John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

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John Davison Rockefeller, Sr.

Nicknames: "Standard Oil Company"
Birthdate:
Birthplace: Richford, Tioga, New York, United States
Death: Died in Ormond Beach, Volusia, Florida, United States
Place of Burial: The Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of William Avery Rockefeller, Sr. and Elizabeth "Eliza" Rockefeller (Davison)
Husband of Laura Celestia "Cettie" Rockefeller (Spelman)
Father of Elizabeth Strong; Alice Rockefeller; Alta Rockefeller; Edith Rockefeller and John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Brother of Lucy Briggs; William Avery Rockefeller, Jr.; Mary Ann Rockefeller; Frances Rockefeller and Franklin G Rockefeller
Half brother of Clorinda Rockefeller Brown and Cornelia Rockefeller

Occupation: Founder of Standard Oil
Managed by: Richard McKay Cryan
Last Updated:

About John Davison Rockefeller, Sr.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_D._Rockefeller

John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. (July 8, 1839 –May 23, 1937) was an American industrialist and philanthropist. Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry and defined the structure of modern philanthropy. In 1870, Rockefeller founded the Standard Oil Company and ran it until he retired in the late 1890s. Standard Oil began as an Ohio partnership formed by John D. Rockefeller, his brother William Rockefeller, Henry Flagler, chemist Samuel Andrews, and a silent partner Stephen V. Harkness. Rockefeller kept his stock and as gasoline grew in importance, his wealth soared and he became the world's richest man and first U.S. dollar billionaire, and is often regarded as the richest person in history.

Standard Oil was convicted in Federal Court of monopolistic practices and broken up in 1911. Rockefeller spent the last 40 years of his life in retirement. His fortune was mainly used to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy with foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research. His foundations pioneered the development of medical research, and were instrumental in the eradication of hookworm and yellow fever. He was a devoted Northern Baptist and supported many church-based institutions throughout his life.

He married Laura Celestia ("Cettie") Spelman in 1864 and outlived her. The Rockefellers had four daughters and one son; John D. Rockefeller, Jr. "Junior" was largely entrusted with the supervision of the foundations.

Early life

Rockefeller was the second of six children born to William Avery Rockefeller (November 13, 1810 - May 11, 1906) and Eliza Davison (September 12, 1813 - March 28, 1889). Genealogists trace his line back to Germany in the 1600s. His father, also referred to as "Big Bill", was a sworn foe of conventional morality who had opted for a vagabond existence. Throughout his life, William Avery Rockefeller expended considerable energy on tricks and schemes to avoid plain hard work. As Will was frequently gone for extended periods, Eliza struggled to maintain a semblance of stability at home. Young Rockefeller's contemporaries described him as articulate, methodical, and discreet.

When he was a boy, his family moved from Cleveland to Moravia and, in 1851, to Owego, where he attended Owego Academy. In 1853, his family bought a house in Strongsville, a town close to Cleveland, Ohio. When Rockefeller was 16 he got his first job as a clerk. At that time he promised when he retired he would give 1/10 of his money to charity.

Standard Oil

By the end of the Civil War, Cleveland was one of the five main refining centers in the U.S. (besides Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and the region in northwestern Pennsylvania where most of the oil originated). Eight years later, in 1873, Rockefeller formed Standard Oil of Ohio, which rapidly became the most profitable refiner in Cleveland. When it was found that at least part of Standard Oil's cost advantage came from secret rebates from the railroads bringing oil into Cleveland, the competing refiners insisted on getting similar rebates, and the railroads quickly complied. By then, however, Standard Oil had grown to become one of the largest shippers of oil and kerosene in the country.

The railroads were competing fiercely for traffic and, in an attempt to create a cartel to control freight rates, formed the South Improvement Company. Rockefeller agreed to support this cartel if they gave him preferential treatment as a high volume shipper which included not just steep rebates for his product, but also rebates for the shipment of competing products. Part of this scheme was the announcement of sharply increased freight charges. This touched off a firestorm of protest, which eventually led to the discovery of Standard Oil's part of the deal. A major New York refiner, Charles Pratt and Company, headed by Charles Pratt and Henry H. Rogers, led the opposition to this plan, and railroads soon backed off.

Undeterred, Rockefeller continued with his self-reinforcing cycle of buying competing refiners, improving the efficiency of his operations, pressing for discounts on oil shipments, undercutting his competition, and buying them out. In six weeks in 1872, Standard Oil had absorbed 22 of its 26 Cleveland competitors. Eventually, even his former antagonists, Pratt and Rogers saw the futility of continuing to compete against Standard Oil, and in 1874, they made a secret agreement with their old nemesis to be acquired. Pratt and Rogers became Rockefeller's partners. Rogers, in particular, became one of Rockefeller's key men in the formation of the Standard Oil Trust. Pratt's son, Charles Millard Pratt became Secretary of Standard Oil.

