What made John D. Rockefeller a legacy in and out of the business world?

John D. Rockefeller was considered one of the titans of his time, becoming one of the wealthiest men in the world after founding the Standard Oil Company. He was also recognized as one of the leading philanthropists of his time donating almost $500 million to various causes. Unfortunately, his methods were not praised, to the point Standard Oil Company was ordered to dissolve due to being held in violation of of antitrust laws. Despite this, he is still renowned for his work in and out of the oil industry.

How it all started?

He was born into a modest family in on July 8, 1839, in Richford, New York. Even at a young age Rockefeller was ingenious and crafty at creating new businesses and generating income for him and his family. He earned money by raising turkeys, selling candy and helping out around the neighborhood. In 1853, John and his family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio, where he finished up his high school years and briefly studied bookkeeping. At the early age of 16, he started what would later be known as his “job day” that he celebrated annually. This first job was as an office clerk at a Cleveland commission firm that bought, sold and shipped grain, coal and other commodities. In 1859 he partnered up with Maurice B. Clark and started his own produce commission, from which they raised $4,000 in capital.  This would be the beginning of an empire in which Rockefeller would always make money in his career from then on. In 1863, Rockefeller and a few partners ventured into the oil industry with an oil refinery located in “The Flats”, Cleveland’s industrial area. As the oil industry boomed in Pennsylvania, Rockefeller who was known for his keen eye in business, partly thanks to his father who believed in keeping his sons sharp by teaching them the tricks of the trade, took this as a sign to venture in and start big in the oil industry.

He later married Laura Celestia Spelman, and they had four daughters and one son. Laura’s father was a prestigious merchant, politician and abolitionist active in the Underground Railroad. Rockefeller helped finance a historically black woman’s college in Atlanta Georgia, which today bears Laura Rockefeller’s name.

John D. Rockefeller and his wife_patrick dwyer
Image courtesy of Boston Public Library at Flickr.com

The beginning and end of Standard Oil

With the largest refinery in Cleveland, Rockefeller decided to take out a loan and buy out his partners in 1865. He expanded his business and took on new partners, until finally in 1870 he formed Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Standard Oil would quickly expand and grow to the point of controlling 90 percent of the country’s refineries and pipelines. It basically bought rival refineries and developed companies for distributing and marketing its products around the world. This is how Standard Oil was able to take part in every part of its production process from building its own oil barrels to employing scientists to research new uses for petroleum. With his ever-growing empire he became a target for the journalists of the time. In the word of The New York Times that reported in 1937 that “He was accused of crushing out competition, getting rich on rebates from railroads, bribing men to spy on competing companies, of making secret agreements, of coercing rivals to join the Standard Oil Company under threat of being forced out of business, building up enormous fortunes on the ruins of other men, and so on.”

It was no surprise when a few years later the Supreme Court got involved and used the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was passed by congress in 1890. The act stated that the federal legislation prohibited trusts and combinations that restrained trade. In 1892 the Ohio Supreme Court dissolved the Standard Oil Trust. Nonetheless many of the businesses within the trust soon become part of Standard Oil of New Jersey, which was managed as a holding company. In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Standard Oil of New Jersey was also in violation of antitrust laws and it was dismantled and broken up into more than 30 individual companies. Rockefeller, as well as the other partners, received shares in the 34 companies, which would in the end prove to be quite profitable for him and his family.


John D. Rockefeller
Image courtesy of Alan Wu at Flickr.com

Last years and his philanthropy work

John D. Rockefeller besides being the first billionaire in the world, a financial titan and business leader of his time, also lead the path to some incredible work all across America. He paved the way for a few universities, including the University of Chicago (1892) and Rockefeller University. Assisted by his only son he continues his philanthropic endeavors until his death on May 23, 1937. His son continued his work donating to different causes like the Lincoln Center of Performing Arts in New York City, United Service Organizations, the construction of the United Nations headquarters in New York, among others.


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