Saturday April 13, 2024



John Davison Rockefeller

February 5, 2023

John Davison Rockefeller was an American industrialist and philanthropist who founded the Standard Oil Company, which dominated the oil industry and was the first great business trust in the United States.


Early Life

John D. Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839, in Ormond Beach, Florida, as the eldest son and second of six children to travelling physician and snake-oil salesman William Avery Rockefeller and Eliza Davison Rockefeller. He moved to Moravia, New York, with his family, and then to Oswego, New York, in 1851, where he attended Oswego Academy. 

In 1853, they were relocated to Strongsville, a town near Cleveland, Ohio. Six years later, after attending and later dropping out of Cleveland’s Central High School, taking a single business class at Folsom Mercantile College, and working as a bookkeeper, John D. Rockefeller established his first enterprise.


Standard Oil

In 1859, Rockefeller went into the produce commission business with a partner, Maurice B. Clark, and they raised $4,000 in capital. In their first and second years of business, Clark & Rockefeller netted $4,400 and $17,000 worth of profit, respectively. 

After sensing the commercial potential of the expanding oil production in western Pennsylvania, Rockefeller built his first oil refinery near Cleveland in 1863. It became the largest oil refinery in the area within two years. 

The refinery was directly owned by Andrews, Clark & Company, which was composed of Clark & Rockefeller, Samuel Andrews, and M. B. Clark's two brothers. While other refineries would keep the 60% of oil product that became kerosene, but dump the other 40% in rivers and massive sludge piles, Rockefeller used the gasoline to fuel the refinery and sold the rest as lubricating oil, petroleum jelly, paraffin wax, and other by-products. Tar was used for paving, and naphtha was shipped to gas plants. In 1866, William Rockefeller Jr., John's brother, built another refinery in Cleveland and brought John into the partnership. In 1867, Henry Morrison Flagler became a partner, and the firm of Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler was established. 

In 1870, Rockefeller and a few associates, a group that included American financier Henry M. Flagler, incorporated the Standard Oil Company (Ohio). Because of Rockefeller’s emphasis on economical operations, Standard prospered and began to buy out its competitors until, by 1872, it controlled nearly all the refineries in Cleveland. 


John D. Rockefeller in 1972
John D. Rockefeller in 1972


It acquired pipelines and terminal facilities, purchased competing refineries in other cities, and vigorously sought to expand its markets in the United States and abroad. 

Although it always had hundreds of competitors, Standard Oil gradually gained dominance in oil refining, ending up with about 90% of the US market. 

In 1882, Rockefeller's lawyers created an innovative form of corporation to centralise their holdings, giving birth to the Standard Oil Trust. 

The company's vast American empire included 20,000 domestic wells, 4,000 miles of pipeline, 5,000 tank cars, and over 100,000 employees. 

Although 85% of world crude oil production was still coming from Pennsylvania in the 1880s, oil from wells drilled in Russia and Asia began to reach the world market. 

In the 1890s, Rockefeller expanded into iron ore and ore transportation, forcing a collision with steel magnate Andrew Carnegie.  

In 1892 the Ohio Supreme Court held that the Standard Oil Trust was a monopoly in violation of an Ohio law prohibiting monopolies. Rockefeller evaded the decision by dissolving the trust and transferring its properties to companies in other states. 

In 1899, these companies were brought back together in a holding company, Standard Oil Company (New Jersey), which existed until 1911, when the U.S. Supreme Court declared it in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act and therefore illegal. 

One of the most effective attacks on Rockefeller and his firm was the 1904 publication of The History of the Standard Oil Company by Ida Tarbell

In 1911, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil Company of New Jersey had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.


Personal Life

In 1864, Rockefeller married Laura Celestia Cettie Spelman (1839–1915), the daughter of Harvey Buell Spelman and Lucy Henry. They had four daughters and one son together. They were; 

• Elizabeth Bessie Rockefeller(August 23, 1866 – November 14, 1906) 

• Alice Rockefeller (July 14, 1869 – August 20, 1870) 

• Alta Rockefeller (April 12, 1871 – June 21, 1962) 

• Edith Rockefeller (August 31, 1872 – August 25, 1932) 

• John Davisn Rockefeller Jr. (January 29, 1874 – May 11, 1960) 

In 1884, Rockefeller provided major funding for the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary in Atlanta for African-American women, which became Spelman College.  

Rockefeller gave $80 million to the University of Chicago under William Rainey Harper, turning a small Baptist college into a world-class institution by 1900. 

Rockefeller's General Education Board was established in 1903 to promote education at all levels throughout the country. He established the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City in 1901. After expanding its mission to include graduate education, it changed its name to Rockefeller University in 1965.

In his 50s Rockefeller suffered from moderate depression and digestive troubles; during a stressful period in the 1890s, he developed alopecia, the loss of some or all body hair. 

Rockefeller died of arteriosclerosis on May 23, 1937, less than two months shy of his 98th birthday, at "The Casements,", his home in Ormond Beach, Florida. He was buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.




In 1902, an audit showed Rockefeller was worth about $200 million, compared to the total national GDP of $24 billion then. His personal wealth was $900 million in 1913, worth $23.5 billion adjusted for inflation in 2020.

By the time of his death in 1937, Rockefeller's remaining fortune, largely tied up in permanent family trusts, was estimated at $1.4 billion, while the total national GDP was $92 billion.

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April 13, 2024