|1917 painting by John Singer Sargent|
After 1857 he lived in Cleveland, Ohio, where he had begun to work as a bookkeeper in 1855. In 1858 he went into the produce commission business. His firm, Clark & Rockefeller, invested in an oil refinery in 1862, and in 1865 Rockefeller sold out his share to his partner Clark, paid $72,500 for a larger share in another refinery, and formed the partnership of Rockefeller & Andrews.
At about the same time Rockefeller's brother, William, started another refinery. In 1867 Rockefeller & Andrews absorbed this business, and Henry M. Flagler joined the partnership. In 1870 the two Rockefellers, Flagler, Andrews and a refiner named Stephen V. Harkness formed the Standard Oil Company, with John D. Rockefeller as president.
Standard Oil gradually gained virtual control of oil production in America. Its business methods, which brought immense wealth to the ownership, were widely and severely criticized. Its growth increased further in 1882, when separate companies were organized in each state; and in later years, as the first great American trust, the Standard Oil Company was hotly attacked during the anti-trust movement, especially after the publication of the 1904 book The History of the Standard Oil Company, by Ida Tarbell. Standard Oil's economies of scale lowered the cost of oil based products so that almost everyone could afford them.
Rockefeller himself retired from active business in 1895. At one time he had large iron interests, including mines and ore-carrying ships, on Lake Superior. He sold those to U.S. Steel. By 1901, he was worth about $900 million and is believed to have been the world's richest man at the time. His net worth when adjusted for inflation is many times that of all modern day billionaires.
In private life, Rockefeller was a member of the Baptist church, and late in life became a philanthropist. He founded the University of Chicago in 1892, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University) in New York City in 1901, the General Education Board in 1902, the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913, and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial in 1918, as well as giving large gifts to other institutions.
Rockefeller died in Ormond Beach, Florida in 1937.
His grandson, Nelson Rockefeller, was Vice President of the United States under Gerald Ford and another grandson Winthrop Rockefeller served as Governor of Arkansas. His great-grandson Jay Rockefeller is currently a member of the U.S. Senate.