John Davidson Rockefeller was born in Richford, New York in 1839. He attended
the Cleveland Central High School and at 16 he became a clerk in a commission
house. Determined to work for himself, Rockefeller saved all the money he could
and in 1850 went into business with a young Englishman, Maurice Clark. The
company, Clark & Rockefeller Produce and Commission, sold farm implements,
fertilizers and household goods.
Rockefeller’s company was fairly successful but did not bring him the wealth
he desired. In 1862 Rockefeller heard that Samuel Andrews had developed a better
and cheaper way of refining crude petroleum. Rockefeller sold his original
business and invested it in a new company he set up with Andrews called Standard
One of the business problems that Rockefeller encountered was the high cost
of transporting his oil to his Cleveland refineries (40 cents a barrel) and the
refined oil to New York ($2 a barrel).
Rockefeller negotiated an exclusive deal with the railway company where he
guaranteed sixty car-loads a day. In return the transport prices were reduced to
35 cents and $1.30. The cost of his oil was reduced and his sales increased
Within a year four of his thirty competitors were out of business. Eventually
Standard Oil monopolized oil refining in Cleveland. Rockefeller now bought out
Samuel Andrews for a million dollars and turned his attentions to controlling
the oil industry throughout the United States. His competitors were given the
choice of being swallowed up by Standard Oil or being crushed. By 1890
Rockefeller’s had swollen into an immense monopoly which could fix its own
prices and terms of business because it had no competitors. In 1896 Rockefeller
was worth about $200 million.
In November 1902, Ira Tarbell, one of the leading muckraking journalists in
the United States, began a series of articles in McClure’s Magazine on how
Rockefeller had achieved a monopoly in refining, transporting and marketing oil.
This material was eventually published as a book, History of the Standard Oil
Company (1904). Rockefeller responded to these attacks by describing Tarbell as
President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been elected on a program that included
reducing the power of large corporations, attempted to use the Sherman
Anti-Trust Act to deal with Rockefeller’s monopoly of the oil industry. This was
largely ineffective and it was not until 1911 that the Supreme Court dissolved
the Standard Oil monopoly.
The various press campaigns against Rockefeller had turned him into one of
America’s most hated men. A devout Baptist, Rockefeller began giving his money
away. He set up the Rockefeller Foundation to “promote the well-being of
mankind”. Over the next few years Rockefeller gave over $500 million in aid of
medical research, universities and Baptist churches. He was also a major
supplier of funds to organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League that was
involved in the campaign for prohibition. By the time that he died died on 23rd
My, 1937, John Davidson Rockefeller had become a popular national figure.