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John D. Rockefeller: 10 Intriguing Facts You Didn’t Know About Him

How Much Does The World Truly Know About John D. Rockefeller?

John D. Rockefeller, born on July 8th, 1839, in Richford, New York, is about as controversial as they come. He became one of the world’s wealthiest men and a significant philanthropist.

He worked as an office clerk at a Cleveland commission firm that bought, sold, and shipped grain and other commodities.

On the one hand, he worked his way up from nothing to become the wealthiest man the world would ever see, and he spent the end of his life giving away most of his immensely vast fortune to charities.

On the other hand, his ruthless business dealings destroyed countless livelihoods, and he spent much of his life running from his shady family history and ignoring many different atrocities that happened under his watch.

So, was he a merciless tyrant or a generous patriarch? Keep reading, and decide for yourself as we look at some facts about the world’s first billionaire!

Bain News Service, publisher, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

John D. Rockefeller’s Father Was A Con Man

When you think of Old Money, you automatically think of the name “Rockefeller,” but everyone starts somewhere. John Davison Rockefeller came from incredibly modest beginnings. He and his five siblings lived in poverty with their mother, Eliza.

As a homemaker, Eliza did everything in her power to pinch every penny she could to make ends meet for her family. And his father? Unfortunately for young John, his dad was a notorious crook and swindler, not to mention the source of the family’s money problems.

William Avery was a traveling oil salesman who posed as a deaf peddler and hawked miracle drugs and herbal medicines. He also lived a double life acting as an eye and ear specialist whose name was Dr. William Leviston.

In 1855, he secretly married another woman and had sired children with her.

He Celebrated The Anniversary Of Landing His First Job Every Year

Hewitt and Tuttle Company, a Cleveland merchant company, hired J.D. Rockefeller as an assistant bookkeeper on September 26th, 1855. From that year on, the infamous corporate tycoon celebrated “job day” every September 26th to celebrate his entry into the business world.

In fact, he believed the date to be more important than his actual birthday. “All my future seemed to be associated with that day,” he reflected later on when he was older, “and I often tremble at the thought of asking myself the question: “What if I had not gotten the job?”

He Used To Hand Out Dimes To Children And Adults

Rockefeller carried a bag of dimes around with him wherever he went and presented one to everyone he met, especially children, with immense enthusiasm.

He would strike up a conversation with the flashy dime he’d just given out. JDR delighted in seeing children’s faces light up when they received the dime and urged them to save it. His gleaming dimes served as both a symbol and a message.

Adults were also said to have received coins from the billionaire. He allegedly did this to partly instill individuals’ saving and thrifty habits.

As a souvenir, several of them kept their famed “Rockefeller dimes.” As a joke, he even donated dimes to folks like Harvey Firestone, the tire magnate, and President Herbert Hoover.

He Hired A Replacement Soldier In The Civil War

During the civil war, he had someone else serve in his place. The United States government allowed this approach by permitting draftees to provide a replacement. Rockefeller was granted an exemption because he was the primary source of support for his family.

He explained, “I wanted to join the army and do my bit. However, it was ruled out. No one was willing to fill my shoes. We had started a new business, and if I hadn’t stayed, it would have failed, especially because so many people relied on it.”

The Civil War enriched Rockefeller’s commodity company handsomely, allowing him to enter the oil sector with the necessary funds.

He Learned From The Worst

We already learned that his father was a man without a conscience. He didn’t care who he ruined as long as he made his money. He went much further than selling elixirs. He started loaning money to farmers, but not out of the goodness of his heart.

Bill specifically lent money, at a steep 12% interest rate, only to people he knew wouldn’t be able to pay him back. This would ensure he could foreclose on them and claim their farms.

Pretty soon, his son John D. Rockefeller would use similarly malicious tactics to become the wealthiest man the world had ever seen. As a boy, he started selling potatoes and candy, raising turkeys, and whatever could earn him a buck.

Eventually, he started lending money to his neighbors at a sizeable interest rate. At least he learned that much from his father. William once said, “I cheat my boys every chance I get. I want to make them sharp.” Well, it seems to have worked.

JDR became the shrewdest cheat in town. He just did it more reputably than his father did.

Photo by manine99 at Shutterstock

Rockefeller Did Anything He Could To Control The Oil Business

Standard Oil owned and controlled 90 percent of all the refineries in the US by 1882. J.D. Rockefeller’s assets skyrocketed from his fixation with maintaining the oil industry.

He created partnerships with railroads to distribute his goods at a low cost, bought out other competing businesses, and helped create the modern monopoly concept. Smaller companies were forced to choose between being destroyed or competing with their big conglomerate.

It took the rising billionaire six weeks in 1872, known as “the Cleveland Massacre,” to acquire 22 of 26 competing refineries at relatively low prices. He leveraged his large profits to buy out his competitors.

He Donated Over $500 Million To Various Philanthropic Causes

Being raised by a devout mother, Rockefeller donated 10 percent of his earnings to his church, starting with his very first paycheck.

After he retired from Standard Oil in 1897, he stepped up his philanthropy and donated more than half a billion dollars to religious, educational, and scientific causes.

In 1913, America’s first billionaire financed the Rockefeller Foundation with the ambitious goal “to promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”

The foundation contributed to many respectable achievements, including developing a yellow fever vaccine and successfully eradicating hookworm disease in the US.

The Monopoly On Standard Oil Had Ended…Making Him Richer?

In 1911, Standard Oil’s monopoly had finally ended. The Supreme Court pushed Rockefeller and his associates to split up their company. But just how big was Standard Oil at this point?

Well, it broke up into 34 individual companies, some of which are still around today and are some of the most well-known corporations in the world, among which are Mobil, Exxon, Chevron, and Pennzoil. You’d think that the end of this era would be a sad day for Rockefeller.

But he got one heck of a consolation prize. JDR owned over a fourth of Standard Oil’s shares when the company was forced to split. This means that he acquired proportional shares in each of those 34 successor companies.

The companies continued to grow over the following years, and Rockefeller grew richer along with it. Within just a few years of the break, his net worth sprung to over $900 million.

The Daily Stress Really Affected Him

Rockefeller may have had all the money in the world, but his life was seldom easy. The continuous stress and anxiety of running his empire left him weak. He developed stress-induced alopecia and pretty much lost most of his hair.

In his 40s, all the hair on his head, mustache, and the body were gone. He started wearing a toupe in 1901 and lost his famous mustache not long after that.

The tycoon began wearing various wigs of varying lengths in the early 1900s to show that his hair was growing and he was shaving. During his 50s, Rockefeller struggled with depression and stomach issues.

At this point, John D. Rockefeller grew frail and started withering away…and people noticed.

Photo by Alexander Friedman at Shutterstock

Did He Achieve His Goal?

When Rockefeller was just a young boy, he said he had two main goals: To make $100,000 and live to be 100—hopefully, overachieving in the former made up for not accomplishing the latter.

He passed away due to arteriosclerosis in 1937, just two months before his 98th birthday. He gave his last breath at his luxurious estate in Florida, where he spent his time in his older years.

His obituary in the New York Times stated that he had earned approximately $1.5 billion during his life, “probably the biggest amount of wealth any private citizen had ever been able to make by his own efforts.”

If we adjust that for inflation, most of today’s billionaires would have more money, but that’s not quite the whole story. Look at it another way: Rockefeller’s wealth amounted to 3% of the United States Gross Domestic Product.

Today that 3% would mean nearly $650 billion. Sorry Elon, but he’s got you beat. So it could be said that John D. Rockefeller made money better than anyone in history.

Do you wish to know more about this legendary man? If so, check THIS out!

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