John D. Rockefeller Sr. was born on July 8, 1839 in Richford, New York. His father worked as a traveling "doctor" who made outrageous claims that he could cure numerous diseases and charged $25 a treatment (a hefty sum in that time). His mother was a very religious woman that taught John about discipline and philanthropy.
John showed his ability as an entrepreneur at an early age, saving up $50 by the age of twelve. His primary business was working for neighbors and raising turkeys. He loaned his money to a farmer for seven percent annual interest and was thrilled by the idea of making money by doing nothing.
His family moved to the city of Owego, New York in 1851 and John attended the Owego Academy there. In 1853, they moved to Cleveland, Ohio and John went to the public high school, graduating in 1855. During his early school years, the teachers noticed that he was excellent with numbers and able to easily compute things in his head.
In 1855, John studied for nearly three months at Folsom Commercial College in a program that taught him about everything from accounting to exchange rates. Later that year, he began looking for a job as a bookkeeper, but had great difficulty finding one. It took him nearly two months to find a job as an assistant bookkeeper at Hewitt & Tuttle, a company that shipped produce. He impressed everyone with his honesty and diligence on the job, gradually moving his way up the ladder.
In 1859, John quit his job to start a business with his friend Maurice Clark. They formed the Clark & Rockefeller Co. with $4000 of their own money and began selling grain and hay. The business was wildly successful, making a a profit of $4400 the first year and $17,000 the second year. The business continued making huge profits during the Civil War, but John eventually began looking for a new industry.
In 1862, he started a business called Andrews, Clark & Company. He made the business very efficient by making it so that the business could manufacture most of the supplies it needed. In 1865, he bought out the shares owned by the Clark brothers for a price of $72,500 and gained complete control of the company. He brought his brother William into the business to form a partnership and began work expanding the business by building more refineries.
In 1867, a man named Henry Flagler joined the business, making the name Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler. A year later, their company became the largest refiner in the world and was highly efficient. In 1870, they formed the Standard Oil Company with John owning the majority share (30%). They immediately began trying to buy out the other oil companies to make Standard Oil a massive corporation, controlling oil wells and refineries all over the country.
By 1879, Standard Oil controlled 90% of the refining in the United States and about 70% of the refined oil being exported. In 1882, the company became a trust with John controlling a significant portion of the Trust shares. However, he did not have complete control and the board of trustees was able to do things without his approval. The company continued to grow, gradually becoming a monopolistic force and nearly forcing businesses to use their oil.
In 1890, the attorney general of Ohio brought a lawsuit against the company, eventually winning in 1892. The Trust was dissolved and Standard Oil was split into twenty companies. In spite of the split, the leaders in the company remained the major shareholders in the individual companies and essentially retained control of the company.
In 1891, John's hard work was beginning to wear him down. He became very ill quite frequently and lost all of his hair and eyebrows. He appointed a man named Frederick Gates to manage his fortune with investments and charitable contributions. In 1897 he retired at the age of 58, leaving the company under John Archbold's control. However he did not retire officially, and he received the blame when Archibold hiked prices to increase monopolistic revenue.
John's fortune peaked at about nine hundred million dollars in 1912 and his son, John Jr., joined Frederick Gates in the effort to manage the money. He donated seventy-five million dollars to the University of Chicago, founded the Rockefeller Foundation for education, founded the Rockefeller Institute for medical research, and founded the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission.
John Rockefeller died on May 23, 1937, leaving most of his fortune to his heirs. He is remembered as one of the best businessmen in history.