John D. Rockefeller Biography

(American Businessman and Founder of the 'Standard Oil Company')

Birthday: July 8, 1839 (Cancer)

Born In: Richford, New York, United States

John Davison Rockefeller Sr. was a renowned American industrialist and philanthropist. Born into a modest family, he worked his way up to become one of the wealthiest persons in modern history. He began his career as an assistant bookkeeper at the age of 16. By the age of 20, he had ventured into his own business with partner Maurice B. Clark. Recognizing the potential of the commercial oil business, John and Maurice invested in a refinery in Cleveland, Ohio in 1863. In 1870, he established the ‘Standard Oil Company,’ which within a decade almost monopolized and controlled 90% of the U.S. refineries and pipelines. The demand for kerosene and gasoline constantly increased among the masses and he became the richest person in the country. He had his fair share of criticism as well. He was accused of engaging in unethical business practices, such as acquiring pipelines and forest areas to prevent his competitors from excelling. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court found ‘Standard Oil’ in violation of the ‘Sherman Antitrust Act’ and ordered its dissolution. After his retirement, he became an active philanthropist and donated generously to the church, educational institutions, public health causes, and medical research. During his lifetime, he donated more than $500 million to various charitable causes.

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Quick Facts

Also Known As: John Davison Rockefeller Sr.

Died At Age: 97

Family:

Spouse/Ex-: Laura Spelman Rockefeller (m. 1864–1915), Laura Spelman Rockefeller (m. 1864–1915)

father: William Rockefeller Sr.

mother: Eliza Davison

siblings: Clorinda Rockefeller, Cornelia Rockefeller, Francis Rockefeller, Frank Rockefeller, Lucy Rockefeller Briggs, Mary Ann Rockefeller, William Rockefeller

children: Alice Rockefeller, Alta Rockefeller Prentice, Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Elizabeth Rockefeller Strong, John D. Rockefeller Jr.

Born Country: United States

Oil Barons American Men

Died on: May 23, 1937

place of death: Ormond Beach, Florida, United States

Personality: ESTJ

Cause of Death: Arteriosclerosis

Ancestry: British American, German American

U.S. State: New Yorkers

Founder/Co-Founder: Standard Oil Company

  • 1

    What industries did John D. Rockefeller dominate?

    John D. Rockefeller dominated the oil industry through his company, Standard Oil, which controlled over 90% of oil refineries in the United States at its peak.

  • 2

    How did John D. Rockefeller's business practices impact the economy?

    Rockefeller's aggressive business tactics, such as undercutting prices and acquiring competitors, led to concerns about monopolistic practices and eventually resulted in the breakup of Standard Oil under antitrust laws.

  • 3

    What philanthropic efforts was John D. Rockefeller known for?

    Rockefeller was a prominent philanthropist who donated large sums of money to various causes, including education, public health, and scientific research. His foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, continues to support charitable endeavors worldwide.

  • 4

    What role did John D. Rockefeller play in shaping the modern oil industry?

    Rockefeller's innovative business strategies, such as vertical integration and the use of pipelines for transportation, revolutionized the oil industry and laid the foundation for modern oil production and distribution methods.

  • 5

    What legacy did John D. Rockefeller leave behind in the business world?

    Rockefeller's legacy in the business world is complex, with some praising his entrepreneurial acumen and contributions to industry efficiency, while others criticize his monopolistic practices and their impact on competition and regulation.

Childhood & Early Life

John D. Rockefeller was born on 8 July 1839, in Richford, New York, USA, to William Avery Rockefeller and Eliza Davison. His father was of English and German descent, while his mother was of Scots-Irish ancestry. He was the second of six children and the eldest son in the family.

His father was a traveling salesman who seldom visited his family. He was infamous for his dubious activities and loose morality. His mother, on the other hand, was a pious housewife who struggled to preserve normalcy at home. As a child, John helped his mother with regular household chores and did odd jobs to earn extra money.

In 1851, the family moved to Owego where he attended the ‘Owego Academy.’ In 1853, the family moved to Strongsville where he attended ‘Cleveland's Central High School.’

He then pursued a short business course in bookkeeping at ‘Folsom's Commercial College.’ Despite the difficulties at home, he was an obedient, somber, and studious boy.

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Career

At the age of 16 in September 1855, John D. Rockefeller landed his first job as an assistant bookkeeper with ‘Hewitt & Tuttle,’ commission merchants and produce shippers. He impressed his employers with his skill at calculating transportation costs.

In 1859, at the age of 20, he ventured into private business with his partner Maurice B. Clark, and together they raised $4,000 in capital. The business flourished steadily and by the end of the first year, it had grossed $450,000.

A gifted entrepreneur, he soon sensed a lucrative business opportunity in commercial oil. In 1863, the partners invested in an oil refinery near Cleveland, Ohio, directly owned by ‘Andrews, Clark & Company’ (composed of Clark, Rockefeller, chemist Samuel Andrews, and Clark's two brothers). Within two years, it became the largest refinery in the area.

