John D. Rockefeller’s Amazing Biography – How He Got Rich

John Davison Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in the world. John started from scratch as he was born on 8 July 1839, in Richford, NewYork, into a family with modest earnings. He was the second to the eldest child. William Avery Rockefeller, his father, had a farm and used the product for trading. His mother, Eliza Davison, was very strict in terms of raising them up. It is very dissimilar to his happy-go-lucky father. In 1853, his family migrated to Cleveland, Ohio after residing in Oswego, New York for many years. John finished his secondary education in Ohio. He was excellent in mathematics. At an early age, he started selling sweets to the children in his hometown. John Rockefeller went to college for only three months. Then, he had his first occupation as a clerk when he was 16 years old.

John as a Bookkeeper

In 1855, John at 16 years old, was employed as a subordinate bookkeeper in a produce commission company named Hewitt & Tuttle. He was skilled in calculations, including computation of transportation expenses. His salary was only about 50 cents per day. He was able to save $1000 from his meager earnings. With his savings, John built his own company, together with a partner, in 1859. He was 19 years old at that time. They earned $450,000, net of operating expenses, for their first year in the trading industry. Maurice Clark, his partner, was assigned to do fieldwork while Rockefeller took care of the paperwork, administration, accounting, and coordination with the bankers.

John D. Rockfeller in 1885

John D. Rockefeller in 1885, source: The Rockefeller Archive Center

Business Expansion

Rockefeller excelled in administration and methodology. Throughout the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, their company flourished amidst the conflict between the Confederates, representing the South, and the Union, representing the Northern forces. In 1859, Clark and Rockefeller explored the possibility of investing in oil refining together with Samuel Andrews during the oil strike in Pennsylvania. Andrews was also good in the field of methodology. After two years, Maurice Clark left the company. The company was left to the care of Rockefeller and Andrews, and grew to be the biggest oil refinery in Cleveland.
John Rockefeller’s astute leadership helped the company survive the oil industry crisis with the help of S.V. Harkness and Henry M. Flagler. John opened his Standard Oil Company in 1870 in Ohio. It controlled one-tenth of the refining companies in America. To be able to expand and dominate the oil industry, he acquired the majority ownership of the refining companies in Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia. He developed modern ways of transporting oil such as using the railroad tank car and using a pipeline. In 1879, he was able to control 90 percent of oil refineries. The Standard Oil Company also had its own facilities, warehouses, tank car fleet, ship, and porting facilities.

A tremendous financial catastrophe, the Panic of 1873, made Rockefeller worried. As he had been close to monopolizing the state’s oil industry, he clashed with the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1877 that banded with other refining companies who wanted to rupture his control over the industry. However, protesters were forced to accept defeat in the same year.


In 1895, John issued his retirement at the age of 56 from his Standard Oil Company and devoted his time to charitable activities. In 1904, a book entitled “The History of Standard Oil” written by Ida Tarbell focused on the ruthless activities in the oil industry committed by Standard Oil Company to gain control of the industry. The firm was found to be guilty of violating anti-monopoly laws and the Sherman Act. It was then forced to stop its operations and Rockefeller had no choice but to close the firm.

Charitable Deeds

John Rockefeller had a habit of giving one-tenth of his salary for charity even when he was still a clerk. As he became rich, his donations also increased. He spent his time and effort performing charitable deeds. In the early stages, he sought the advice of the Baptist Church. Then, the church requested for a university. In 1892, John established the University of Chicago. It was the first philanthropic donation of Rockefeller. Overall, he had donated a total of $80,000,000 to the university. In 1901, he had another charitable donation, the Institute of Medical Research, in New York City. It is currently known as Rockefeller University. In 1902, the General Education Board became the recipient of his third major philanthropic deed.
Throughout the life of John Rockefeller, a total of $550,000,000 was spent for charitable activities. His wealth grew exponentially and to be able to help him distribute one-tenth of his money, he enlisted a group of consultants. In 1913, he set up the Rockefeller Foundation. It aimed to diversify the well-being of all people in the world.

Personal Life

John married his wife Laura Celestia Spelman in 1864 and they were blessed with 5 children (4 daughters and 1 son). One of their daughters, Alice, died in infancy.

Illness and Death

Due to acute depression in his 50s, John Rockefeller was discovered to be suffering from alopecia. It is a condition where one’s body hair was uncontrollably falling. By 1901, all the hair on his body had gone. He used a wig when going outside.

On May 23, 1937, John died at the age of 97 due to arteriosclerosis in Ormond, Florida. His body was buried in Lake View Cemetery, which is located in Cleveland.

John Rockefeller left a legacy as one of the leading American entrepreneurs of his time and was given the full gratitude of America for helping shape the country into what it is now.

John D. Rockefeller’s Story – Video

Here is a cool video, showing the story of the first billionaire in the USA:

More Useful Resources About Rockefeller

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