Book Review of Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow

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Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
This Book Review of Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. by Ron Chernow is brought to you from Jordan Knesek from the Titans of Investing.

Genre: Biography & History
Author: Ron Chernow
Title: Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (Buy the Book)


Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. paints an extraordinary picture of the life of one of the most controversial men in all of history. Ron Chernow brilliantly illustrates the relationship between Rockefeller’s upbringing, personality, career, and legacy.

The world that John D. Rockefeller was born into explains his unconventional childhood. With a dependable, religious mother and a charming, fortune-seeking father, John would grow up to portray qualities from both sides of his family.

His environment, shaped from relationships at home and indirect effects of what his childhood deprived him of, all ultimately factored into his ability to reach extravagant achievements.

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Rockefeller’s persistence landed him a job early in his career. Always a visionary, he stopped at nothing to climb the ladder of success. As opportunities arose with new businessmen in promising industries, Rockefeller continued to make decisions that would pave the way for what would be a legendary life. Introduced to the oil business early on, Rockefeller would later become the mastermind behind the industry through his creation of Standard Oil.

As Rockefeller became even more successful, harsh criticism ensued. Many claim that Rockefeller unfairly built his empire, often at the expense of smaller, less powerful businesses. However, Rockefeller would never admit to these critical accusations, finding ways to either deny or avert negative attention.

Rockefeller eventually became the most powerful man in the world, both in business and philanthropy. He softened in his later years, becoming more open with the public and in touch with their needs.

By the end of his life, John D. Rockefeller gave away the majority of his fortune to better society. Ironically, a man who caused an incredible amount of controversy was and will forever be known as one of the most generous men in the world.


John D. Rockefeller’s unusual success in business stems from a unique set of circumstances. His personality, often cited as a tense interplay of contradictory qualities, can be credited to his upbringing. Rockefeller’s matchless disposition paired with his placement in one of the most opportunistic times in the history of business truly created the right environment for his extraordinary success.

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In analyzing Rockefeller’s life, it is important to start at the beginning, noting the implications of the family and world he was born into. Little did his ancestors know that their interesting blend of personalities and haphazard choices would one day produce a combination so strong that it would create a legend.

An Unconventional Upbringing

In 1806, the grandfather of the future oil titan, Godfrey Rockefeller, married Lucy Avery. Lucy was a confident and strong woman, firm in her Baptist faith, all qualities which would be passed down to her grandson.

Godfrey was a cheerful man, but he was an alcoholic and experienced inconsistent business success.

Lucy would later instill a detestation of liquor in her grandson, and Godfrey’s inability to steadily provide amplified John D. Rockefeller’s admiration and appreciation for resilient, religious women even more. Rockefeller’s life would be full of men gone awry, explaining his early maturity, strong faith, abhorrence of secularity, and desire to steadily provide.

Godfrey and Lucy’s third of ten children, William Avery Rockefeller, would later become the father of “the world’s richest man.” Adventurous and an adversary of predictable morality, William would leave the family for periods of time, always finding ways to reap the fruits of success without putting in hard work.

This quality continued well into John D. Rockefeller’s life, causing William’s wife and John’s mother, Eliza Davison Rockefeller to, in many ways like Lucy Avery, be the sole source of dependability and continual morality in the household.

John D. Rockefeller was born into unfortunate circumstances on July 8, 1839.

His father had brought in a housekeeper to live with the family, but even Eliza knew that she was William’s mistress. John was born sandwiched between two half-sisters from the mistress, a situation he never admitted to knowing about.

Like Godfrey, William Rockefeller spent much of his life attempting to be successful in a variety of businesses. William was best known for his career as a con artist, swindling local townspeople across the country through charming salesmanship. Eliza, trapped into marriage with the charismatic man, did her best to raise respectable, frugal, churchgoing, and generous children.

Encouraging her children to work and save, John would later credit his mother for instilling an innate desire for philanthropy in him. Baptists like the Rockefellers did not look down on wealth, but instead, opposed its vain display. This dissonance would create a strain in John D. Rockefeller’s later life.

Despite William’s flaws, young John was still impressed by his father. William would come home from long absences with hoards of cash, creating an early association for John between money and happiness.

William taught John how to bargain, sell, and even instilled a relationship between God and money early in John’s life when he offered his son five dollars to read the entire Bible.

