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John D. Rockefeller

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The Rockefellers feared the temptations of wealth, yet a visitor once described their estate as the kind of place God would have built if only he’d had the money. They amassed a fortune that outraged a Democratic nation, then gave it all away reshaping America. They were the closest thing the country had to a royal family, but the Rockefellers shunned the public eye. For decades, the Rockefeller name was despised in America, associated with John D. Rockefeller Sr.’s feared monopoly, Standard Oil. By the end of his life, Rockefeller had given away half of his fortune. But even his vast philanthropy could not erase the memory of his predatory business practices. Who was Rockefeller? Was he a ruthless businessman who only wanted to belittle the American dream of small business people who believed in hard work and determinedness, or was he someone who had a vision for making a more efficient and established America?

The world’s first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller Sr. held ninety percent of the world’s oil refineries, ninety percent of the marketing of oil, and a third of all the oil wells. Working methodically and secretly, he did more than transform a single industry. When he formed his feared monopoly, Standard Oil, in 1870 he changed forever the way America did business. Because of the ruthless war he waged to crush his competitors, Rockefeller was to many Americans the embodiment of an unjust and cruel economic system. Yet he lived a quiet and virtuous life. "I believe the power to make money is a gift of God," Rockefeller once said. He believed the gift had bestowed upon him a particular aptitude for acquiring money. "It is my duty to make money and even more money and to use the money I make for the good of my fellow men" (Chernow 315).

He had the strength of this vision that this was where his destiny was, and this was where the destiny of this country was, that the country was going to, kind of, ride to greatness on this tidal wave of oil. And he constantly felt that he would inevitably triumph in some fundamental way. Oil was being used to grease the wheels of America’s infant industries, to fuel the expansion of growth. Rockefeller lamented that so many wells were flowing that the price of oil kept falling yet everyone went right on drilling. He saw an industry plagued from overproduction and his own success was being threatened by...

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...ush you and your children and your children's children" (Raymond 198)! Already strained by the demands of making money, Rockefeller now staggered under the new pressures of giving it away. "I investigated and worked myself almost to a nervous breakdown," he said, "in groping my way through the ever-widening field of philanthropic endeavor" (Raymond 199).

John D. Rockefeller created an industrial empire, and a personal fortune on a scale that the world had never known. He ruthlessly crushed his competitor s in the process, alienating the public and leaving a stain on the family name. He set the standard for philanthropy, but his reputation was so sullied that he never received the credit that he was due for this great act on behalf of humankind. "We came to realize that the real problem was the integration of power and goodness," says Steven Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller Junior’s grandson. "And that if the family was going to continue to work together, philanthropic commitments and values would be at the center" (Harr 67). In a society that has more millionaires, even billionaires than ever, the story of the Rockefellers is both a cautionary tale and an exemplary one.
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