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John D. Rockefeller

Biography >> Entrepreneurs
Portrait of John D. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller
Source: Rockefeller Archive Center


Where did John D. Rockefeller grow up?

John Davison Rockefeller was born on a farm in Richford, New York on July 8, 1839. His father, William, (also known as "Big Bill") traveled a lot and was known to be involved in shady business deals. John was closer to his mother, Eliza, who took care of the family's six children.

John was a serious boy. Being the oldest son, he took it upon himself to help his mother while his father was traveling. He considered it his responsibility. From his mother, John learned about discipline and hard work.

In 1853, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio. John attended high school in Cleveland where he excelled in math, music, and debate. He had planned to attend college upon graduation, but his father insisted that he get a job to help support the family. To prepare himself, John took a short business course in bookkeeping at the local commercial college.

Early Career

At the age of sixteen, John took his first full-time job as a bookkeeper. He enjoyed the job and tried to learn all he could about the business. John soon decided that he knew enough to start his own business. In 1859, he started a produce business with his friend Maurice Clark. With John's sharp eye for numbers and making a profit, the business was a success in the first year.

Starting an Oil Business

In 1863, Rockefeller decided to enter a new business. Back then, oil was used in lamps to light up rooms at night. The main type of oil was whale oil. However, whales were getting overhunted and whale oil was getting more and more expensive to get. Rockefeller decided to invest in a new type of fuel for lamps called kerosene. Kerosene was made in a refinery from oil that was drilled out of the Earth. Rockefeller and Clark started their own oil refinery business. In 1865, Rockefeller bought out Clark for $72,500 and formed an oil company called Rockefeller and Andrews.

Rockefeller used his business expertise to grow his oil business and to keep it making money. He controlled costs and reinvested the money he made back into his business. He soon had the largest oil refinery business in Cleveland and one of the biggest in the United States.

Standard Oil

Rockefeller formed another company called Standard Oil in 1870. He wanted to take over the oil refinery business. One by one he began to buy out his competitors. After he bought their refinery, he would make improvements, making the refinery more efficient and profitable. In many cases, he would tell his competitors they could either sell out to him for a good price, or he would simply run them out of business. Most of his competitors decided to sell to him.


Rockefeller wanted to control all of the oil business in the world. If he did that, he would have a monopoly on the business and no competition. Not only did he control the oil refinery business, he began to invest in other aspects of the business such as oil pipelines, timberland, iron mines, train cars, barrel making factories, and delivery trucks. Standard Oil also made hundreds of products from oil including paint, tar, and glue. By the 1880s, Standard Oil refined around 90 percent of the world's oil. In 1882, Rockefeller formed the Standard Oil Trust which put all of his companies in many different states under one management. The trust was worth around $70 million and was the largest company in the world.

Many people began to feel that Standard Oil's monopoly on the oil business was unfair. States began to issues laws to try to increase competition and reduce Standard Oil's power, but they didn't really work. In 1890, the Sherman Antitrust Act was passed by the U.S. government to prevent monopolies from unfair business practices. It took around 20 years, but in 1911, the company was found in violation of the antitrust laws and was divided up into a number of different companies.

Was Rockefeller the richest man ever?

In 1916, John D. Rockefeller became the world's first billionaire. Even though he was retired, his investments and wealth continued to grow. It is estimated that in today's money he was worth around $350 billion. Many historians believe that makes him the richest man in the history of the world.


Not only was Rockefeller rich, in his later life he was very generous with his money. He became one of the world's greatest philanthropists, meaning he gave away his money in order to do good in the world. He donated to medical research, education, science, and the arts. In total he gave away around $540 million of his wealth to charity. He was arguably the largest charitable giver in world history.

Death and Legacy

Rockefeller died on May 23, 1937 from arteriosclerosis. He was 97 years old. His legacy has lived on through his charitable giving and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Interesting Facts about John D. Rockefeller Activities

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