John D. Rockefeller’s childhood was full of moves, following William’s unpredictable career. At one point, William moved the family to Moravia, New York, a golden period in John’s childhood. During this time, William revealed a desire to become a respectable member of society, often championing social causes and proactively addressing needs in his community.

John loved this rural, country life, and he later credited it for preparing him for the tough, industrial challenges he would one day endure.

The next move took the family to Owego, New York, where John would receive a quality education. As he matured, he saw more and more of his father’s flaws, hastening his sense of personal responsibility towards family and increasing both his skepticism of others and firmness in faith.

Until this point, Eliza tolerated Bill’s long absences and affairs. However, he eventually met a woman whom he had deeper feelings for, thus ending his relationship with his family. He moved Eliza and the children to Strongsville, Ohio, to live with his relatives, and sent sons John and William to continue their education at a Cleveland boarding school.

Early writings from John’s education reveal that he was a young democrat and abolitionist.

He believed America would only improve through an educated society. Although he planned on attending college, a lack of financial support from his father for the family ended that dream two months before his high school graduation. John would have to take up work to help provide for Eliza and his siblings.

Rockefeller’s Start in Business

John D. Rockefeller found it easy to break free from his small town past because he did not grow up in a farming family. Searching for his first job, he sought out establishments in the city directory with high credit ratings.

For six days a week for six weeks, he approached businesses, finally getting a job on September 26, 1855 as a bookkeeper at Hewitt and Tuttle, commission merchants and produce shippers. He would forever regard September 26 as “Job Day”, celebrating it more than his birthday.

Rockefeller was an ardent bookkeeper, and Hewitt and Tuttle was a great training ground that liberated him from his stifling childhood.

The firm exposed him to modern technology and business practices such as the use of the telegraph and railroads. When he began work at Hewitt and Tuttle, he paid a dime for a small red book that he would famously call Ledger A. Here, he would forever record his revenues and expenses, accurately keeping control over all that he did.

While many would later accuse him of donating money to cleanse his controversial name, Ledger A shows that he was a generous man long before his name was known to the world. Later realizing the firm had financial trouble, he left Hewitt and Tuttle and founded a new business partnership under the name of Clark and Rockefeller, buying and selling produce.

John D. Rockefeller became an active member in his church. He turned here to answer family problems, and his Baptist faith allowed him to control his father’s rowdy nature within him. He always helped the church in a business sense, avowing that, “God gave me my money.” Rockefeller later believed that because of his talent for accumulating wealth, along with living a virtuous life, the creator would abundantly compensate him so that he could give back to God’s kingdom.

At the time of the Civil War, John was twenty-one years old. Although an avid Union supporter, he did not serve in the war because he was providing for his family. His younger brother Frank wanted to enlist and asked John for money to do so.

This request was foreshadowing because John would continue to support Frank financially for the rest of his life despite Frank’s harsh and jealous behavior towards his older, generous brother. Fortunately for John, the Civil War spurred the North’s economic development. Cleveland, where John was doing business, became significantly more important during this time. Profits soared, converting Rockefeller into a wealthy man able to capitalize on a new industry soon to boom in northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Beginning of Oil

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, whale fisheries could not keep up with the increasing need for illuminating oil. There were no other cheap options, so in response to demand, society saw the birth of the petroleum industry. Drake’s Folly was the result of a belief that rock oil in Pennsylvania would yield an illuminant more easily than coal oil.

The most important discovery was not the oil itself as much as it was the breakthrough of tapping commercial quantities of oil in a controlled process. Derricks sprouted up everywhere, and word made it back to the offices of Clark and Rockefeller in Cleveland.

Samuel Andrews, a friend of Clark and a fellow congregation member to Rockefeller, ended up convincing John to go into the refining business. The formation of Andrews, Clark, and Co. placed 24 year old Rockefeller right in the middle of the promising oil business.

There were many things that catapulted Rockefeller from amateur oil businessman to the legend he would later become.

He was detailed and strategic in every decision, from choosing optimal refinery locations to retaining the talented coworkers he needed to achieve ultimate success. He was extremely careful in choosing his business partners, believing that the “weak immoral man was also destined to be a poor businessman.”

