Filed Under Biography

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.


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. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society Date: 1912
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. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Date: ca. 1926
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. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society Date: 1889
John D. Rockefeller ready for an auto ride
John D. Rockefeller ready for an auto ride 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. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Date: 1911
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. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections. Creator: Standard Oil Company Date: ca. 1937
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. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
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. Source: Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Special Collections.
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. Creator: The Joseph Carabelli Monument Works


Settlers Landing Park, Cleveland, OH | An Ohio Historical Marker dedicated to Rockefeller was erected in 2003 at Settlers Landing Park by the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, the Early Settlers Association of the Western Reserve and the Ohio Historical Society. Rockefeller's first refinery, the Excelsior Works, was located about two miles upriver, south of Kingsbury Run.


Heidi Fearing, “John D. Rockefeller,” Cleveland Historical, accessed July 13, 2024,