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John D. Rockefeller Net Worth, Biography & Wiki 2017
The richest ever person in the world? Not quite, but John Davison Rockefeller Sr. came pretty close, and certainly re-wrote the definition of ‘rich’ in the modern, early 20th century world. He was born on 8 July 1839 in Richford, New York State USA, and by the time he died on 23 May 1937 he had, in 1916, become the first person in the world to be called, literally, a billionaire, such was the fortune he had amassed, principally based on oil and of course its derivatives kerosene and petroleum.
So just how rich was John D. Rockefeller? Authoritative sources estimate that at the time of his death, in modern terms he had accumulated a fortune of at least $340 billion, which could have been much greater except for his generous philanthropic contributions made during the second half of his life. Even so, this amount represented 1.6% of the US economy at that time, making Rockefeller Sr. the richest American in history to this day.
John D. Rockefeller Net Worth $340 Billion
John D. Rockefeller was of English and German (father), and Scots-Irish (mother) descent. His father was an acknowledged con man, even as he engaged in shady dealings both around his home environment, and during extensive absences. The family eventually settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where John D. attended Central High School, and then took a business course, concentrating on bookkeeping. He started in business early, as a teenager, supporting the family by raising and selling turkeys, as well as potatoes. He quickly learnt the principles of smart business, partly from his father’s scheming, such that he was even able to lend to friends and neighbours.
Rockefeller’s first professional job was as a bookkeeper in 1855, again learning quickly and determined to get ahead and away from his wage of 50c a day. He is reported to have said that his two aims in life were to make $100,000 and live to 100. He started on the first target in 1859, by raising $4000 with Maurice B. Clarke to go into wholesale food commissions, and then with Clark’s two brothers and chemist Samuel Andrews, building an oil refinery in Cleveland in 1863, as whale oil was now expensive, and an alternative needed. This was a critical decision which not only profited Rockefeller in the short term, but laid the basis for his future enormous wealth.
Rockefeller was an astute businessman, who reputedly made money every year once he had started his own business. However, this period was during the civil war in the US, and part of the business was on behalf his brother Frank, who was in the northern army. In 1865 John bought out the Clark brothers, at a time when Cleveland was rapidly becoming the centre of the new oil industry. The following year John D. was brought into ownership of another refinery opened by brother William, and by 1868 this was the largest refinery in the world. John D. had already increased his net worth beyond his previously stated target.
Standard Oil, to become the forerunner of all the modern major oil companies, was founded by Rockefeller in 1870. John D.’s policy was to buy smaller refineries and improve their efficiencies, but also to expand vertically, in particular by controlling methods of distribution and therefore transport costs, which with expert marketing eventually saw him attain a virtual monopoly in oil refining and distribution – railways and pipelines. State laws prevented total dominance, as companies were ostensibly limited to state-based operations rather than countrywide. However, Rockefeller was a master business tactician and manipulator, setting-up supposedly separate companies in each state, and so maintaining a totally dominant position in the oil industry over more than a decade, particularly so since the US was the major oil supplier in the world at this point, with almost 90% of production. Regardless, Rockefeller’s net worth continued to mount.
Not that Rockefeller ever rested on his laurels, buying oil leases in several states as the fields in Pennsylvania dried-up, but also employing scientists and chemists to devise further uses for kerosene and petroleum. He further expanded vertical integration of the oil industry, controlling at every level of production from wells to retailers and even direct to homes. There is no doubting the efficiency of John D.’s business, which is of course why he, above all others in the burgeoning oil industry, was so successful. Just one example was the drop of 80% in the cost of kerosene over the years. Naturally, jealousies arose, but also some fears of monopolisation, and therefore price fixing, which encouraged federal and state legislatures to enact anti-trust laws, so that Standard Oil was eventually broken up after a federal court ruling in 1911.
The strength of Rockefeller’s business can be judged by the division of Standard Oil, which resulted in the foundation of companies very familiar to consumers to this day. To mention just a few, Standard of Indiana became Amoco, now part of BP; Standard of California is now Chevron; Standard of New Jersey Esso, and later Exxon; Standard of New York became Mobil, now part of ExxonMobil; and Standard of Ohio became Sohio, now BP.
Rockefeller possessed more than 25% of Standard’s shares, and along with all other shareholders, retained proportionate shares in all the consequent 34 companies. John D.’s influence in the oil industry was lessened somewhat, but still his net worth rose, as the companies total value increased five times in a very few years, such that Rockefeller’s personal wealth was close to $1 billion by 1910.
The advent and increasing popularity of the automobile and the need for ever increasing amounts of petroleum served to increase Rockefeller’s net worth exponentially over the next two decades, regardless of the fact that he had retired from direct involvement in company’s day-to-day affairs in 1897, although he was nominal president until 1911.
John D. Rockefeller lived the last 40 years of his life in retirement, but was a noted philanthropist which certainly kept him interested and occupied, as he ensured that his donations were always put to good use. He contributed consistently to his Baptist Church, stating that his religious beliefs provided the impetous for his philanthropic donations. John D. was a significant beneficiary to education and health causes, as well as to science and the arts. He effectively founded the University of Chicago, with a gift of $80 million, equivalent to $2 billion today, but also donated sums to improve education in the Philippines (then virtually a US colony), as well as to prominent institutions such as Harvard and Yale. He was a constant supporter of, and contributor to education for black Americans in the southern states of the USA.
In his personal life, John D. Rockefeller married Laura Celestia “Cettie” Spelman (1839–1915) , daughter of Harvey Buell Spelman and Lucy Henry, in 1864, later stating that his judgement was perfect in this case, as “Her judgment was always better than mine. Without her keen advice, I would be a poor man.” They had four daughters and one son together, who in various ways maintained the family business interests.