While many viewed it as a mirage, he never lost sight of his long-term vision for the oil business. A rational, stable, and visionary businessman, Rockefeller split from the risk-averse and morally questionable Clarks, buying out the refining business with financial support from Andrews.

As he continued in the oil business, Rockefeller was appalled by the lack of morality in the oil fields, strengthening his belief that he was an upright and outstanding Christian in a world where his decisions would continually become more and more questionable.

During all of this excitement in his professional life, Rockefeller also hit one huge personal milestone, marrying Laura Celestia Spelman in 1864.

The Spelman family symbolized the respectability that Rockefeller longed for in his disordered upbringing. “Cettie” shared the same values as her husband, making their household firm and unwavering in traditional beliefs. Interestingly enough, this would play out in their children’s lives differently than one might expect.

The Post-Civil War Boom

After the Civil War, conditions were prime for an industrial economy that would overshadow everything of the past. Existence of oil outside of Pennsylvania was uncertain, so at this time, the area was the global supplier.

John sent his brother William, who would become a long-time business partner, to New York in 1866 to launch Rockefeller and Company, which would oversee the exports from the Cleveland refineries. At this point, Rockefeller needed more money than Cleveland banks would offer, and Wall Street believed oil refining was risky.

To increase business, he would carefully turn to bankers. Bankers trusted him because of his character, honesty, and prompt payments. This only validated his yearning and regard for spotless character. Despite John’s mistrust of bankers, they definitely helped propel him to his status as a business legend.

Another critical factor in Rockefeller’s success stems from his controversial relationship with the railroads.

Henry Flagler joined Andrews and Rockefeller in a new partnership in 1867 and would later be known as the “mastermind” behind railroad negotiations. Cleveland was serviced by three railroads, and Rockefeller and Flagler would become notorious for playing them against each other to secure advantageous rates on oil shipments.

A critical point for Rockefeller, the oil industry, and America’s economy was a revolutionary deal with the Lake Shore Railroad. Promising to supply the railroad with a certain quantity of oil per day, Rockefeller coordinated his and other businesses to meet this capacity, allowing railroads to reduce round trip time and decreasing the number of fleet cars needed.

As John began to vigorously take over the oil industry, even legislation could not keep up with his exponentially increasing profits, only making his war chest deeper for future opportunities that would grow soon to be empire.

One might expect this growing fortune to have an impact on Rockefeller’s societal status, but he maintained an affordable home reflecting his Puritan values. He began to involve himself in philanthropy and make time for passions such as his love for horses, which he saw as a therapeutic diversion from the mounting pressures at work.

John and Cettie would have five children, one boy and four girls. While outsiders believed that the Rockefeller home was “somber and stuffy,” John D. was remembered as being a lively and fun father during the children’s early years.

John and Cettie thought the first step from saving them from extravagance was keeping them oblivious to their father’s wealth. Cettie was intellectual and bright, but during her role as a mother, she would lose this spirit, becoming even more simple and strict.

High profits and low start-up costs after the Civil War caused overcrowding in the oil industry. Rockefeller was threatened by an industry failure if prices fell too low, so he created a systematic solution. 1869 introduced his campaign to increase cooperation instead of competition.

He knew he needed capital, so the solution was to incorporate, thus creating the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Later known as the “Cleveland Massacre,” Rockefeller quickly conquered over 20 rival refiners. Then came another big, controversial headline in the creation of the South Improvement Company (SIC). Created by the railroads, the SIC was seen by many as an attempt by Rockefeller to manipulate the oil industry.

The SIC’s intentions were to benefit both refiners and railroads through secret rebates, but before any oil was ever shipped, the public caught wind of the scheme. Regardless, the SIC brought attention to the relationship between big business and railroads, something that would be on the forefront of the peoples’ mind for decades to come.

During this time, Rockefeller remained silent. While he assumed silence reflected confidence and innocence, it made the public speculate that he was guilty of unfair play. As he took over competitors before the end of the SIC, many credited selling out to either fear of an SIC contract or Rockefeller’s immense persuasion as a businessman.

Refiners rushed to sell out to Standard Oil because their plants were losing money due to alleged railroad rebates. Since there were no anti-trust laws, Rockefeller could keep competitors from re-entering the oil business after they sold to him, only solidifying his hold on the industry. Rockefeller continued to justify his actions, regarding God as an ally through this time, a shareholder of Standard Oil that had and would continue to bless his wealth if he led a virtuous life.