For many of his competitors, Rockefeller had merely to show them his books so they could see what they were up against, then make them a decent offer. If they refused his offer, he told them he would run them into bankruptcy, then cheaply buy up their assets at auction.

Monopoly

Standard Oil gradually gained almost complete control of oil production in United States. At that time, many legislatures had made it difficult to incorporate in one state and operate in another. As a result, Rockefeller and his partners owned separate companies across dozens of states, making their management of the whole enterprise rather unwieldy. In 1882, Rockefeller's lawyers created an innovative form of partnership to centralize their holdings, giving birth to the Standard Oil Trust. The partnership's size and wealth drew much attention. Despite improving the quality and availability of kerosene products while greatly reducing their cost to the public (the price of kerosene dropped by nearly 80% over the life of the company), Standard Oil's business practices created intense controversy. The firm was attacked by journalists and politicians throughout its existence, in part for its monopolistic practices, giving momentum to the anti-trust movement.

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, a leading muckraker. Although her work prompted a huge backlash against the company, Tarbell claims to have been surprised at its magnitude. “I never had an animus against their size and wealth, never objected to their corporate form. I was willing that they should combine and grow as big and wealthy as they could, but only by legitimate means. But they had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me.” (Tarbell's father had been driven out of the oil business during the South Improvement Company affair.)

Ohio was especially vigorous in applying its state anti-trust laws, and finally forced a separation of Standard Oil of Ohio from the rest of the company in 1892, leading to the dissolution of the trust. Rockefeller continued to consolidate his oil interests as best as he could until New Jersey, in 1899, changed its incorporation laws to effectively allow a re-creation of the trust in the form of a single holding company. At its peak, Standard Oil had about 90% of the market for kerosene products.

By 1896, Rockefeller shed all of his policy involvement in the affairs of Standard Oil; however he retained his nominal title as president until 1911; he kept his stock.

In 1911, the Supreme Court of the United States held that Standard Oil, which by then still had a 64% market share, originated in illegal monopoly practices and ordered it to be broken up into 34 new companies. These included, among many others, Continental Oil, which became Conoco; Standard of Indiana, which became Amoco; Standard of California, which became Chevron; Standard of New Jersey, which became Esso (and later, Exxon); Standard of New York, which became Mobil; and Standard of Ohio, which became Sohio. Rockefeller, who had rarely sold shares, owned stock in all of them.

Philanthropy

From his very first paycheck, Rockefeller tithed ten percent of his earnings to his church. As his wealth grew, so did his giving, primarily to educational and public health causes, but also for basic science and the arts. He was advised primarily by Frederick T. Gates after 1891, and, after 1897, also by his son. He was also advised by Swami Vivekananda to use his money for the welfare of the world.[8]

Rockefeller believed in the Efficiency Movement, arguing that:

"To help an inefficient, ill-located, unnecessary school is a waste...it is highly probable that enough money has been squandered on unwise educational projects to have built up a national system of higher education adequate to our needs, if the money had been properly directed to that end."

He and his advisors invented the conditional grant that required the recipient to "root the institution in the affections of as many people as possible who, as contributors, become personally concerned, and thereafter may be counted on to give to the institution their watchful interest and cooperation."

In 1884, he provided major funding for a college in Atlanta for black women that became Spelman College (named for Rockefeller's in-laws who were ardent abolitionists before the Civil War). The oldest existing building on Spelman's campus, Rockefeller Hall, is named after him. Rockefeller also gave considerable donations to Denison University and other Baptist colleges.

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. His General Education Board, founded in 1902, was established to promote education at all levels everywhere in the country. It was especially active in supporting black schools in the South. Its most dramatic impact came by funding the recommendations of the Flexner Report of 1910, which had been funded by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching; it revolutionized the study of medicine in the United States. Rockefeller also provided financial support to Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Brown, Bryn Mawr, Wellesley and Vassar.

