How to describe and understand John D. Rockefeller's personality? What are his strengths and weaknesses? In a paragraph

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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John D. Rockefeller, born in 1837, was a self-made man who became the first billionaire in the United States and became the richest man in America. Perhaps because his father, an itinerant peddler who sold fake health potions, abandoned the family and remarried in Canada, John D. was very driven.

  • At the age of sixteen John D. went to work as a clerk-bookkeeper for a Cleveland, Ohio, commercial merchant.
  • By the time he was twenty-one Rockefeller was able to enter into a partnership of his own.
  • During the Civil War, Rockefeller and his partner made substantial profits on his commodities.
  • In 1859 with the discovery of oil in western Pennsylvania, Rockefeller found an opportunity for investment
  • By 1870, he controlled one-fourth of the stock in the company soon to be named Standard Oil Company, the largest and most efficient oil company in the U.S.
  • Because he controlled the largest refinery with the best technology, Rockefeller was better able to ride out the rise and fall of prices in oil, and he undercut other companies, driving them out of business during the slumps in the market. It was this method of Rockefeller that earned him a reputation of being cold and heartless. 
  • While some thought Rockefeller was hypocritical in his charity, he had always given to the Baptist church even as a young man and continued to do so.
  • Rockefeller did not believe in free markets and competition; therefore, he had no qualms about entering with Tom Scott into a merger with three railroads that served the oil refineries. The railroads would divide their shipment in return for secret rebates. However, this plan was abandoned when other refineries and oil producers discovered it.
  • Nevertheless, Rockefeller was able to snatch twenty-two of twenty-six of his competitors. He continued to undercut his competitors unless they joined Standard Oil Company, causing great resentment among the business communities.
  • Rockefeller controlled 90 per cent of the oil business by 1877.
  • in the 1880s Rockefeller bought up new fields and set up distributors to sell kerosene directly to customers.
  • in 1902 Rockefeller had an untaxed income of $52 million (there was no federal income tax then).
  • By the 1890s Standard Oil was so powerful and Rockefeller dealt so ruthlessly with his opponents that it was greatly resented.
  • Muckraker Ida Tarbell wrote an expose on Standard Oil, and Rockefeller was blamed for the irregularities.
  • In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an antitrust suit be instituted. So, in 1911, Standard Oil was broken up into subsidiaries  and Rockefeller resigned as president.
  • Rockefeller became America's first billionaire.
  • He gave away $530 million in his lifetime. He funded the construction of the University of Chicago in the i890's, most of which went to medicine and education.
  • Rockefeller died in 1937 at the age of 98; the newspapers remembered his philanthropy more than anything else.
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