Rockefeller: from America’s most hated to America’s greatest donor

America’s first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller, formerly known as a robber baron, philanthropist and even the founder of the American middle class, was responsible for the development of this nation as a great industrial power. Experts like Patrick Dwyer agree upon the fact that his story is uniquely a depiction of the history of development in the United States.

Standard Oil Station_american financial titan_John D. Rockefeller_patrick dwyer merrill lynch
Image courtesy of Alexander Rabb at

Born in New York back in 1839, John D. Rockefeller did not have an easy early life — not even an easy childhood —: his story is the one of a man who started from the bottom and made a name for himself throughout the years. Influenced by his mother and her Christian background, Rockefeller would always point out that a man should always strive to achieve success by his own — with his own effort and intelligence. Rockefeller’s mother also taught him the virtue of the spoken word and the silence: Rockefeller used to be a depiction of the dedicated and quiet man that often characterizes the greatest men in the corporate world. He would not say much, but the necessary, as he once quoted: “My mother taught me that words can either help you or damage you, so does the silence. And this was also applicable to the business world”.

Rockefeller embraced this message and guided his own life. Deeply religious, he was a firm believer of the spiritual law that states: “Give and it shall be given unto you”, therefore, Rockefeller, from his early days to his dying day, always donated a portion of his income to charity.

His most remarkable donation to the industry was kerosene — cheap and affordable kerosene —. Before the funding of his company Standard Oil, people would light their homes with candles and would heat them with either coal. Rockefeller’s development, the kerosene, not only was much better, but also brighter and warmer than candles and coal. As he once quoted in 1885: “We are refining oil for the poor man and he must have it cheap and good”. He also left a legacy on how to run a business: Rockefeller would not ignore a single detail regarding his businesses. He would look at every detail with the goal of saving the customer’s money. He would also pay his employees well and rarely had labor problems. He reportedly would reward his engineers and chemists for their findings on how to get more kerosene out of a single barrel of oil. He was also an environmentalist — not only the greatest environmentalist of his age but the ultimate recycler —: other refineries would spill generous amounts of waste into the rivers, thing that would repulse Rockefeller. He believed there was a specific use for every single particle of oil. He determined himself to find out other uses for the waste once the kerosene had been removed. Thus, his team of engineers and chemists managed to find uses for the remaining components: gasoline as fuel tars for paving and other byproducts.

Imagine how hard it would have been for the automobile industry to come into existence without his legacy and the availability of cheap oil. He kind of teamed up with Henry Ford and his Model T by having the gas ready for it to work.

John D. Rockefeller also helped to create the middle class by having millions of Americans working in the oil related industry by the early decades of the last century. As he once stated: “We saw the vast possibilities of the oil industry stood at the center of it and brought our knowledge and imagination and business experience to bear in a dozen twenty in thirty directions”.

As a renowned philanthropist, Rockefeller supported several missions across the world, he would also support churches and different causes across the United States including colleges like the University of Chicago. He gave millions to medical research as well. After his death, he had given away US 550.000.000 to charity, more than any other American to ever live.

This business giant, just like other fellow American billionaires, continued to work until the passed away. He died in Florida at age 97 and the fortune, the one he donated, helped to shape America. Often seen as a greedy robber baron, it is important to mention that Rockefeller, since his first job, always donated a portion of his income: from the Baptist church he used to visit several churches. Moreover, as stated, he founded the Medical Investigations Institute — later went on to become a university —. He also disregarded any racial prejudice and went on to support black minorities by giving them access to education. He also looked after the poor by giving them access to health.

Charity_american financial titan_John D. Rockefeller_patrick dwyer merrill lynch
Image courtesy of Thomas Hawk at

If America should learn one thing out of all the knowledge he left behind, it is that, as he stated near his death, that: “If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it”. Instead, help those around you: give so that is given unto you.


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