Accolade: Rockefeller is the Richest Person in Recorded History
Biography: John Davison Rockefeller (July 8, 1839 - May 23, 1937) was an American oil industrialist, investor, and philanthropist. In 1870, he founded Standard Oil in Ohio as a partnership, which, aside from himself, included his brother William Rockefeller, Henry Flagler, Jabez Bostwick, chemist Samuel Andrews, and a silent partner, Stephen V. Harkness, and went on to establish Standard Oil as the dominant player within the oil industry. As kerosene and gasoline grew in importance, Rockefeller's wealth soared astronomically, and he became the world's richest man and first American worth well over a billion dollars. Rockefeller ran Standard Oil Company aggressively until he officially retired in 1897.
Rockefeller's fortune was mainly used to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy with foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education, and scientific research. In so doing, he defined the structure of modern philanthropy. His foundations pioneered the development of medical research, and were instrumental in the eradication of hookworm and yellow fever. He is also the founder of both the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University. He was a devoted Northern Baptist and supported many church-based institutions. Rockefeller adhered to strict abstinence from alcohol and tobacco throughout his life.
Poem About His Life:
"I was early taught to work as well as play,
My life has been one long, happy holiday;
Full of work and full of play-
I dropped the worry on the way-
And God was good to me everyday." - John D. Rockefeller
Scholarly Corner Original Written Work By UChicago History Faculty