Rockefeller, John D.

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How did John D. Rockefeller's "American Beauty rose" belief influence his business practices?

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At the turn of the 20th century, efforts to regulate monopolies or “bust trusts” in certain U.S. industries were underway; the industry leaders vigorously opposed such regulation. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. famously stated that eliminating competition was based in the laws of nature and of God. In presenting an analogy to a particular variety of rose, he emphasized its lovely qualities, and in interpreting denied any associated “evil.”

The American Beauty Rose can be produced in the splendor and fragrance which bring cheer to its beholder only by sacrificing the early buds which grow up around it. This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely the working-out of a law of nature and a law of God.

Rockefeller, a staunch advocate of laissez-faire capitalism, believed in the positive power of competition. In this Social Darwinist approach, the strong would always win out over the weak, in business as in nature. Whether by undercutting their prices or buying up the smaller businesses, Rockefeller vigorously eliminated competitors.

His statement, quickly picked up in the media, became the subject of a 1905 cartoon in the Literary Digest, showing a gigantic rose labeled Standard Oil towering over hundreds of buds on the ground, labeled Competitors. Rockefeller stands beside the rose with a blossom in one hand and shears in the other. Critics in the liberal and radical press as well coined the catch phrase “Rockefeller Rose” to refer to the price gouging they alleged Standard Oil committed.

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Rockefeller did this by killing off competitors one by one until only his company, Standard Oil, remained with a monopoly.

Rockefeller referred to the American Beauty rose as something that could only be produced by killing all the other buds that grew up around it.  He said that killing all those buds allowed the one American Beauty rose to flourish.  He drew an analogy between this and business.  Businesses could only become truly great (he argued) if they killed off all their competitors.  This is exactly what Rockefeller did in his own business life.

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