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The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

ROCKEFELLER, JOHN D. - The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

ROCKEFELLER, JOHN D. (8 July 1839-23 May 1937), industrialist and philanthropist, rose from his position as an assistant bookkeeper for a Cleveland commission merchant to become one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. through his efforts in developing the STANDARD OIL CO. (OHIO) Born on a farm near Richford, NY. Rockefeller was the son of Wm. A. and Eliza Davison Rockefeller. He came to the Cleveland area with his family in 1853, settling in STRONGSVILLE. Boarding in Cleveland, he attended CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL from 1853-55. After additional courses at a business college, he became assistant bookkeeper for commission merchants Henry B. Tuttle and Isaac L. Hewitt in Sept. 1855. In Mar. 1859, Rockefeller and Maurice B. Clark established their own commission business, which prospered during the CIVIL WAR.

In 1863, Rockefeller entered the oil business, and in 1865 left the commission business to work full-time in oil. He organized STANDARD OIL CO. (OHIO) as its largest stockholder in 1870, directing the company until he retired in 1896, but retaining the title of president until 1911. By 1880, Rockefeller was worth about $18 million. He was also involved in other business ventures, holding stock in the Cleveland Arcade Co., and in 1905 building the ROCKEFELLER BUILDING Rockefeller's business dealings necessitated increasingly more time in New York; he bought a home there in 1884 and eventually made that his legal residence. Nevertheless he maintained 2 homes in Cleveland and continued to summer at Forest Hill until a tax dispute with local officials in 1913. His summer stays were usually short enough for him to avoid becoming liable for taxes, but his wife's illness had forced the Rockefellers to extend their stay in 1912. When the Rockefellers remained at Forest Hill past the February 1, 1913, tax deadline, county officials assessed Rockefeller with a tax bill of $1.5 million, which Rockefeller refused to pay. During the dispute, Rockefeller was under a subpoena that prevented him from entering Ohio. After the dispute was resolved, Rockefeller continued his support Cleveland-area institutions, but never returned to Forest Hill.

Rockefeller's charity, as well as business, began in Cleveland. In 1856 he donated $19.31 to local charities; his donations grew to $250,000 in 1887 and $1.35 million in 1892. Many institutions to which he belonged received donations, including Erie St. Baptist Church (later EUCLID AVE. BAPTIST CHURCH), the WESTERN RESERVE HISTORICAL SOCIETY, EARLY SETTLERS ASSN. OF THE WESTERN RESERVE, and YMCA. Rockefeller also supported the Ragged School (later Industrial School and CHILDREN'S AID SOCIETY), BETHEL UNION, the WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION, NON-PARTISAN, OF CLEVELAND, ALTA HOUSE, VISITING NURSE ASSN. OF CLEVELAND, the DORCAS HOME Invalids' Home, and Children's Fresh Air Camp. He donated more than $865,000 worth of land to the city for use as PARKS. Rockefeller established several organizations to handle his giving: the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (1901), the General Education Board (1902), the Rockefeller Foundation (1913), and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (1918).

Rockefeller married Laura Celestia Spelman in 1864. They had four children: John D., Elizabeth, Edith, and Alta. Rockefeller died in Ormond Beach, Florida. He is buried in LAKE VIEW CEMETERY.

Chernow, Ron. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (1998).

Izant, Grace Goulder. John D. Rockefeller (1972).

Last Modified: 04 Aug 2014 10:57:14 AM

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