In February 1865, he bought out the Clark brothers at an auction for $72,500 and established the firm ‘Rockefeller & Andrews.’ He adapted swiftly to capitalize on the rapidly growing industry.

In 1866, his brother William Rockefeller Jr. built another refinery in Cleveland, making him a partner. In 1867, Henry M. Flagler joined as a partner, and the firm ‘Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler’ was established.

By 1868, the company owned two Cleveland refineries and a marketing subsidiary in New York. It became the largest oil refinery in the world and laid the foundation for ‘Standard Oil Company.’

In January 1870, John Rockefeller dissolved the partnership of ‘Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler,’ and formed the ‘Standard Oil of Ohio.’ Soon it became the largest shipper of oil and kerosene in the country.

He continued buying rival refiners; by 1872, ‘Standard Oil’ had taken over 22 of its 26 Cleveland opponents. Charles Pratt and Henry H. Rogers, owners of a major New York refinery, Pratt and Company became his partners. Rogers became one of the key members in the formation of the ‘Standard Oil Trust’ and Pratt's son, Charles Millard Pratt, became its Secretary.

Gradually, ‘Standard Oil’ developed over 300 oil-based products to increase its market penetration. By the end of the decade, the company had attained a near monopoly of the oil business in the U.S. and Rockefeller had become a millionaire.

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Using its industrial strength, ‘Standard’ made profitable deals with the railroads to ship its oil. It acquired pipelines and terminals, establishing a transport system for its own goods. In addition, it also purchased thousands of acres of forest to prevent rivals from operating their own pipelines. Rockefeller was accused of monopolizing the oil trade.

In 1882, the ‘Standard Oil Trust’ was established to consolidate the various holdings of the company. Rockefeller and eight other trustees controlled the 41 companies in the trust whose assets included 20,000 domestic wells, 4,000 miles of pipeline, 5,000 tank cars, and over 100,000 employees.

Over time, ‘Standard Oil’ adapted to the changing market demands. It ventured into the European market, expanded into natural gas production in the U.S., and supplied gasoline for automobiles.

Eventually, the public and the U.S. Congress got wary of Standard Oil’s monopolistic business practices. ‘The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890’ and the verdict of the Ohio Supreme Court in 1892 resulted in the dissolution of the trust. Nevertheless, the overall hierarchy of ‘Standard’ remained in place.

Rockefeller later ventured into iron ore and ore transportation, resulting in a clash with steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie. He also acquired leases for crude oil production in Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia. In 1895, at the age of 56, he retired from the daily operations of the business.

In 1909, New Jersey allowed the trust to be re-created in the form of a single holding company. Rockefeller retained his nominal title as president and kept his stock. In 1911, the Supreme Court of the U.S. found the company in violation of the ‘Sherman Antitrust Act.’

As a result, the ‘Standard Oil Company’ was broken up into 34 new companies. Rockefeller held over 25% of its stock at the time of its breakup. All the stockholders received fair shares in each of the 34 companies. Over the next decade, the companies' combined net worth increased manifold and Rockefeller’s personal wealth reached $900 million.

Major Works

John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest industrialists in the U.S. He founded the ‘Standard Oil Company,’ which almost monopolized the oil industry in the U.S. and made him a billionaire. The company was one of the world's first and largest multinational corporations. He also established numerous philanthropic charities through which he donated several hundred million dollars.

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Philanthropic Works

John D. Rockefeller was also a renowned philanthropist. Most of his charity went to the church. He also donated to educational institutions, public health causes, medical science research, etc.

He donated $80 million to the ‘University of Chicago,’ converting it into a top-notch institution. He also founded the ‘Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research’ and established the ‘Rockefeller Foundation.’ In his lifetime, he donated over $500 million.

Personal Life & Legacy

When he was a young boy, Rockefeller enjoyed music and even considered making a career out of it. He also exhibited excellent skills with numbers and detailed accounting.

In 1864, he married Laura Celestia Spelman (1839–1915), daughter of Harvey Buell Spelman and Lucy Henry. They had four daughters and a son.

He was a devoted Baptist; he would read the Bible regularly and attend prayer meetings twice a week.

He died on 23 May 1937 of arteriosclerosis at his home in Ormond Beach, Florida. His body was buried at ‘Lake View Cemetery’ in Cleveland.

Facts About John D. Rockefeller

Rockefeller was known to have a frugal lifestyle despite his immense wealth. He would reportedly carry around a pocket-sized notebook to jot down expenses and ensure he stayed within budget.

Rockefeller was a devoted family man and was known to write daily letters to his children, offering them advice and guidance on various aspects of life.

Despite being a successful businessman, Rockefeller had a passion for music and would often play the violin to relax and unwind.

Rockefeller was a strong advocate for education and donated large sums of money to establish institutions such as the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University to promote learning and research.

Rockefeller had a keen interest in philanthropy and believed in giving back to society. His charitable endeavors led to the establishment of the Rockefeller Foundation, which continues to support various causes worldwide.

See the events in life of John D. Rockefeller in Chronological Order

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- John D. Rockefeller Biography
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