Rockefeller, John D.

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Rockefeller, John D. (Davison)

(1839–1937) industrialist, philanthropist; born in Richford, N.Y. After only two years of high school, he went to work in 1855 in Cleveland, Ohio, as a bookkeeper for a small food firm. In 1859 he formed Clark & Rockefeller, a food handling firm that prospered during the Civil War. Deeply religious, he began his philanthropies by giving ten percent of his earnings to churches. In 1863 he entered the brand new oil business by settling up a refinery in Cleveland; by 1870 he had expanded to the extent that he formed the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. By 1878 his company dominated the piping, refining, and marketing of American petroleum; it would soon be a major player in the world markets. His monopolistic tendencies led to a famous federal lawsuit (1890–92), whereupon he dissolved the Standard Oil "trust" and transferred control to companies in different states. He maintained control through Standard Oil (New Jersey) until a 1911 Supreme Court decision forced its dissolution and his retirement. By this time Rockefeller had, since the late 1890s, been increasingly less involved with the business and more engaged in his philanthropic activities. His benefactions during his lifetime reached some $550 million and included especially the Baptist Church, the YMCA, the University of Chicago, and the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (since 1953 Rockefeller University). He also established the Rockefeller Foundation (1913), which remained the principal disburser of the estate's fortune in ensuing decades. A legend in his own lifetime, for some he remained the supreme American success story, for others he was the symbol of unrestrained capitalism.
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