy to better mankind. All of this took leadership, creativity, and most importantly, smarts. A man of such genius would no doubt find a way to make his wealth in the modern world, finding loopholes in regulations and partnering with other industries to push his ventures into huge amounts of profits.However his borderline illegal business tactics would stir up the media, which is even more connected and powerful in today's world and certainly controversy would be occur. With many new industries popping up throughout the world, all they require is a strong leader like Rockefeller to drive them into the mainstream. Companies such as Microsoft, Google, and most recently, Tesla, are all examples of such. Of course, it appears that nowadays there are a multitude of billionaires, but this would not detract from Rockefeller's importance since he would give his wealth to worthy causes to find cures for diseases or educate the masses, something that always is important no matter the time period. If I had the wealth and influence of Rockefeller, I would, like he had done before, invest in medical research and education programs, but I would give much more than he ever did, because really, who needs billions of dollars of personal wealth. I would also give the money to research into more environmentally conscience products and practices, since there is only one earth and it is our duty to protect it. However his borderline illegal business tactics would stir up the media, which is even more connected and powerful in today's world and certainly controversy would be stirred up.

Rockefeller's American Experience

Rockefeller defined what it meant to be a captain of industry with his vast oil empire. His rags to riches story is proof of the American Dream, all thanks to his strong work ethic and business savvy, though sometimes that savvy was not quite entirely moral. The way he brought about his oil empire revolutionized the oil industry by using every bit of petroleum possible and refining it into a multitude of products that we still use today, such as Vaseline. Inspired by another one of the great captains of industry, Andrew Carnegie, Rockefeller gave away the majority of his riches to large scale charity for maximum benefit for mankind by educating the masses regardless of race and advancing medicine by creating vaccines for diseases such as Yellow Fever. The institutions he created, such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the University of Chicago, are some of the most advanced and prestigious centers for what they aim to do. Although the media of his time portrayed him as a power mongering octopus, his philanthropy in his later life would prove them wrong, and modern historians can appreciate the benefits he brought about. His legacy carried on with is son as well, making the Rockefeller family a lasting influence on America and the world as a force of charity and well-being.