Rockefeller created a near monopoly of the oil industry with the Standard Oil Company and established the model for philanthropic foundations. Monopoly charges brought by the U.S. government and supported by a 1911 U.S. Supreme Court decision forced the breakup of Standard Oil.
John D. Rockefeller was born into a French Huguenot family that in the seventeenth century fled to Germany, where they changed the spelling of their last name from Roquefeuilles to Rockefeller. The Rockefellers emigrated to Philadelphia in 1723 and eventually settled in Richford in upstate New York. Rockefeller’s father was frequently absent, and the family suffered both poverty and squalor. At the age of seven, John D. Rockefeller was already contributing to the family income. Under the puritanical upbringing of his mother, he learned the virtues of thrift, self-reliance, hard work, and enterprise. The young Rockefeller quickly established goals and pursued them to successful completion. His mother’s altruism is usually given as the probable origin of Rockefeller’s later
The militant evangelicalism of 1820’s New York influenced Rockefeller to oppose smoking, dancing, playing cards or billiards, attending the theater, and doing business on Sunday. As a Christian soldier against temptation, Rockefeller was committed to personal self-improvement, the quest for perfection, and respect for women. His father’s failure to provide an adequate income and his later legal difficulties forced the family to make periodic moves, finally settling near Cleveland, Ohio, where John D. Rockefeller was employed as a collection agent for a rental property. By this time, he had learned that in a rapidly industrializing America, one could run a business both in complete disregard and in violation of governmental rules without penalty.
As Cleveland was a major refining center in the United States, Rockefeller directed his business acumen to the oil industry. By 1870, he had created the
John D. Rockefeller.
Rockefeller successfully escaped federal investigations until Theodore Roosevelt’s assumption of the presidency. Roosevelt’s progressive
Rockefeller resigned as the head of the Standard Oil Company after the Supreme Court decision. Although he accepted the court verdict, it is doubtful that he forgot the drubbing his public image took. Rockefeller, never a man to reveal his true feelings, retired from the business world but proceeded to engage in philanthropic pursuits, establishing the model future charitable foundations would follow to both distribute and make money.
Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. New York: Random House, 1998. Nevins, Allan. John D. Rockefeller, Industrialist and Philanthropist. Norwalk, Conn.: Easton Press, 1989. Weinberg, Steve. Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D. Rockefeller. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008.
J. Paul Getty
Panic of 1907
Sherman Antitrust Act
Standard Oil Company