John D. Rockefeller Biography Essay

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Pages: 7

John D. Rockefeller

Thomas Williford
Senior Division
Historical Paper
Paper Length: 1,725 words

John Davison Rockefeller is an American icon, and was instrumental in leading the American economy to success in the Restoration period shortly after the Civil War. He is known today as the richest man in history, with a net worth of over $336 billion in today’s money, and for pioneering the trust system, a new concept of business described as a “corporation of corporations.” In addition, he founded the Standard Oil Company, which stands 160 years later as several multimillion oil conglomerates, including ExxonMobil, and at one time controlled over 90% of the oil in America. The legacy he left on society was one of social Darwinism, and yet he donated an incredible amount of wealth to charity and to improving society, defining modern philanthropy in a way that is still used today. Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839 to a con artist of a father and his mother, who was an extremely devout Baptist. Often his father, known as “Devil Bill” to the community, was infrequently around the home, leaving John to grow up early in order to provide money for their family. He raised turkeys, created small street-side stands selling things such as potatoes and candy, and gave out small loads to the neighbors.1 He lived by the philosophy that “willful waste makes woeful want” and when doing business he should always “trade dishes for platters.”2 His family moved around the state in his early teenage years, eventually settling in Cleveland in 1853, when he was 14. After graduating from the local high school, he attended the local commercial college and took a ten week course on bookkeeping.1 Rockefeller got his first job as an assistant bookkeeper at Hewitt & Tuttle at age 16. He found he had a good head for numbers and was especially adept at calculating costs of transportation of goods for the company. He worked long hours and earned $50 for the first three months of work. He would later recall that his ambition at this point in time was to live to 100 years old and to earn 100,000 dollars. In 1859, Rockefeller and his partner, Maurice Clark, established their own commission firm and earned a good amount of money. During this time, the first oil well had been erected in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Following this example, in 1863, Rockefeller and Clark built their first refinery in Cleveland. 1865 saw Rockefeller buying out his fellow partners and take direct control of the refinery, which was by then the largest in the city. He began to take advantage of the opportunities provided in a post-war economy. In 1870, the Standard Oil Company of Ohio was formed with his brother William, as well as a few other men. John was the leading shareholder and president.1
Rockefeller, in order to gain cheaper rates for himself, struck a deal with the South Improvement Company, a cartel of railroads. Part of this deal was not only cheaper transportation of Rockefeller’s oil, but also raised prices for his rivals. In 1872, he bought out 22 other oil refineries in the Cleveland area in what was known as the “Cleveland Conquest.” He used underhanded tricks to get business to sell out to him, and would bankrupt those who wouldn’t. At the same time, Standard Oil began to boom. Using a horizontal integration system, Standard Oil controlled 90% of the oil that was refined in America. To make it even more profitable, they had a system of pipelines that could cheaply transport their products all over the United States. At this point in time, Rockefeller was already a millionaire, and not stopping there. In 1877, the Pennsylvania Railroad, in a direct attempt to get back at him for intruding on the transportation business via pipelines, attempted to buy out some of the refineries Rockefeller was making a move on. In retaliation, Rockefeller removed all of his oil from the railroads and relied entirely on his pipelines to move his oil. This caused the