John Davison Rockefeller Biography: from Rustic Origin to the World Richest Man

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John Davison Rockefeller

(July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937)

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John Davison Rockefeller is a famous American businessman and the “first billionaire and the patriarch of America’s most famous dynasty–is an icon whose true nature has eluded three generations of historians” (1).

“Born as a son of a flamboyant, bigamous snake-oil salesman and a pious, straitlaced mother, Rockefeller rose from rustic origins to become the world’s richest man by creating America’s most powerful and feared monopoly, Standard Oil. Branded “the Octopus” by legions of muckrakers, the trust refined and marketed nearly 90 percent of the oil produced in America.” (1)

Rockefeller was born on July 8th, 1839 in Richford, New York. “He was the second child of six children in the family of German Protestants William Aver Rockefeller and Eliza Davison.” (1). His father was first a lumberjack, and then an errant merchant who called himself a “botanical doctor” who sold various elixirs and rarely visited his home. By nature, William Aver Rockefeller was a risky person, which helped him to build up that small capital that allowed him to buy a land for $ 3,100. However, the propensity to take risks was side by side with foresight, so part of the capital was invested in various enterprises. Also, William was the person who taught John his first lessons in sales and formed his ideology. Eliza Davison, John’s mother, held a household. She was a very devout Baptist, and often was poor because her husband was always out for long periods of time, and she constantly had to save on everything.

At the age of sixteen John Rockefeller began working as an accountant assistant. “This position suited a young man better: he was able to handle numbers, and even more, he adored them.” (1). It was 1855, Rockefeller kept accounting and paid bills for Hewitt and Tuttle, Cleveland merchants who were engaged in real estate investments and traded in iron ore, marble and food. They Rockefeller has learned to conduct a variety of commercial transactions, ranging from the organization of deliveries by rail and waterways and ending with the management of non-residential buildings: houses, warehouses and office spaces. He did not just do the work, he reveled in it: he checked every record, searched for the smallest mistakes, collected the rent payments to the last cent and looked at the colleagues who did not show the same perseverance and passion for this routine work. For him, bookshelf books were sacred: they not only helped to find the right decision, to identify fraud and assess success, but also protected the person from the misconception of the deeds.

By that time he already knew mathematics quite well, and even finished a three-month accounting course in Cleveland. However, finding a job was not so easy. 6 weeks of searches were wasted. While John, at last, did not take the assistant of the bookkeeper in the company “Hewitt and Tuttle”. “Hewitt and Tuttle” was engaged in real estate and sea transport. It is worth noting that it was such a time that the first three months of Rockefeller was more likely to learn than to work. Those. did everything completely for free. Thanks to his ability to math, he rose to the position of accountant.

In less than two years, Rockefeller was promoted to the chief account. But when he asked for a salary increase, he, to his great disappointment, was denied. On April 1st, 1858, when Rockefeller was not yet twenty he decided to leave the company, and to start his own business,” John along with his partner Maurice B. Clark founded their new company which was called “Clark and Rockefeller”.” (2)

On April 12th, 1861 as the southern states announced the withdrawal from the Union and a civil war began. The federal government took more than hundreds of thousand requests for uniforms, rifles as well as such supplies as meat, sugar and tobacco. Thus “Clark and Rockefeller” company “raised $4,000 ($108,948 in 2017 dollars) in capital. Rockefeller went steadily ahead in business from there, making money each year of his career.” (3 )

By the time when John Rockefeller and Maurice Clark started their business, oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, and this gave rise to the emergence of a new trend in world trade. The oil fever broke out in part because of the work of Benjamin Si, (professor of chemistry at Yale University). Who showed that the hydrocarbon feedstock was wet. fuel for lamps and lubricants for machines – products that had great commercial potential in a young country where new homes, offices, shops, factories and railways were being built at an active pace.

One of the first oil companies was Seneca Oil which sent Edwin Drake to drill wells in the village of Titusville in the west of Pennsylvania. During that time some companies even had slogans like: “The healthful balm, from Nature’s secret spring, The bloom of health, and life, to man will bring; As from her depths the magic liquid flows, To calm our sufferings, and assuage our woes” (4)

Hunters for wealth rushed to the village in droves, drilled everywhere, even on the main streets; this is a vivid example of what was the growing troubled entrepreneurial class of America during and after the Civil War. Soon in West Pennsylvania, new oil fountains were hammered. First, the oil was processed in small, often dilapidated purification plants near the drilling sites. and there were more oil refineries. More and more people recognized Drake’s success, and thanks to his location at the crossroads of important iron, the heavy industry itself came to Rockefeller. From the very beginning, the oil business was wild and ideally suited to a man who was used to finding order in the midst of chaos. The market only began to form, supplies and demand often argued with each other causing significant price fluctuations. In 1861, prices for crude oil ranged from 10 cents up to $ 10 per barrel. In 1864, the prices began from 4 to 12 dollars. Petroleum producers at one point became rich and equally became bankrupts.

