John D. Rockefeller

In 1863, John D. Rockefeller encouraged fellow business partner, M. B. Clark to agree to a decision which would eventually lead to the creation of the multimillion dollar company Standard Oil. The duo financed and joined with chemist Samuel Andrews in starting the oil refining business Andrews, Clark, and Co. Two years later, Rockefeller and Andrews bought out Clark's interest and became Rockefeller & Andrews. The company was just one of thirty oil refineries in Cleveland when it was first formed in 1865, but it soon became the largest through a merger with O.H. Payne, another largely successful oil refinery owner. The company went on to join with other area competitors or buy them out. With control of Cleveland's refineries, the Rockefeller & Andrews Company chartered the Standard Oil Company in 1870.

Standard Oil made Cleveland the center of American petroleum production. As a result, the city saw benefits in the form of both economics and humanitarianism. Rockefeller's company gave work to thousands, and Cleveland's wealth grew in relation to Standard Oil's expansion. Even during the Panic of 1873 Rockefeller continued to prosper. In fact, just six years later, he had control of 90 percent of America's oil. Rockefeller did not squander all of his wealth, but instead was well known for his generous but judicious charity to educational institutions, Baptist churches, the Children's Aid Society, hospitals, and the Women's Christian Temperance Movement to name only a few. Rockefeller also made several wise investments not related to oil, some of which are still visible in Cleveland. The oil tycoon was one of the large stockholders for Arcade, which opened in 1890 and still exists on Superior Avenue. On the corner of West 6th Street and West Superior Avenue stands the Rockefeller Building. The man after whom the building is named bought the Weddell House property in 1903 and turned it into the headquarters of lake interests.

John D. Rockefeller's successes and the subsequent imprints left on Cleveland because of them can be traced to three main factors. First, Rockefeller learned from childhood how to make wise business decisions. He was able to think ahead, see the success in budding industries, and use borrowing and lending to his advantage. Using these talents in his first business with M. B. Clark had given him a good reputation with Cleveland's primary lenders and helped him see the benefit of investing in oil refining. However, Rockefeller's brilliance in business may not have thrived to such a great extent had not the Civil War occurred during the inception of his career. The Civil War expedited Cleveland's economy, particularly in the steel and fabrics industries. Consequently, local bankers were able and willing to lend funds to Rockefeller for business purposes. The initial company M. B. Clark and Rockefeller formed in 1859 as produce commission merchants also saw an influx of business at wartime, and this also helped Rockefeller and Clark extend their business to oil. Third, Cleveland's excellent Lake Erie and railroad transportation made it possible for Rockefeller to easily bring in crude oil, transport his refined oil and expand Standard Oil.

Images

John D. Rockefeller at age 87

John D. Rockefeller at age 87

Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839 in Richford, New York. At age 14, he and his family moved to Cleveland where he enrolled in Central High School and then E. G. Folsom's Commercial College. After graduating in 1855, the young Rockefeller got his first job as a bookkeeper for Hewitt & Tuttle. Although the work paid little and was difficult, it was in this job that he began to establish himself as an intelligent and reliable businessman. Because he had spent three years building this reputation, Rockefeller was able to start his first business with Maurice B. Clark at the young age of 19. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Standard Oil in 1889

Standard Oil in 1889

The Standard Oil Company was founded in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller, William Rockefeller, Henry M. Flagler, Samuel Andrews, and Stephen V. Harkness. It was located in the Flats, a region along the Cuyahoga River. Standard Oil, along with many other manufacturers, chose this location for the convenience of Great Lakes and railroad transportation. Image Courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society. View File Details Page

Rockefeller at Coit Road Station, East Cleveland in 1912

Rockefeller at Coit Road Station, East Cleveland in 1912

During the beginning of his oil enterprise, Rockefeller took advantage of Cleveland's many railroads to bring crude oil from Pennsylvania and western Ohio to his refineries in Cleveland. He later went further, using railroad rebates to keep his prices down. Another method that skyrocketed Standard Oil's success was the creating of the Standard Oil Trust. Rockefeller organized the trust in January of 1882, but it was dissolved by the State of Ohio in 1892. Image Courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society. View File Details Page

John D. Rockefeller ready for an auto ride 1911

John D. Rockefeller ready for an auto ride 1911

In 1911, automobile popularity caused the sale of gasoline to exceed kerosene. At that time the Standard Oil enterprise was in control of 85% of Ohio's gasoline. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Standard Oil Company, ca. 1937

Standard Oil Company, ca. 1937

After the State of Ohio successfully won a lawsuit against the Standard Oil Trust, Standard Oil of Ohio was formed. Also called "Sohio," the corporation was bought by BP in 1987. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

The Rockefeller Home

The Rockefeller Home

Rockefeller purchased his house on Millionaires' Row on Euclid Avenue in 1868. His three children were born there and the family resided there for 16 years before moving to New York City. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Rockefeller Monument in Lake View Cemetery

Rockefeller Monument in Lake View Cemetery

Rockefeller - a true Cleveland Hall of Famer - passed away in Ormond Beach, Florida on May 23, 1937. The 98 year old was buried four days later in Cleveland at Lake View Cemetery. A nearly 70 foot family monument towers over his grave. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. View File Details Page

Monument by Carabelli

Monument by Carabelli

In 1914, Cleveland's famed monument makers proudly advertised that they had erected one of the largest granite obelisks ever in the United States for the Rockefeller family. The monument was placed at Lake View Cemetery in 1899. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Heidi Fearing, “John D. Rockefeller,” Cleveland Historical, accessed September 25, 2016, http://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/328.
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