John D. Rockefeller is considered the richest man in history. At his peak, John D. Rockefeller would have had an estimated net worth of $418 billion in 2022 (adjusted for inflation).
Rockefeller was an American business magnate, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He amassed most of his fortune from his company the Standard Oil Company, which he founded in 1870.
As gasoline and kerosene grew in popularity through the late 1800s and early 1900s so did his net worth.
In this article, we will discuss how John Rockefeller became the richest man ever. We will also adjust his net worth for inflation to see how much he would be worth if he were alive today.
Table of Contents
John Davison Rockefeller Sr was born in Richford, New York on July 8th, 1839. He was the second child of Bill Rockefeller and Eliza Davidson.
His mother Eliza was a Baptist and his father was a businessman, and salesman, but most notably, a con artist.
He self-identified as a “botanic physician” where he would sell elixirs that could cure various ailments.
Bill didn’t have a strong moral compass as he also rarely stayed with his family and was rumored to have married another woman while still married to Rockefellers’ mom.
Rockefeller learned important lessons from both his parents growing up.
His dad would try to cheat Rockefeller every chance he got to “keep him sharp.” Trying to keep stability in her household, his mother taught Rockefeller that reckless extravagance leads to a dire need for more.
When Rockefeller was sixteen, he got his first job as an assistant bookkeeper where he first discovered that he was adept at calculating transportation costs.
Although he never made more than $58 dollars a year working as a bookkeeper, Rockefeller has said that he knew one day he would make $100,000 (equivalent to $2.74 million dollars in 2022).
Clark & Rockefeller
In 1859, at the age of 20, John D. Rockefeller went into the business of produce commission (buying or selling perishable agricultural goods) with partner Maurice B. Clark.
In their first year of business, Clark & Rockefeller netted $4,400. In their second year, they nearly quadrupled their net income to $17,000 (equivalent to $530,688 dollars in 2022).
Their profits only went up from there as the start of the American Civil War led to a massive increase in demand for food supplies.
When the Civil War was coming to a close and the war-time profits were slowing down, Clark & Rockefeller looked toward refining crude oil.
Before John D Rockefeller got involved, the oil business was highly disorganized with small oil refiners buying crude oil from producers and selling it to kerosene lamp manufacturers.
There was no standardization in either the quality or price of crude oil or kerosene, leading to wide swings in profitability for all involved parties.
In an effort to increase profits and stabilize the industry, Rockefeller and a few other investors bought out several small oil refineries in Cleveland, Ohio and consolidated them into one large company which they named the Standard Oil Company.
Standard Oil Company
John D. Rockefeller also saw a market emerging for refined oil in the form of kerosene. Coal had previously been used to extract kerosene, but it was inefficient.
However, even with all of its inefficiencies, the current mark-up on refined oil was anywhere from 62% to 160%. This led him to start his own company, Standard Oil Co in 1870.
Many speculators attempted to make their fortunes through oil, but most were unsuccessful.
This was mainly due to the fact that most refineries would keep the 60% of oil product that became kerosene, but dump the other 40% in rivers and massive sludge piles.
Rockefeller cleverly avoided that waste by selling it as lubricating oil, petroleum jelly, paraffin wax, tar, and other by-products.
Rockefeller quickly grew the company by acquiring the least efficient competing refiners, improving its operations, getting bulk discounts on oil shipments, dropping its prices, and raising investment pools.
By acquiring a non-efficient oil refinery and subsidizing oil prices, Rockefeller was able to learn from the mistakes of his competitors and quickly become the industry leader.
By 1872, Rockefeller had purchased 22 of its 26 Cleveland, Ohio competitors. Standard Oil wasn’t just acquiring its competition, it also acquired its entire supply chain.
It added its own pipelines, tank cars, and home delivery network.
Because they produced such a large quantity of oil they were able to keep their prices low which deterred competitors while also making their products affordable to the average person.
By the end of the 1870s, Standard Oil was responsible for refining over 90% of U.S. oil, and Rockefeller was a multi-millionaire.
Since Rockefeller controlled over 90% of the oil business, journalists, politicians, and even the federal government constantly attacked Standard Oil as having unfair monopolistic practices.
Unfair practices like these are what led to the passing of Antitrust laws and the creation of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). He retired in 1902 at the age of 63.
Dissolution of Standard Oil Company
By the 1890s, people were starting to get fed up with companies like the Standard Oil monopoly.
In 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of Standard Oil Company, saying that it was in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The company was split into 34 separate companies, including:
These companies are still some of the largest oil companies in the world.
John D. Rockefeller’s Children
In 1864, John D. Rockefeller married Laura Spelman and had four daughters and one son.
