John D. Rockefeller Net Worth: Was He The Richest Man in the World?

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When it comes to the world's wealthiest people, a few names come up again and again: Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos. But one man who often gets overlooked is John D. Rockefeller.

If you've heard of him, you may know that he was the wealthiest man in American history—but did you know he was also the richest person in the world? 

In this blog, I'll look at how Rockefeller became wealthy and how much wealth he had.

Who is John D. Rockefeller?

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) founded the Standard Oil Company and was a notable philanthropist and one of the wealthiest men in history.

John D. Rockefeller Net Worth Was He The Richest Man in the World

He was the first individual to invest in the developing oil business in 1863 when he purchased stock in an oil refinery located in Cleveland, Ohio. As a result, Standard Oil was established in 1870.

By the early 1880s, the company controlled practically all of the oil refineries and pipelines in the nation.

How much is John D. Rockefeller's net worth?

The first time I heard of John D. Rockefeller, I was not impressed. But then I started looking into him more and more, and the more I learned about him and his life, the more impressed I became.

The fact that he held onto his wealth for as long as he did is remarkable in itself—and when you look at the numbers, it becomes even more impressive.

After correcting for inflation and considering the relative GDP at the time of his death, John D. Rockefeller's net worth in 1937 was $3.4 billion

John D. Rockefeller's biography

John D. Rockefeller was an oil, steel, and banking tycoon and philanthropist. But he was also one of the most controversial figures in American history. So, what's his story?

Early life

John's father was a salesman who traveled over the country. Even as a young boy, the future oil magnate generated money by raising turkeys, selling candy, and doing odd jobs for his friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. 

John D. Rockefeller attended a business college in Cleveland, Ohio, for a brief period after receiving his high school diploma in 1853. While there, he focused his studies on accounting.

Career

Rockefeller's first foray into the business world was as an office clerk for a Cleveland commission firm that dealt with commodities such as wheat and coal.

He was 16 at the time and took his role so seriously that he celebrated this day every year on September 26.

In 1859, Rockefeller and a co-founder formed their own business to supply commission services.

Not long after that, the first oil well in the United States was dug near Titusville, Pennsylvania—and Rockefeller and his friends were first in line to participate in the oil industry's rapid expansion by purchasing a Cleveland refinery in 1863.

The reign of Standard Oil

After building Cleveland's biggest refinery, Rockefeller took control of the company in 1865 by buying out his other stockholders with borrowed funds.

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He was able to develop his commercial activities inside the burgeoning oil sector over the next several years by continuing to attract new business partners

At the time, kerosene, produced from petroleum and used in light bulbs, had become an essential component of the economy.

Standard Oil of Ohio was founded in 1870 by John D. Rockefeller with the support of his younger brothers, William (1841-1922) and Henry Flagler (1830-1913).

John D. Rockefeller Jr. then became the company's president and principal shareholder.

Standard Oil established a monopoly in the oil business by purchasing competing refineries and building global distribution and marketing networks for its goods. 

This gave Standard Oil complete control over the oil sector. The Standard Oil Trust, formed in 1882 due to the merger of many separate firms, would ultimately grow to control almost 90% of the country's refineries and pipelines. 

Standard Oil did everything from building its oil barrels to hiring scientists to find new applications for petroleum byproducts to capitalize on the oil industry's economies of scale.

These scientists were entrusted with discovering new uses for petroleum byproducts.

Legal disputes

Rockefeller's vast wealth and success were seen as symbols of corporate greed by several groups, including muckraking journalists, reform politicians, and others, who began assaults on his methods to build his corporation.

The Sherman Antitrust Act, approved by the United States Congress in 1890, was the first federal law to ban trusts and combinations that restrict commerce. This was the first act of its sort. 

Standard Oil of New Jersey, established as a holding corporation two years after the Ohio Supreme Court dissolved the Standard Oil Trust, absorbed the trust's entire operations

This happened when an Ohio court ordered the dissolution of the Standard Oil Trust. Standard Oil of New Jersey was compelled to dissolve in 1911 due to Supreme Court judgments on anti-monopoly statutes.