Even after the SIC fallout, Rockefeller kept on the offensive. He encouraged voluntary associations, but soon realized they did not move with the speed and efficiency that he desired. In 1873, the post-Civil War boom had finally ended, and depression set in, giving Rockefeller a chance to capitalize.

He slashed Standard Oil dividends to increase cash, and became even more aggressive in his takeover. Ironically at the time, society did not realize just how immense his conquest had become.

Because he was so secretive in his business dealings, he had competitors continue to operate under their prior names and management. Had the public known of his growing wealth, investors would have only added to the excess capacity problem in the industry.

For all of the criticism, many regarded Rockefeller as a kind and fair employer.

He was always searching for ways to constantly improve the business. Amongst other disagreements, Rockefeller favored reinvestment in Standard Oil while Andrews wanted to pay fair dividends, and eventually the misalignment caused the two to part ways, giving Rockefeller even more control of his growing company.

Even though by this point, Rockefeller was the master of storage tanks and pipelines, refiners, and by-product plants, the oil industry still had volatile tendencies. Standard Oil became so intertwined with the railroads that the two businesses were indistinguishable.

Five years after the Cleveland Massacre, Standard Oil controlled around 90% of the refined oil in the United States. The competition leftover served as a political defense for the often-criticized Standard Oil. As time went on, Rockefeller began to focus on building a pipeline system instead of just manipulating railroads.

During the Gilded Age, there was little difference between a businessman and politician, and Rockefeller’s papers show that Standard Oil was no exception to the corruption going on in Washington. Even as legal claims against Rockefeller increased, he would continue to see business skyrocket, always remaining a step ahead the prosecution.

The Move to New York

Because of booming business, Rockefeller moved to New York in 1883, establishing an office in lower Manhattan at 26 Broadway. Rockefeller brilliantly created a structure that eventually evolved into the Standard Oil Trust, a way to streamline what had been a patchwork of operations across the country, enabling a more efficient, centralized business.

Standard Oil set the standard for mass production and industry development, something that would not have been possible in a purely competitive market. Although a highly successful business at the time, Standard Oil was nowhere near the peak of its existence, and there was still skepticism surrounding the trust.

Rockefeller was and would forever continue to be a firm believer in Standard Oil’s future, constantly purchasing available stock, in turn enlarging his soaring wealth.

As the Rockefeller name grew in recognition, it became harder for the family to find any privacy. Even with accumulating wealth, they lived humbly, continuing to associate with people of the same conservative values.

Rockefeller kept his family and business life separate, not wanting his children to feel entitled and in the spotlight. Cettie became even stricter in her religious beliefs, and one wonders whether this was overcompensation for the increasing controversy surrounding Standard Oil.

Standard Oil’s business became too large to handle, forcing Rockefeller to vertically integrate the entire industry so necessary sales could be made.

He monitored competitors to an arguably unethical extent. Even if it meant foregoing profits, Rockefeller was fixed on high-volume and low-cost production to maintain market share. These questionable practices only added to the controversy surrounding Standard Oil.

At this point, the only oil field in America was in Pennsylvania. It still seemed risky to invest too much in a business that had not been proven existent beyond these borders. When oil was finally tapped in Ohio, there was no stopping the tycoon.

He wagered a huge amount on this new, unique oil, even though it was of a different quality than the Pennsylvania oil. With full faith in the industry’s future, Rockefeller hired a chemist to find a way to turn this Ohio oil into something marketable. The impact of this success heightened the status of research in business and increased Rockefeller’s investments in science.

Standard Oil saw an increasing number of attacks from both societal and legal realms as it grew in power.

The Sherman Antitrust Act and the Interstate Commerce Act intended to suppress the questionable acts of Standard Oil, but because of lack of enforcement, not much could be done to truly stop the business from its path to monopolization. Public antipathy towards and lawsuits against Standard Oil only continued to mount with its growth.

In 1890, Ohio’s attorney general filed a petition against Ohio Standard in the state supreme court, seeking the dissolution of Standard Oil. The court ruled against Standard Oil, but the business saw this less as a threat to its existence than it did as a chance to reorganize the company structure.