The Rockefeller Empire grew rapidly. John Rockefeller became part of the oil business gradually. Shortly the US began exporting oil to Europe, and “Cleveland became the largest transport and oil refinery in the country”(2). If we look back, we can see that this was a deliberate, turn-based strategy, a skillful combination of experiment, caution, vision and its implementation. He acted as a grandmaster, making only one thoughtful move at a time, but decisively and quickly. By 1863, “there were twenty oil refineries in the vicinity of Cleveland”(2) “The refinery was directly owned by Andrews, Clark & Company, which was composed of Clark & Rockefeller, chemist Samuel Andrews and M. B. Clark’s two brothers. The commercial oil business was then in its infancy” (1), which produced more than one hundred thousand gallons. In 1863, Rockefeller and Clark purchased half of the working capital of an oil refinery belonging to Clark’s friend, Samuel Andrews. Soon John Rockefeller married Celestia Spelman; By that time, Rockefeller had already had a decent income, considerable savings and a confidently growing state. He actively participated in church affairs and increased his donations. “By 1865, the partnership with Clark had exhausted itself, and Rockefeller decided to redeem his share.” (2). By 1868, Rockefeller factories became the largest not only in Cleveland, but throughout the world.

In 1970 John D Rockefeller founded his company “Standard Oil” this company merged all of the oil assets which he owned by that time. In order to motivate his employees, he chose the simple tactic to give up wages, and “pay” with shares. So that the financial income will fully depend on the success of their own work. As time passed by Rockefeller began to buy more and more other oil companies. He destroyed and then bought his competitors. And,” by 1880 Rockefeller owned 95% of America’s oil industry.” (2). Making Rockefeller the biggest oil monopolist in America and whole world. But 10 years passed by and famous Sherman’s law against monopolies was published. This law made Rockefeller to split his “empire” into 34 smaller companies. But actually, it didn’t affect his revenue because they were still all controlled by Rockefeller.

At the end of the 1890s, thirty years after Drake discovered the oil and began the Rockefeller oil career, clouds began to descend over Standard Oil. The progressive political movements that emerged in the arena pushed the US government to disband large trusts. His objectives were to normalize working hours, improve the working conditions of blue-collar workers and protect buyers from monopolistic pricing. In 1890, progress. systems won the first big victory, pushing the antimonopoly. Sherman Act. Newspapers, which mostly sympathized with the progressists, urged the authorities to use the new law to punish trusts that controlled the production and marketing of sugar, steel, tobacco and other goods. Very quickly, Standard Oil and Rockefeller, as its personification, became the most popular target for mass political and public discontent. In 1896, Rockefeller ceased to go to work. Rockefeller did not join the fight. He refused to refute the Critique. and did not defend his position in a big public dispute. He preferred to remain silent with dignity, not realizing that his position would be perceived as a confession of his own guilt. “Ten years later, Rockefeller confesses in an interview that he really thought that : ”All the noise from the privileges was raised by people who did not understand anything in business.“”(2).

It seemed that John Rockefeller lived lives of two opposite people: one person wanted to earn as much money as possible while the other wanted to give them away; one skillfully used. He called for aggressive tactics to smash his rivals, while others tried to improve the living conditions of people. “Critics argued that Rockefeller engaged in charity to melt the image of a greedy and unprincipled businessman.” (1). However, this explanation contradicts his life, which usually attracts less attention than his career, destroying his competitors in business, he was a loving and caring father and spouse and always respected the colleagues. He was a family man with a wide range of interests. The first place among his interests was occupied by the church, this was the moral foundation that his mother instilled in him. A person who expects to give everything that has, on Sundays, a bad prop to his country. Charity endowed him with the meaning of his business. Rockefeller was aware of the social problems engendered by the century of industrialization and urbanization.

Rockefeller’s charitable projects were of great importance due to a combination of bold vision and careful execution. who for science and medicine played the same role as Standard Oil for the development of industry and the fuel and energy industry, Rockefeller hired a Baptist priest Frederick Gates to be managed by charitable organizations. The distribution of Rockefeller’s growing wealth required the existence of clear principles, and such principles became:” surround yourself with the best specialists, carefully consider which studies will be of great benefit to science. See the root of the problem of preventing and not softening the symptoms.” (1) Rockefeller encouraged independence as a counterbalance to the formation of a culture of dependence. He was among the first supporters of the division of grants that tried to make donations not the only gift and that the receiving organization from him alone. He hired the best managers formed the most competent council, but otherwise did not interfere in the activities of the school. organizations he desired.

Rockefeller could give away hundreds of millions of dollars for charity. There were two massive projects in which John was the main if not the only investor. The first one was the foundation of The University of Chicago (1890). And the second one was the establishment of the first in the US Medical Research Institution (1901). “Both of this organizations had the same goal – to push science and health care to improve the process of research and erase the boundaries between different fields of knowledge.” (1) Both were originally founded for international activity. While Rockefeller was alive his generosity could not shake the reputation of a brutal entrepreneur, but today Rockefeller’s name is increasingly associated with charity.

“Rockefeller died of arteriosclerosis on May 23, 1937, less than two months shy of his 98th birthday” (6).

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