This resulted from years of legal fighting (it was broken up into more than 30 individual companies).

Later years

After retiring from the day-to-day operations of one of the world's finest enterprises in 1895, at 56, Rockefeller kept himself busy with charitable activities, ultimately becoming one of the world's most well-known philanthropists

Rockefeller was a committed Baptist. His gifts helped fund the founding of the Institution of Chicago in 1892, and he left the university more than $80 million before his death. 

In New York, he also helped to create the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, which later became Rockefeller University and the Rockefeller Foundation.

In addition, he gave more than $530 million to various charity organizations.

After a long and successful life, Rockefeller passed away on May 23, 1937, in Ormond Beach, Florida. He had a long and successful life.

Rockefeller is largely considered one of the most successful businessmen to have emerged from the United States, and he is credited with contributing to the development of the United States into the nation that it is today.

However, his legacy will go on after him.

While the senior Rockefeller was still alive, his only son, John, worked as a philanthropist alongside his father.

John Rockefeller's son would carry on his father's generous heritage. Following WWII, he gave property in New York City to be utilized as the United Nations headquarters. 

During the war, he helped to establish the United Service Organizations (USO).

He also donated $5 million to New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, helped revitalize Williamsburg, Virginia's historic area, and offered financial assistance to the Museum of Modern Art.

Personal life

Rockefeller married Cettie Spelman in 1864, the daughter of a well-known Ohio businessman, politician, and abolitionist active in the Underground Railroad. Rockefeller was a supporter of the anti-slavery fight. 

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Laura Rockefeller, whose husband contributed to financing Atlanta's historically black women's college known as Spelman Institution, was recognized with the institution's moniker. The Rockefellers had five children:

  1. John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
  2. Edith Rockefeller McCormick
  3. Elizabeth Rockefeller Strong
  4. Alta Rockefeller Prentice 
  5. Alice Rockefeller

Alice Rockefeller died when she was 13 months old.

Memorable lines from John. D. Rockefeller

John was known for his bluntness, honesty, and belief that it is better to be a good person than a rich one. Here are some of my favorite things that he ever said:

“I would instead earn 1% off 100 people's efforts than 100% of my efforts.”

In business and finance, getting caught up in the idea that you have to do things all by yourself is easy.

When you're young and just starting, it is about getting your first job and then working your way up the ladder until you can make it all happen. But what if there's a better way?

I believe that John D. Rockefeller had it right when he said: "I would rather earn 1% off the efforts of 100 people than 100% of my efforts." Sure, it may seem like a radical idea at first glance—especially when you're just starting. 

But before you try to handle everything on your own, let me ask you this: how much more pleasurable would it be if you were instead able to kick back and collect your one percent instead of having to take care of everything?

”If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it”

Rockefeller's quote is a reminder that the goal of getting rich is not a worthy one in and of itself—it is about what you do with your money that matters.

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Suppose you're only focused on acquiring wealth. In that case, it is easy to lose sight of what's important to you and how much money is worth.

However, you can use money as a tool to attain your objectives, provided you keep your sights set on the prize and recall why you began working so hard in the first place.

Whether personal or professional, if they're meaningful to you—and if they motivate you—then the amount of money involved will not matter.

The takeaway

The late John D. Rockefeller had a net worth of at least $3 billion in today's time, making him one of history's richest men. However, his success didn't come by chance; rather, it came about through hard effort and dedication to his goals.

Even though Rockefeller had a large net worth at the time, it is hard to say for certain whether or not he was the wealthiest man in the world at any one point in time.

This is because the wealth of a nation is tricky to measure, and Rockefeller's fortune was mostly tied up in his company holdings. 

About the author 

Peter Keszegh

Most people write this part in the third person but I won't. You're at the right place if you want to start or grow your online business. When I'm not busy scaling up my own or other people' businesses, you'll find me trying out new things and discovering new places. Connect with me on Facebook, just let me know how I can help.

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