Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. - That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

John D. Rockefeller

                The VIP for this week is John Davison Rockefeller, Sr., an American business magnate and philanthropist.  Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839 in Richford, New York.  He was the second of six children born to his parent, William Avery “Bill” Rockefeller (November 13, 1810 - May 11, 1906) and Eliza Davison (September 12, 1813 – March 28, 1889).  His siblings were Lucy (1838-1878), William Jr. (1841-1922), Mary (1843-1925), and twins Franklin (Frank) (1845-1917) and Frances (1845-12847).  His ancestry was English and German on his paternal side and Scottish and Irish on his maternal side.

                Rockefeller’s father was a lumberman before becoming a traveling salesman who claimed to be a “botanic physician” and sold elixirs.  He was mysterious and fun-loving; he was referred to by the locals as “Big Bill” and “Devil Bill.”  “He was a sworn foe of conventional morality who had opted for a vagabond existence and who returned to his family infrequently.  Throughout his life, Bill became notorious for shady schemes.  In between the births of Lucy and John, Bill and his mistress/housekeeper Nancy Brown had a daughter named Clorinda (c. 1838 - ?, died young).  Between John and William Jr.’s births, Bill and Nancy had another daughter, Cornelia (c. 1840 - ?).”

                Rockefeller’s mother was a homemaker and devout Baptist; she struggled to maintain stability at home.  “She also put up with his philandering and his double life, which included bigamy.  Thrifty by nature and necessity, she taught her son that `willful waste makes woeful want.’  Young Rockefeller did his share of the regular household chores and earned extra money raising turkeys, selling potatoes and candy, and eventually lending small sums of money to neighbors.  He followed his father’s advice to `trade dishes for platters’ and always get the better part of any deal….”

                The Rockefeller family moved to Moravia, New York, when John was a boy; in 1851 the family moved to Owego where John attended Owego Academy.  Two years later in 1853, the family moved to Strongsville, a suburb of Cleveland, where John attended Central High School.  He then studied bookkeeping at Commercial College.

                “In spite of his father’s absences and frequent family moves, young John was a well-behaved, serious, and studious boy.  His contemporaries described him as reserved, earnest, religious, methodical, and discreet.  He was an excellent debater and expressed himself precisely.  He also had a deep love of music and dreamed of it as a possible career.  Early on, he displayed an excellent mind for numbers and detailed accounting.”

                Rockefeller was sixteen when he started his first job in bookkeeping in 1855.  In 1859 he started a produce commission business with a partner and raised $4,000 in capital.  In 1870 he co-founded Standard Oil with his brother William and several other men.  Standard Oil “dominated the oil industry and was the first great U.S. business trust.  Rockefeller revolutionized the petroleum industry, and along with other key contemporary industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, defined the structure of modern philanthropy.  He actively ran Standard Oil until he officially retired in 1897.  He “became the world’s richest man and the first American worth more than a billion dollars.  Adjusting for inflation, he is often regarded as the richest person in history.”

                Rockefeller retired to his estate, Kykuit, in Westchester County, New York, and spent the last forty years of his life in retirement.  He used his fortune “to create the modern systematic approach of targeted philanthropy.  He was able to do this through the creation of foundations that had a major effect on medicine, education and scientific research.  His foundations pioneered the development of medical research and were instrumental in the eradication of hookworm and yellow fever.”

                Rockefeller founded two universities (University of Chicago and Rockefeller University) and funded the establishment of Central Philippine University in the Philippines.  As a devoted Northern Baptist, he “supported many church-based institutions.”  He totally abstained from alcohol and tobacco throughout his life.  He taught Sunday School at the Erie Street Baptist Mission Church where he also served as a trustee, clerk, and occasional janitor.
                “Religion was a guiding force throughout his life, and Rockefeller believed it to be the source of his success.  Rockefeller was also considered a supporter of capitalism based in a perspective of social Darwinism, and is often quoted saying `The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest.’

                Rockefeller married Laura Celestia “Cettie” Spelman (1839-1915) in 1864.  She was the daughter of Harvey Buell Spelman and Lucy Henry.    He credited his wife with this statement:  “Her judgment was always better than mine.  Without her keen advice, I would be a poor man.”  The couple had four daughters and one son together:  Elizabeth “Bessie” Rockefeller (August 23, 1866 – November 14, 1906), Alice Rockefeller (July 14, 1869 – August 20, 1870), Alta Rockefeller (April 12, 1871 – June 21, 1962), Edith Rockefeller (August 31, 1872 – August 25, 1932), and John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. (January 29, 1874 – May 11, 1960).

                The wealth of the Rockefeller family was distributed through a system of foundations and trusts; it continued to fund the family interests throughout the 20th century.  David Rockefeller, the youngest son of John Jr., served for more than 20 years as CEO of Chase Manhattan Bank (now part of JP Morgan Chase).  Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, second son of John Jr., was the Republican governor of New York and the 41st Vice President of the United States.  The fourth son Winthrop Aldrich Rockefeller served as Republican Governor of Arkansas.  Rockefeller’s grandchildren followed in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents as politicians, philanthropists, and conservationists.

                “In his 50s Rockefeller suffered from moderate depression and digestive troubles and, during a stressful period in the 1890s, developed alopecia, a condition that causes the loss of some or all body hair.  By 1901 he did not have a hair on his body, and he began wearing wigs.  The hair never grew back, but his other health complaints subsided as he lightened his workload.”

                Rockefeller died on May 23, 1937, at The Casements, his home in Ormond Beach, Florida, of arteriosclerosis at age 97.  His death came less than two months before his 98th birthday.  He was buried in Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland.

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