Photo: Wikimedia Commons
We’ve recently given you a few histories of the families who shapes America.But the history of the Rockefellers may take the cake. That’s because while others have lost their money, or their power, the Rockfellers have held on to their vast empire.
If you’ve ever filled up a tank of gas, banked at JP Morgan Chase or stepped foot in New York, you’ve been touched by the Rockefellers.
The original name was said to be 'Rockenfeller' -- and indeed there are numerous Rockenfellers who turn up in a Google search of that name with their purported home city of Neuwied.
Source: New York Times
His father appears to have held a series of odd jobs, including produce merchant; by no means did JD come from wealth. In 1852, the family moved to Cleveland.
Cleveland was also becoming a major logistics hub. JD was not exactly wedded to selling fruits and vegetables, and in 1865 he cashed out of the produce partnership to invest in an oil refinery.
In the early days, JD could be somewhat voluble. According to Ida Tarbell, the pioneering muckraker who could later claim to have brought down Rockefeller, upon learning of a particularly successful transaction, JD 'bounded from his chair with a shout of joy, danced up and down, hugged me, threw up his hat and acted so like a madman that I have never forgotten it.'
The polite term for kickback used at the time was 'rebate.'
Competition among railroads for traffic was fierce. So in 1872, JD and some associates founded the Southern Improvement Company, with the aim of crushing smaller refineries in the Midwest by undercutting them on rail rates.
When the scandal finally subsided, Standard Oil owned 22 of 26 refineries in Cleveland.
The Southern Improvement Company alone is worthy of its own slideshow. The scheme led to one of the country's first major Congressional inquiries. Tarbell would later write:
'The act incorporating the company was never published; the name of the member introducing it was never known, and no votes on it are recorded. The origin of the Southern Improvement Company has always remained in darkness.'
The city of Cleveland could have been a contender. Alas, JD decided to move the family to New York in 1883.
In the 1880s, Rockefeller solidified his grip on oil markets throughout the country and around the world.
He was prompted by a solicitation from the American Baptist Education Society, and gave $600,000 as part of a campaign to improve his image. He later called it 'the best investment I ever made.'
Source: Rockefeller Archive centre
But there were four daughters -- and the list of Rockefeller family achievements explodes in the first half of the 20th century...
In 1930, he invested $250,000,000 to build Rockefeller centre (which was originally intended as the new home for the Metropolitan Opera). It was completed in 1939, and at the time was the largest private commercial development ever.
Source: Top of the Rock
The bank had acquired his Equitable Trust Company and 'ever since' has remained associated with the bank. David Rockefeller, Junior's son, would later serve as CEO for 11 years. David turns 97 this June.
Source: JP Morgan Chase
Following WWII, the Rockefellers donated six blocks of land worth $8.5 million to be home of the United Nations.
But Jay is just the tip of the iceberg. Unlike many prominent American families of a bygone era, the Rockefellers or places named after them are in the news every day.
Tourists ambush the space in Midtown Manhattan each winter to skate, shop, and check out the famous tree.
It sits on 80 acres of land which JD Rockefeller started buying in the 1890s.