Despite the 1893 depression, Standard Oil thrived. The widespread use of oil and the invention of the automobile ensured continual profits. Standard Oil, full of cash reserves, was thought of as a bank within itself, capitalizing on the economic state during this time. True to his character, Rockefeller never wanted credit or publicity for saving so many public and private businesses from the consequences of the depression. Still, criticism of the oil giant unceasingly grew.

Rockefeller’s Personal Matters

Rockefeller’s life was and continued to be plagued by extended family troubles. His father, William Avery Rockefeller, was still legally married to his mother, Eliza, but was living life as a bigamist with another woman. John constantly tried to bring his parents back together.

By this point, John’s father was truly living a double life both personally and professionally. He began to go by the name “Doc Levingston,” and would go to the grave with this alias. In 1889, Eliza suffered a stroke, and John bitterly asked the funeral officiate to announce that his mother died a widow.

John’s relationship with his siblings was not much better than that with his father.

His brother Frank was always jealous of his success, gambling away his money, which was not surprisingly, mostly given by his older brother. Frank and his father continued to be very close, increasing the tension between the two and John. Their brother, William Avery Rockefeller, Jr., continued to be involved as an executive at Standard Oil, often serving as a buffer between John and Frank.

Baptists felt passionately about social causes, and Rockefeller was no exception. As profits continued to soar, Rockefeller realized he could not spend efficiently at the rate he was accumulating money. He would one day become known as the greatest philanthropist in American history, but it would take time to develop a system that would effectively manage and distribute his fortune.

Inspired through activists to support black education following the Civil War, he donated funds to what would eventually become the Spelman College. Lobbied by Baptist theologian and friend, Augustus Strong, for the creation of an elite Baptist university in New York City, Rockefeller showed hesitancy because of skepticism about Strong’s true motives.

Regardless, the two were friends and their families close, and eventually, Strong’s son, Charles, married Rockefeller’s daughter, Bessie. Despite this tie, Rockefeller ended up giving to another school, the University of Chicago, an act that would define his future approach as a philanthropist.

For a man that would one day be known as the greatest philanthropist in the world, Rockefeller was cautious in his giving. He believed his gifts should not create dependence. Rather, he wanted to give enough to make an impact that could attract attention and other gifts, allowing the causes themselves to outgrow him.

Requests for gifts were so countless that the task became unmanageable for Rockefeller alone.

He asked Frederick Gates to assist him in his selecting his investments, handling the innumerable interviews and requests. The massive responsibility took a toll on Rockefeller’s bandwidth at Standard Oil and his everyday health. He was ordered to spend eight months away from work at his Forest Hill home, and considered retirement because of the effect work had on his wellbeing. His attention was directed more and more towards philanthropy as opposed to purely Standard Oil matters.

Rockefeller’s children each have their own unique and interesting story. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. was known as “his mother’s favorite.” He was easy for John and Cettie to raise, very much like his father in his reserved nature and frugality.

He attended college at Brown, where he was loved by his peers. Despite a lack in confidence and maintenance of his traditional morals, he was still elected junior class president. When looking for a spouse, Junior found what he lacked in liberating, confident Abby Aldrich, daughter of a career congressman.

Junior began working at Standard Oil in 1897, not long after his father had decided to step back and focus on philanthropy. Although a rough and ambiguous start, Junior eventually found and earned his place as Standard Oil’s heir.

The Rockefellers were known to turn their heads the other way regarding their own family’s unpleasant thoughts, words, and actions.

This is how John handled his father’s absences and the death of his two-year-old sibling Francis when he was just a boy, as well as how he handled his children’s problems. Bessie, the oldest Rockefeller daughter, and her husband Charles, who was a freethinker opposed to religion, moved to Europe. Bessie suffered from psychological problems and became a semi-invalid. Much of her story remains a mystery to this day.

Edith, the youngest Rockefeller daughter, suffered from nervous problems throughout her life. She was the most stubborn, outspoken Rockefeller child, and this pride was reflected throughout her marriage to Harold McCormick.

Edith and her husband borrowed to support their spending habits. Edith loved to entertain and impress guests, and when her young son contracted scarlet fever, rumors circulated that Edith learned of his death from a butler while she was at a dinner party.

This was not true, but caused her fragile mental state to worsen. Eventually, Edith and Harold would engage in adultery, neglecting their children, all of which caused strained relationships with her traditional parents.

