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John D. Rockefeller: Life and Career

Kayla Aston Mrs. Findley

AP US History11 January 2017

John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller was born on July 8th, 1839 in Richford, New York. He died on May 23rd, 1937 in Ormond Beach, Florida. Rockefeller married Laura Spelman, with whom he had his two sons; Nelson and John Jr. Also, he took a singular college course in business before dropping out, which he did in high school, at Folsom Mercantile College. The first enterprise Rockefeller started focused on hay, grains, meats, and other goods and was founded in 1853. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1863, which grew exponentially. Rockefeller was incredibly competitive, and actively worked towards running competing companies out of business. Rockefeller owned iron mines and timberland and invested in numerous companies in manufacturing, transportation, and other industries. Although he held the title of president of Standard Oil until 1911, Rockefeller retired from active leadership of the company in 1896.

In 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court found the Standard Oil trust to be in violation of the anti-trust laws and ordered the dissolution of the New Jersey corporation. During the 1850s, he made regular contributions to the Baptist church, and by the time he was 21, he was giving not only to his own but to other denominations, as well as to a foreign Sunday school and an African-American church. Support of religious institutions and African-American education remained among his foremost philanthropic interests throughout his life. Rockefeller helped finance the University of Chicago. Rockefeller offered to give $600,000 of the first $1 million for endowment, provided the remaining $400,000 was pledged by others within 90 days. In 1901 he founded the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now The Rockefeller University) for the purpose of discovering the causes, manner of prevention, and the cure of disease. From its laboratories have come cures for diseases, and new knowledge and scientific techniques which have helped to revolutionize medicine, biology, biochemistry, biophysics and other scientific disciplines. In 1902 Rockefeller established the General Education Board (GEB) for the “promotion of education within the United States of America without the distinction of race, sex or creed.”

In its active years between 1902 and 1965, the GEB distributed $325 million for the improvement of education at all levels, with emphasis upon higher education, including medical schools. In 1909 Rockefeller combined his special interest in the South and his interest in public health with the creation of the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm Disease. Its purpose was “to bring about a cooperative movement of the medical profession, public health officials, boards of trade, churches, schools, the press, and other agencies for the cure and prevention of hookworm disease,” which was especially devastating in the South. In 1913 Rockefeller established the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) to “promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.” In keeping with this broad commitment, the Foundation through the years has given important assistance to public health, medical education, increasing food production, scientific advancement, social research, the arts, and other fields all over the world. Rockefeller was very influenced by his religion, especially when it came to giving to charity. He was a devout Baptist, and his loyalty to his religion drove the path for his decisions, and thereby, his success.

At the age of 16, John D. Rockefeller landed his first job as an assistant bookkeeper with Hewitt & Tuttle, commission merchants and produce shippers. He impressed his employers with his skill at calculating transportation costs. This first job showed his potential as a businessman, and encouraged him to take it further. In 1859, at the age of 20, he ventured into private business with a partner, Maurice B. Clark, and together they raised $4,000 in capital. The business flourished steadily and by the end of the first year, it had grossed $450,000. A gifted entrepreneur, he soon sensed a business opportunity in commercial oil. In 1863, the partners invested in an oil refinery near Cleveland, Ohio, directly owned by Andrews, Clark & Company (composed of Clark, Rockefeller, chemist Samuel Andrews, and Clark’s two brothers). Within two years, it became the largest refinery in the area. In 1866, his brother William Rockefeller Jr. built another refinery in Cleveland, making him a partner.

In 1867, Henry M. Flagler joined as a partner, and the firm of Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler was established. Rockefeller’s partners in his business influenced him greatly throughout his life. The Gilded Age was a time of social reform; from small businesses to large scale corporations. For many, this period in time seemed shiny from the outside, however is was corrupt beneath the surface. Rockefeller started a small business, used his partners to expand it, then bought their shares out from under them. However, he also donated millions to charity, making him a perfect representation of the Gilded Age. Rockefeller achieved success through intelligent business tactics, however because of those tactics others fell through the cracks. The Gilded Age is perfectly represented by John D. Rockefeller due to his business successes and methods. Rockefeller is commonly referred to as the richest man in American history. Due to his founding of the Standard Oil Company, he revolutionized oil sales worldwide and changed the way America would function forever. Also, Rockefeller changed the face of business through his tactics and economic prowess.


The Editors of Encyclop?dia Britannica.“John D. Rockefeller.” Encyclop?dia Britannica, Encyclop?dia Britannica, inc., 2 May 2017,

Rockefeller Archive Center. “JDR Sr. Biographical Sketch.” The Rockefeller Archive Center, Feb. 1963,

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Digital History,

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