John D. Rockefeller: Oil Tycoon, Robber Baron and Philanthropist

John D. Rockefeller 1885

John D. Rockefeller, born July 8th 1839 was an oil tycoon, investor, philanthropist and to many a robber barron. He created Standard Oil, revolutionized the petroleum industry and created the structure of modern philanthropy.  As gasoline became more important to America, Rockefeller’s wealth grew to the point where he became the world’s riches man and the first American to earn more than a billion dollars. He is often regarded as the richest man in history. Rockefeller’s net worth was $663.4 Billion.

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Rockefeller aggressively ran Standard Oil for 27years until his retirement in 1897. His business partnership in Standard Oil began with his brother William, Henry Flagler, Samuel Andrews, Stephen Hardness and Jabez Bostwick in Ohio. Rockefeller was called a robber barron because at one point, Standard Oil had almost complete control of oil refining in the United States. Standard Oil monopolized the industry by buying all components needed for manufacturing oil barrels; this prohibited his competition from getting their product to the market. Additionally, Standard Oil cut its rates so low that it undercut its competitors. Other companies could not keep up with the low rates and went out of business.

Rockefeller was born in Richford, New York was one of six children. His father William was first a lumberman and then a traveling salesman. William was not a conventional father and was often away from home. He gained a reputation for shady business dealings. He cheated on his wife and at one point was a bigamist.  Rockefeller’s mother, Eliza kept the family together. She was a devout Baptist. Thrifty by nature she taught John and his siblings to save and the value of hard work. In 1864, Rockefeller married Laura Celestia Spelman and they had four daughters and one son. Rockefeller was a devout Baptist and gave 10% tithe to his church. He also taught Sunday school at the Erie Street Baptist Missionary Church and was a trustee and clerk of the church. He also provided janitorial services for the church at one time. Rockefeller adhered to abstinence from alcohol and tobacco throughout his life.

For 40 years after his retirement he devoted his life to philanthropic endeavors. Rockefeller created enormous amounts of wealth and he gave a lot of money about to charities. He founded the University of Chicago, Rockefeller University and was a major donor to African-American institution Spelman College (named after his in-laws who were abolitionists). He was a big proponent of medical research, education and science. His generosity helped eliminate yellow fever and hook worms. He founded Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission. He believed in educating the poor and founded the General Education Board in 1903, which was meant to give everyone the equal opportunity to learn.

Rockefeller died of arteriosclerosis in 1937, just two months shy of his 98th birthday.

Quote by John D. Rockefeller in an interview with William Hoster:
I believe the power to make money is a gift of God … to be developed and used to the best of our ability for the good of mankind. Having been endowed with the gift I possess, I believe it is my duty to make money and still more money and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow man according to the dictates of my conscience.