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On July 8, 1839, John D. Rockefeller Sr. was born in a simple wood frame house in the quiet hamlet of Richford, New York. Rockefeller would rise from his humble origins to become the richest man in the world. On the 175th anniversary of his birth, explore 10 surprising facts about the business magnate and philanthropist.

John D Rockefeller and Standard Oil

Raised by a pious mother, Rockefeller tithed 10 percent of his earnings to his church from his very first paycheck. After retiring from Standard Oil in 1897, he stepped up his philanthropy and donated more than half a billion dollars to educational, religious and scientific causes. In 1913, America’s first billionaire endowed the Rockefeller Foundation, which had the ambitious goal “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.” The foundation contributed to achievements such as development of a yellow fever vaccine and the successful eradication of hookworm disease in the United States.


THE LEGEND JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER | …

John Davison Rockefeller (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) was an American businessman. He controlled an oil company called Standard Oil, …

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THE LEGEND JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER | Johnsonservices's …

In addition to giving millions to help found the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University, the industrialist in 1882 began to donate money to the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary. Two years later, the African-American women’s school changed its name to Spelman Seminary in honor of his wife, Laura, and her parents, Harvey Buel and Lucy Henry Spelman, who were longtime abolitionists. In 1924, the institution was renamed Spelman College.

He was America's first billionaire

Young John Rockefeller entered the workforce on the bottom rung of the ladder as a clerk in a Cleveland shipping firm. Always thrifty, he saved enough money to start his own business in produce sales. When the Civil War came, the demand for his goods increased dramatically, and Rockefeller found himself amassing a small fortune.

In a pure sense, the goal of any capitalist is to make money

Regarding his Christian faith, Rockefeller would read the Bible daily, attend prayer meetings twice a week and even led his own Bible study with his wife. He tithed, rested on the Sabbath and gave away much of his money to charity. Burton Folsom Jr. has noted, “he sometimes gave tens of thousands of dollars to Christian groups, while, at the same time, he was trying to borrow over a million dollar to expand his business.” Additionally, Rockefeller took time to spend with his family, something that confused many businessmen.

Rockefeller could serve as the poster child for capitalism

Shortly after the discovery of petroleum in Titusville, Pennsylvania, the 24-year-old Rockefeller entered the fledgling oil business in 1863 by investing in a Cleveland refinery. In 1870, he formed the Standard Oil Company of Ohio along with his younger brother William, Henry Flagler and additional investors. Through secret alliances with railroads, accumulating segments of the supply chain to achieve economies of scale, buying out and intimidating rivals and serving the growing demand for quality kerosene, Standard Oil eventually controlled 90 percent of the refining capacity of the United States. In the 1880s, Rockefeller moved Standard Oil’s headquarters to New York City.