When John D. Rockefeller was a young boy, he said that his two greatest ambitions were to make $100,000 and to live to be 100 years old. He died on May 23, 1937, just 26 months shy of his 100th birthday and with a net worth of $1.4 billion.
Over a forty-year career that was mired in controversy, Rockefeller made a name for himself in America’s budding oil industry. He built Standard Oil into the largest company in the world and eventually also became the richest man in the world. Adjusting for inflation, some experts suggest that Rockefeller was the richest human being ever to have lived.
Born July 8, 1839 in Richford, New York, John Davison Rockefeller was the second of six children to parents William and Eliza. William was a traveling salesman in the business of selling such suspect things as cancer cures. While he was away, it was left to Eliza to take care of the home. The family moved around, first to Moravia and later, Owego, where Rockefeller attended Owego Academy.
In 1853, the family moved to Strongsville, Ohio, where Rockefeller went to Central High School. At 19, he became a deacon at the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church and a trustee at 21. In 1855, Rockefeller dropped out of high school to take a business course at Folsom Mercantile College. A six-month course, Rockefeller had completed it in just three.
After searching for six weeks, Rockefeller found his first job as an apprentice bookkeeper at Hewitt & Tuttle, a commission merchant and produce shipping company. He started off earning 50 cents per day, a salary that would gradually increase over the next two years due to his increasing responsibilities and improving performance. In 1859, Rockefeller felt that he was no longer making the amount of money he deserved and so he left Hewitt & Tuttle. With a partner, Maurice Clark, Rockefeller decided to create his own produce commission company.
That year, Cleveland-based Clark & Rockefeller was launched and it became an instant success. It wasn’t long before their new company had accumulated enough capital to be able to invest in other businesses. Along with chemist Samuel Andrews, Clark & Rockefeller invested in an oil refinery. Rockefeller was confident in the bright future of the oil business and over the next five years delved wholeheartedly into making his company a success.
So confident was Rockefeller in the oil business that in 1865, he decided to sell his share of Clark & Rockefeller to his partner. Far from giving up, Rockefeller wanted to branch out on his own. He used the proceeds from the sale of his shares to invest in another refinery, which soon became Rockefeller & Andrews. Two years later, they bought out the refinery that had been started by Rockefeller’s brother, William. They also joined with Henry Flagler in creating Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler.
By 1868, this new partnership had become the largest petroleum refiner in the world. Recognizing their potential, the Rockefeller brothers, Andrews, Flagler and another silent partner began absorbing their competition. Together, in 1870, the five businessmen launched Standard Oil. With Rockefeller as its new president, the company would soon find itself at the forefront of a booming industry, achieving unprecedented success.