John Davidson Rockefeller was born in Richford, New York in 1839. He attended the Cleveland Central High School and at 16 he became a clerk in a commission house. Determined to work for himself, Rockefeller saved all the money he could and in 1850 went into business with a young Englishman, Maurice Clark. The company, Clark & Rockefeller Produce and Commission, sold farm implements, fertilizers and household goods.
Rockefeller's company was fairly successful but did not bring him the wealth he desired. In 1862 Rockefeller heard that Samuel Andrews had developed a better and cheaper way of refining crude petroleum. Rockefeller sold his original business and invested it in a new company he set up with Andrews called Standard Oil.
One of the business problems that Rockefeller encountered was the high cost of transporting his oil to his Cleveland refineries (40 cents a barrel) and the refined oil to New York ($2 a barrel). Rockefeller negotiated an exclusive deal with the railway company where he guaranteed sixty car-loads a day. In return the transport prices were reduced to 35 cents and $1.30. The cost of his oil was reduced and his sales increased dramatically.
Within a year four of his thirty competitors were out of business. Eventually Standard Oil monopolized oil refining in Cleveland. Rockefeller now bought out Samuel Andrews for a million dollars and turned his attentions to controlling the oil industry throughout the United States. His competitors were given the choice of being swallowed up by Standard Oil or being crushed. By 1890 Rockefeller's had swollen into an immense monopoly which could fix its own prices and terms of business because it had no competitors. In 1896 Rockefeller was worth about $200 million.
In November 1902, Ira Tarbell, one of the leading muckraking journalists in the United States, began a series of articles in McClure's Magazine on how Rockefeller had achieved a monopoly in refining, transporting and marketing oil. This material was eventually published as a book, History of the Standard Oil Company(1904). Rockefeller responded to these attacks by describing Tarbell as "Miss Tarbarrel".
President Theodore Roosevelt, who had been elected on a program that included reducing the power of large corporations, attempted to use the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to deal with Rockefeller's monopoly of the oil industry. This was largely ineffective and it was not until 1911 that the Supreme Court dissolved the Standard Oil monopoly.
The various press campaigns against Rockefeller had turned him into one of America's most hated men. A devout Baptist, Rockefeller began giving his money away. He set up the Rockefeller Foundation to "promote the well-being of mankind". Over the next few years Rockefeller gave over $500 million in aid of medical research, universities and Baptist churches. He was also a major supplier of funds to organizations such as the Anti-Saloon League that was involved in the campaign for prohibition. By the time that he died died on 23rd My, 1937, John Davidson Rockefeller had become a popular national figure.