The Rockefeller family is one of the richest and most powerful families in the world. John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil, was one of the first self-made billionaires in America.
His son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was also a successful businessman and philanthropist. He was responsible for creating the Rockefeller Center in New York City.
He was also the mastermind behind Radio City Music Hall and the American Museum of Natural History.
John Jr.’s son, David, was a politician and diplomat who served as the Governor of New York and as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Today, the Rockefeller family is still extremely wealthy and influential. They own businesses, properties, and art collections worth billions of dollars.
The family has also been involved in philanthropy for many years. They have donated money to causes such as education, health care, and the environment.
David Rockefeller’s Net Worth
John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s youngest son, David Rockefeller, was an American banker who served as chairman and CEO of Chase Manhattan (now part of JP Morgan Chase).
David Rockefeller was the oldest living member of the third generation of the Rockefeller family.
He was the family patriarch for 13 years ranging from August 2004 until his death in March 2017.
He had wide-ranging political connections and traveled often.
David Rockefeller’s personal net worth was estimated at $3.3 billion at the time of his death in March 2017.
Philanthropy of the Rockefeller Family
The Rockefeller family has a long history of philanthropy. For example, in 1902, Rockefeller donated $1,000,000 to create General Education Board. Below are some of the other causes the family has donated to over the years:
The Rockefeller Foundation
The Rockefeller Foundation is a non-profit organization that was founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1913. The foundation’s mission is to “promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world.”
The foundation has donated money to causes such as education, health care, the environment, and poverty alleviation.
Some of the foundation’s most notable projects include the Green Revolution (which increases crop yields to reduce hunger), the creation of the polio vaccine, and the support of small businesses in developing countries.
The Rockefeller Foundation is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the world. It has assets of over $3 billion and gives away millions of dollars each year.
The Rockefeller University
The Rockefeller University, also known as the Rockefeller Institute, is a private research university in New York City. The university was founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1901.
The university is dedicated to conducting medical research in the life sciences, medicine, and biotechnology. It is one of the most prestigious research universities in the world.
The university has produced 12 Nobel laureates and 27 National Medal of Science winners.
Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary
The Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary (now Spelman College) was founded in 1881 by John D. Rockefeller and his wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller.
The seminary was one of the first colleges in the United States for African-American women.
Today, Spelman College is one of the top-ranked historically black colleges in the country. It has an endowment of over $400 million and provides scholarships for more than 2,000 students each year.
The Rockefeller family has donated millions of dollars to Spelman College over the years. In 2018, the college received a $50 million donation from the family – the largest donation in the school’s history.
The Rockefeller family was known for their support of abolitionism, so this was no surprise.
John D. Rockefeller Sr. was an active member of the Underground Railroad, a network of people who helped slaves escape to freedom.
The Rockefellers also donated money to support abolitionist causes such as the American Anti-Slavery Society.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City is one of the largest and most influential museums in the world. It was founded in 1870 with a donation from John D. Rockefeller.
The museum houses a collection of over two million works of art, ranging from ancient Egyptian artifacts to modern paintings.
John D Rockefeller Net Worth 2023
How much would John D. Rockefeller be worth now? Well, in full retirement at age 63, Rockefeller earned over $58 million in investments in 1902 (just over $1.7 billion dollars in 2022).
At his peak in 1913, John D. Rockefeller had an estimated net worth of $418 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation in 2022).
Rockefeller’s wealth at the time was estimated at $900 million in 1913, which was almost 3% of the US GDP that year.
Today, the Rockefeller fortune is worth an estimated $8.4 billion dollars. This makes them one of the richest families in the world.
Now that you know what the net worth of John D Rockefeller would be if he were alive today, let’s take a look at some of the most important lessons we can take from his storied career.
You Can Pave Your Own Destiny
John D. Rockefeller was born to a well-known con artist. He easily could have gone down a similar path but instead decided to have a strong moral code and marry only once.
We can’t choose our family, but we are in complete control of our destiny.
There Is Never a Lack of Resources, Just Resourcefulness
Many entrepreneurs failed to take advantage of the growing oil market because they had to get rid of 40% of all the materials they would mine.
Instead of wasting this 40%, Rockefeller decided to sell the perceived waste to companies that would need it.
Spot Opportunity and Take Action
Just as Mr. Wonderful saw that computers and software would become a booming business in the 1990s, Rockefeller saw that refined oil in kerosene would explode into the 1900s.
Rockefeller had no prior experience in oil manufacturing before starting Standard Oil. Most entrepreneurs teach themselves how to do things by taking action, not by studying.
If Rockefeller waited to learn more about the oil industry before starting, he may have missed his opportunity.