“When you have a Rockefeller on your committee, it is a bonus. People want to hobnob with them.” – New York Society Chronicler.
We have heard of monarchies that have lasted for centuries, however, it’s rare that we hear of a wealthy family staying wealthy for generations and generations. It would be hard to believe that the wealth of a family will last much further than the grandchildren- the taxes, expenses, dilution of the well-being of children and their children and the inevitable corruption of large amounts of money ultimately drains out the wealth and affects the family conditions.
Yet, the Rockefeller family has proved us all wrong, by challenging this belief. As of now, the Rockefeller family is in its seventh generation, having 170 heirs and it continues to maintain a substantial fortune. According to Forbes, in 2016, they received a fortune of $11 billion. The Rockefeller family created history more than 100 years ago, when John D. Rockefeller made America’s first billionaire after establishing the Standard Oil Company in the late 19th century.The family has remained largely cohesive, without public scandals, hostility, lawsuits and other tragedies that have been typical to other golden dynasties.
The Rockefeller legacy began with the dreams and ambitions of a 16-year-old bookkeeper in Cleveland, who wished to earn a $100,000 and live a hundred years. His formal business training included just a ten-week class in accounting, and a con-artist father who was known to have said, “I cheat my boys every chance I get. I want to make ’em sharp,” according to the biography John D. Rockefeller: Anointed with Oil.
This young man with great ambitions was John D. Rockefeller in 1855, who in just a matter of the short-span of twenty-five years would become the wealthiest man of his time (adjusted to today’s dollars, he would have been worth in excess of $30 billion) and arguably the wealthiest in history, managing to build an empire reigning over a monopoly that refined almost 90 percent of America’s oil.
John D. Rockefeller started his first job at the mere age of 16, as an assistant accountant for a merchant firm known as Hewitt & Tuttle. After working for four years at Hewitt & Tuttle, he set out in pursuit of his own dreams; together with a partner, he founded a commission merchant company that dealt with meat, hay and grains. By the end of its first year, the business had grossed almost $450,000.
Sensing the oil boom that was soon to take over the country, John decided to initiate his next venture, one that would change the course of history. With the rate of oil production in Pennsylvania speeding up, he built a refinery near Pittsburgh in 1863. Within two years, it had become the largest in the area. Finally, in 1870, John and his business partners assimilated the Standard Oil Company.
Due to Rockefeller’s astute management, various cost-cutting measures, and a conservative financial management and some of his other methods that were rightly criticised, he and his Standard Oil proceeded to lead the oil industry, so much so that Standard Oil ended up attracting the attention of the United States government, and in 1911, the government ordered that the company be broken up under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. However, this move wasn’t enough to hurt the fortune that Rockefeller had created.
Upon his death, John Rockefeller left the majority of his wealth to his only son, John Jr., but in reality things were a bit more complicated. A trust was established, as well as several other entities designed to take care of the family money and to make sure that the Rockefeller way of life was preserved. These trusts, even today are controlled by their male heirs, and certain powerful trustees who dole out annual stipends to many Rockefeller heirs. Today, much of the family’s wealth is pooled and managed at Rockefeller & Co.
Even though Rockefellers have been rich from the very beginning and over time, their wealth has continued to increase. Families like Vanderbilt, Astora, and Carnegie did the same, but you don’t see them still giving away their wealth, like the Rockefellers. Throughout his life, David Rockefeller gave more than $1 billion. We know John D. Rockefeller for acting as an instrument to help create the great American economy, he is perhaps just as famous for his philanthropy.
From the Manhattan skyline to the Gulf Coast, the impact that the Rockefeller family has had on society cannot be missed. One of the most visible contributions made by John D. Rockefeller to the United States, was the University of Chicago. Through this, he intended to create the first great Baptist university and he gave the school $80 million, which is $2 billion in today’s dollar. He also went on to find the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research, to spur the study of diseases and their prevention.
After this, of course, came the Rockefeller Foundation, an institution he established in 1913 to “promote the wellbeing of mankind throughout the world”. It has succeeded in doing exactly what it intended to, donating millions to endorse education, promote public health, scientific development, social research, arts and more.
The monopolist’s son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., born on January 29, 1874, was to follow in his father’s footsteps and leave his own sizable mark upon the world. He built the Rockefeller Centre, an expanse of 19 commercial skyscrapers in Midtown Manhattan. Philanthropy is the strongest adhesive that has helped the family together, John D. Rockefeller’s motto was, “I believe every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession a duty.”
Starting from 2017, the fourth generation David Rockefeller Jr., has taken over the empire. His father, David Rockefeller Sr. was the oldest billionaire in the world possessing a net worth of $3.3 billion at the time of his death in 2017. The question is how did they do it, how did they manage to keep this huge empire afloat for more than a century?
“The family has developed a system of values, traditions, and institutions that have helped the family stay together and preserve their wealth. They are useful to any family trying to raise children with good money values, even if you’re not wealthy,” said David Rockefeller Jr. in a rare interview. Many in the family have also made substantial inroads in politics, together holding enough posts to rival the Kennedys, another clan of American blue bloods. The Rockefeller family has been as secretive as it has been influential, and most of the clan manages to stay out of the limelight.
There are many questions to be asked about how one man or family – can possibly come to accumulate such incredible fortune as that of the Rockefeller family. Even though there were aspects of John’s strategy that were aggressive and uncompetitive, his approach to making mergers and acquisitions is one that has since become a prevailing business practice, since he was the first to do it with such huge success. It was through his willingness to do things differently, that John laid the foundation for an industry that is vital for the global economy and an area of business that has spurred the progress and advancement for countless others.
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Currently a BA Eco (Hons) undergrad at SRCC, Palak is a highly driven individual who finds solace in TV series and movies. She lives in her own fantasy world and aspires to be ten percent as confident and elegant as her hero Michelle Obama.