While both Bessie and Edith moved away from their parents’ tight control after marriage, their sister Alta stayed near her mother and father. She was respectful, compassionate, and impressionable, the third quality almost to a fault.

She was continually falling in love with the wrong men. Alta eventually married Ezra Parmalee Prentice, a man who would never desire a close relationship with Rockefeller. Parmalee was autocratic in every way, and Alta tried her best to put a good face on the marriage.

As if family troubles were not enough, trusts were increasingly becoming a target by both the public and the government.

Many industries saw trusts created, but none as powerful as the great Standard Oil until the creation of U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar empire to overtake Standard Oil in size. Rockefeller’s involvement in this made him the second wealthiest American. Opposed to the issue of large dividends at the time, Rockefeller resigned from his board position at U.S. Steel, leaving Junior to represent him. By 1911, both Rockefellers would liquidate all of their holdings in the company.

Later Years at Standard Oil

In the 1890s, Rockefeller would officially retire, making more money during this time than he did during his career at 26 Broadway. Ironically enough, Rockefeller would revert to boyhood in his later years, possibly compensating for his early maturity and high expectations as a child.

He became interested in engineering, bike riding, and more than anything, golf. Golf helped to alleviate his medical problems, including but not limited to digestive issues and alopecia. Many of these passions became part of a rigorous daily routine, with Rockefeller believing he could extend his longevity if he adhered to his rules and lived a virtuous life.

Cettie was sickly for awhile before John’s health deteriorated. She would eventually become an invalid after a stroke caused by a harsh publication by Ida Tarbell, one of John’s most well-known critics. A forever loyal and loving husband scarred by the actions of his father, John stayed faithful to Cettie until she would later pass away in 1915.

Reaching its peak influence in the 1890s, Standard Oil decided it should again restructure its company based on the hostile legal environment and aging executives. Standard Oil believed that after William McKinley’s reelection in 1896, all would be fine for big business.

A surprise to everyone, the president was assassinated, and things took a turn for the worst in regards to government favor. Theodore Roosevelt took over the White House, singling out Standard Oil as the symbol of abusive trusts he despised. Political to the core, Roosevelt did not make his move against Standard Oil until after his reelection in 1904.

One of Roosevelt’s greatest allies in attacking Standard Oil was journalist Ida Tarbell.

Tarbell grew up during Rockefeller’s rise to power, her own family and friends stripped and devastated by his merciless takeover. In 1902, Tarbell published a series based on Rockefeller’s controversial past, which Rockefeller believed was safely buried behind him.

Tarbell made Rockefeller a more controversial figure than he could have ever imagined. She eventually broke the story of Doc Levingston and published private information gathered from his brother, Frank. Naturally, Rockefeller responded to Tarbell’s criticism in his usual way of not responding to negativity at all.

The public saw this as guilt and validation of Tarbell’s claims. Interestingly enough, a lot of Rockefeller’s words and actions were not inspired by the heartless motive many associate him with. Instead, his sometimes harsh business decisions were merely a reflection of his circumstances and unique personality or just a miscommunication of his intentions with the public. In the end, Tarbell’s writings did not stand the test of time because of her bias and sometimes false claims.

As Rockefeller was more and more criticized, he became less available to the press and public. He clung to his unwavering Baptist faith, still attending church and leading what he believed was an honorable life. This only added to the assertions of hypocrisy that were brought against him, yet often exaggerated.

Not necessarily correlated to the ensuing criticism, John D. Rockefeller turned more to philanthropy than ever before. He was a main contributor to the advancement of medicine and education in the United States, and his efforts eventually reached a global scale. Ironically, the man who would endow the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research was also a man who had a deep faith in homeopathy.

Just like his father, Junior found his philanthropic passions, beginning with southern black education. Rockefeller philanthropies would expand throughout the south as disparity was continually identified in the region after the Civil War. Rockefeller was one of the most generous men in history, but his notoriety as a businessman still outshone his philanthropic reputation.

As Rockefeller aged, he unwaveringly kept to his daily routines.

He even lived in specific houses during times of the year despite his wife being bedridden in a different location. As the oil tycoon retreated from business, Junior began to fill his father’s void even more. Junior felt a heavy weight to fill his father’s role, but to also cleanse their controversial name.

