Weird and amazing facts about John Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller Sr. was born in a simple wood frame house in the quiet hamlet of Richford, New York. Rockefeller and his Standard Oil would rise from his humble origins to become the richest man in the world and dominate both the industrial and philanthropic landscapes of the modern era.

And here, Patrick Dwyer shows you some weird and amazing facts about the business magnate and philanthropist, his life and legacy.

Rockefeller remained abstemious all his life

His Baptist avoidance of tobacco or alcohol made him a natural advocate of abstemious living, and he was convinced that virtuous habits were medicinal. “I enjoy the best of health,” he said in later years. “What a compensation for the loss of the theaters, the clubs, the dinners, the dissipations which ruined the health of many of my acquaintances long, long years ago. I was satisfied with cold water and skimmed milk, and enjoyed my sleep. What a pity that more men did not enjoy these simple things!”

He hired substitute soldiers to avoid Civil War combat

Rockefeller did not take up arms when the Civil War broke out in 1861, even he was a fervent abolitionist. While his youngest brother was wounded at Chancellorsville and Cedar Mountain, Rockefeller received an exemption for being the primary means of supporting his family and hired substitute soldiers in his stead, a common practice during the war. “I wanted to go in the army and do my part,” he said. “But it was simply out of the question. There was no one to take my place. We were in a new business, and if I had not stayed it must have stopped, and with so many dependent on it.”

He was known for giving dimes to adults and nickels to children

Rockefeller became well known in his later life for the practice of giving dimes to adults and nickels to children wherever he went. He even gave dimes as a playful gesture to wealthy men, such as tire mogul Harvey Firestone.

Rockefeller donated more than half a billion to various philanthropic causes

He gave 10 percent of his earnings to his church from his very first paycheck. After retiring from Standard Oil in 1897, he stepped up his philanthropy and donated more than half a billion dollars to educational, religious and scientific causes. In 1913, America’s first billionaire endowed the Rockefeller Foundation, which had the ambitious goal “to promote the wellbeing of mankind throughout the world.” The foundation contributed to achievements such as development of a yellow fever vaccine and the successful eradication of hookworm disease in the United States.

Spelman College was named by Rockefeller’s wife

He gave millions to help found the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University. And in addition, the industrialist in 1882 began to donate money to the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary. Two years later, the African-American women’s school changed its name to Spelman Seminary in honor of his wife, Laura, and her parents, Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman, who were longtime abolitionists. In 1924, the institution was renamed Spelman College.

Rockefeller suffered from alopecia and lost all hair from his body and head

Rockefeller lost all the hair from his head, his mustache and his body. The hair never grew back, and in the early 1900s the tycoon began to wear rotating wigs of various lengths to give the impression of his hair growing and being shorn.

John D. Rockefeller_american financial titanic_patrick dwyer merrill
Image courtesy of Cass Anaya at

Rockefeller lived so long that his life insurance company had to pay him $5 million

Although he didn’t celebrate birthdays with the same gusto as “job days,” Rockefeller certainly experienced many of them. His life spanned from the presidency of Martin Van Buren to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt before his death at age 97 on May 23, 1937. When Rockefeller turned 96, his insurance company was required to pay him the $5 million face value of his policy.

He celebrated the anniversary of landing his first job

On September 26, 1855, a Cleveland merchant company, Hewitt and Tuttle, hired the teenaged Rockefeller as an assistant bookkeeper. From that year forward, the corporate tycoon celebrated “job day” every September 26 to commemorate his entrance into the business world, and he considered the date more important than his birthday. “All my future seemed to hinge on that day,” he reminisced later in his life, “and I often tremble when I ask myself the question: ‘What if I had not got the job?’”

Did you like this facts about Rockefeller? Follow the link to read about Henry Ford, another Financial Titan


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