Despite his personal preference for homeopathy, Rockefeller, on Gates's advice, became one of the first great benefactors of medical science. In 1901, he founded the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. It changed its name to Rockefeller University in 1965, after expanding its mission to include graduate education. It claims a connection to 23 Nobel laureates. He founded the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission in 1909, an organization that eventually eradicated the hookworm disease that had long plagued the American South. The Rockefeller Foundation was created in 1913 to continue and expand the scope of the work of the Sanitary Commission, which was closed in 1915. He gave nearly $250 million to the foundation, which focused on public health, medical training, and the arts. It endowed Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, the first of its kind. It built the Peking Union Medical College into a great institution, helped in World War I war relief, and it employed William Lyon Mackenzie King of Canada to study industrial relations. Rockefeller's fourth main philanthropy, the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation, created in 1918, supported work in the social studies; it was later absorbed into the Rockefeller Foundation. However, all told, Rockefeller gave away about $550 million.

Oddly enough, Rockefeller was probably best known in his later life for the practice of giving dimes to children wherever he went. He even gave dimes as a playful gesture to men like tire mogul Harvey Firestone and President Hoover. During the Great Depression, Rockefeller switched to giving nickels instead of dimes.

As a youth, Rockefeller allegedly said that his two great ambitions were to make $100,000 and to live 100 years. Rockefeller died of arteriosclerosis on May 23, 1937, 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.

Rockefeller had a long and controversial career in the industry followed by a long career in philanthropy. His image is an amalgam of all of these experiences and the many ways he was viewed by his contemporaries. These contemporaries include his former competitors, many of whom were driven to ruin, but many others of whom sold out at a profit (or a profitable stake in Standard Oil, as Rockefeller often offered his shares as payment for a business), and quite a few of whom became very wealthy as managers as well as owners in Standard Oil. They also include politicians and writers, some of whom served Rockefeller's interests, and some of whom built their careers by fighting Rockefeller and the "robber barons."

Biographer Allan Nevins, answering Rockefeller's enemies, concluded:

“The rise of the Standard Oil men to great wealth was not from poverty. It was not meteor-like, but accomplished over a quarter of a century by courageous venturing in a field so risky that most large capitalists avoided it, by arduous labors, and by more sagacious and farsighted planning than had been applied to any other American industry. The oil fortunes of 1894 were not larger than steel fortunes, banking fortunes, and railroad fortunes made in similar periods. But it is the assertion that the Standard magnates gained their wealth by appropriating "the property of others" that most challenges our attention. We have abundant evidence that Rockefeller's consistent policy was to offer fair terms to competitors and to buy them out, for cash, stock, or both, at fair appraisals; we have the statement of one impartial historian that Rockefeller was decidedly "more humane toward competitors" than Carnegie; we have the conclusion of another that his wealth was "the least tainted of all the great fortunes of his day."

Biographer Ron Chernow wrote of Rockefeller:

“What makes him problematic—and why he continues to inspire ambivalent reactions—-is that his good side was every bit as good as his bad side was bad. Seldom has history produced such a contradictory figure.”

Notwithstanding these varied aspects of his public life, Rockefeller may ultimately be remembered simply for the raw size of his wealth. In 1902, an audit showed Rockefeller was worth about $200 million—compared to the total national GDP of $101 billion then. His wealth continued to grow significantly (in line with US economic growth) after as the demand for gasoline soared, eventually reaching about $900 million on the eve of WW1, including significant interests in banking, shipping, mining, railroads, and other industries. 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. Rockefeller's net worth over the last decades of his life would easily place him among the very wealthiest persons in history. As a percentage of the United States economy, no other American fortune—including Bill Gates or Sam Walton—would even come close.

The Rockefeller wealth, distributed as it was through a system of foundations and trusts, continued to fund family philanthropic, commercial, and, eventually, political aspirations throughout the 20th century. Grandson David Rockefeller was a leading New York banker, serving for over 20 years as CEO of Chase Manhattan (now part of JP Morgan Chase). Another grandson, Nelson A. Rockefeller, was Republican governor of New York and the 41st Vice President of the United States. A third grandson, Winthrop Rockefeller, served as Republican Governor of Arkansas. Great-grandson, John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV is currently a Democratic Senator from West Virginia, and another, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, served ten years as Lieutenant Governor of Arkansas.

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John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s Timeline

1839
July 8, 1839
Richford, Tioga, New York, United States
1864
August 8, 1864
Age 25
1866
August 23, 1866
Age 27
Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio, United States
1869
July 14, 1869
Age 30
Cleveland, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio, USA
1871
April 12, 1871
Age 31
Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio, United States
1872
August 31, 1872
Age 33
Cleveland, Cuyahoga Co., Ohio, USA
1874
January 29, 1874
Age 34
Cleveland, Cuyahoga, Ohio, United States
1937
May 23, 1937
Age 97
Ormond Beach, Volusia, Florida, United States
????
Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, United States