The pressure on Junior would definitely add stress that would impact both his home life and personal wellbeing. Scandals from inside Standard Oil pushed Junior to choose a career much more in line with his passion, philanthropy and reform.

The End of Standard Oil

With age, Rockefeller became more open to the press, but it seemed too late to make amends that would slow the legal system down. In 1906, the federal government filed suit in Missouri to dissolve Standard Oil under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

The giant was over twenty times the size of its next largest competitor. By mid-1907, there were seven federal and six state suits against Standard Oil. None of these suits ended with the dissolution of Standard Oil, so Roosevelt decided to again prosecute Standard Oil in hopes of finally dissolving the monopoly.

In response to the financial panic of 1907, Rockefeller promised to bail out Wall Street. For somebody so hated and criticized at the time, it is hard to fairly accuse him of pitilessness when taking a deeper look at his generosity. As the public’s view of Rockefeller improved, he received more praise and admirers than ever before.

People began to believe that Rockefeller was not as bad as everyone had made him out to be. It is arguable that had Rockefeller been more open to the public from the start of his career, Standard Oil may not have seen such a controversial battle with the government that eventually ended in its defeat.

The end of the infamous Standard Oil trust came when a federal court ruled that Standard Oil of New Jersey and its thirty-seven affiliates violated the Sherman Antitrust Act after 41 years of existence. In vintage Rockefeller fashion, the founder never read the court opinion which dissolved his empire.

The lesson for history in this decision was that government regulation is sometimes necessary to guarantee true competition. Standard Oil broke up into thirty-four new companies, but it took time to convince the public that the Supreme Court decision actually made an impact since much of management remained intact.

John D. Rockefeller’s Legacy

With the increasing need for gasoline and the prospering of the new companies, Rockefeller’s fortune still grew in retirement. To properly dispose of this fortune, the Rockefeller Foundation was created to “promote the well-being of mankind throughout the world.”

Junior took on a more powerful role in the Rockefeller Foundation as his father stepped back, and all seemed well.

Little did they know that the worst nightmare in Rockefeller history had yet to occur. Workers at a Colorado company the Rockefellers had interest in were on strike, and eventually gunfire ensued between the strikers and guards onsite. This event became known as the Ludlow Massacre, and Junior denied the magnitude of the event in fear that it would forever tarnish the family name.

After much work and advice from outside counsel, Junior was able to successfully get the family through the Ludlow crisis, moving forward with his philanthropic efforts. Successfully addressing this controversy was proof to John D. Rockefeller that Junior was ready to manage the family business.

In his final stage in life, Rockefeller became increasingly cheerful.

He famously distributed coins to the public, encouraging saving and hard work. Rockefeller even decided to sit down for a three-hour interview with William O. Inglis, inspired by his son’s success in openly dealing with the public after Ludlow. He loved afternoon drives, daily golf outings, and hosting parties for his neighbors at some of his vacation homes. By this time, Junior was solidifying his place as the heir to the Rockefeller name and fortune.

During the stock market crash, the Rockefeller family felt a financial strain in regards to a few projects, specifically one on a site between 48th and 51st streets and 5th and 6th avenues in New York City.

In a daring decision, Junior decided to personally finance a complex of office buildings that he would call “Rockefeller Center.” The construction of Rockefeller Center provided work for 75,000 workers during the depression and would serve as the seat of the Rockefeller empire for posterity.

On May 22, 1937, all seemed fine in the world as John D. Rockefeller was approaching his ninety-eighth birthday. However, before the end of May 23, Rockefeller had a heart attack, lapsing into a coma and dying in his sleep.

The “richest man in the world” left behind an estate of only $26.4 million, as much had been given away by the time he passed. Often contradictory, his legacy will forever be regarded as one of the most impactful in history, whether for better or worse. When speaking of his father, Junior said it best: “There was only one John D. Rockefeller.” would like to thank the Titans of Investing for allowing us to publish this content. Titans is a student organization founded by Britt Harris. Learn more about the organization and the man behind it by clicking either of these links.

Britt always taught us Titans that Wisdom is Cheap, and principal can find treasure troves of the good stuff in books. We hope only will also express their thanks to the Titans if the book review brought wisdom into their lives.

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