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The Surprising Faith Story of the World's 1st Billionaire—John D. Rockefeller

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 3, 2023 3:00 am

The Surprising Faith Story of the World's 1st Billionaire—John D. Rockefeller

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 3, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, John D. Rockefeller had a very unusual childhood. His father, dubbed “Devil Bill,” was a smooth-talking snake oil salesman, while his mother was a very devoted and disciplined Christian who taught John to work, to save, and to give to charities. This often-demonized, so-called Robber Baron reshaped America, creating an industry centered around the world’s most important resource: oil. 

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Visit goldco.com slash iHeart. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. John D. Rockefeller had a very unusual childhood. His father, dubbed Devil Bill, was a smooth-talking snake oil salesman, while his mother was a very devoted and disciplined Christian who taught John to work, save, and give to charities. This often demonized so-called robber baron reshaped America, creating an industry centered around the world's most important resource, oil. Here to tell this story is Burt Folsom, author of The Myth of the Robber Barons. What you're about to hear was shared before a live audience in Santa Barbara, California, through the Young Americas Foundation.

Let's take a listen. Rockefeller is an entrepreneur of the late 1800s, and the two things that I would say, you know, we're looking for bullet points. What should we know about Rockefeller above all?

He's the first billionaire in U.S. history. He did it in the oil industry. He had about a 70% market share in oil sales in the world in the 1880s and 1890s. And he did it with oil refining. He was in the refining, not the drilling business, but the refining business. And I know when you're thinking of oil, you're thinking, well, cars and all of this. They came in in the later part of Rockefeller's generation. He mainly was kerosene, which was used for lamps to light your home.

So it's mainly kerosene, not so much oil, as we think of in the way of gasoline. Second point, he was a Christian. And I mean a Bible-believing serious Christian. The Bible taught him to tithe 10%. He tithed everything he ever earned and kept records of it. So that we see his first record as a teenager, he earned 50 cents. And he tithed a nickel to his church.

But he increased his tithes as the year went on. So he gave away more money than anyone in U.S. history up to then had ever earned. Well, that makes his life rather interesting. In the oil business, I want to just say this, because I want to focus on his character and his philanthropy a little bit. But I want to say this about his business. And that is, he was an innovator. He said sometimes in life you need to take risks. You need to do the unexpected.

You need to follow paths that other people aren't taking. And he did that. In the oil industry, for example, the standard, if you would take a barrel of oil out of the ground, it's 42 gallons in a barrel, and he shipped his product in barrels. And so he said, if you get a barrel of oil, it's about maybe 60% kerosene right there, and then the rest are byproducts, of which gasoline would be one of the byproducts.

So he wanted to be the best in. He wanted to sell oil so that people could use it to light their homes. People were sunrise to sundown people up until Rockefeller. Whale oil we had, but it was very expensive. Only the rich could afford it. Rockefeller wanted poor people to also be able to afford to light their homes.

This makes a difference. You can work late at night, but I mean, put work aside. Recreation, you could do a bowling league or something at night.

You could go to school at night. The point is, you could do things at night because you had lighting, and therefore that expanded your options in life, and everybody wanted to take advantage of it. So then he had a product that everybody wanted to enjoy. And so for one cent an hour, Rockefeller made it possible to light your home with a kerosene lamp. That was his goal, to get the cheapest oil. Now, to do that, he had to innovate. For example, he would take a barrel of oil, and he thought, okay, you get 50, 60% kerosene.

He'd say, why don't we try doing different things with it? He was specialized in research and development more than anyone else before his time. He's a research and development guy. Research and development, he says, what can we do with this oil to get more kerosene out of a barrel? Heating it was one thing he did. It was called cracking. Intense heat applied to that barrel of oil, and you got maybe 75% kerosene.

Everybody else is doing 50 to 60. That gives him an immediate advantage. The second thing was the byproducts. Most of the other oil producers had the idea, you get the kerosene, and then that other stuff is a bunch of sludge. They dumped it.

For example, he was in Cleveland. They dumped it in the Cuyahoga River. Yeah, they didn't have any use for it. Get the kerosene, dump the rest. Rockefeller, he was already an environmentalist because he was a save the whales guy, right?

We're not going to have to hunt whales if we've got kerosene. So he also was an environmentalist, but he did it kind of again. His Christianity is framing his reference for how he approached life, how he approached his family, his employees, his philanthropy. And so he said, look, God doesn't make something that does not have value. Therefore, everything in that barrel has value.

We just don't know what that value is. Therefore, he hired chemists, again, research and development, find out what God put that stuff in a barrel of oil for. Oh, okay. So they started experimenting with what was being thrown into the river, and they discovered waxes, paraffin, Vaseline, paint. He converted the paint, varnish, tars that could be used to pave streets. Then he went into business selling the byproducts. And then he went to his competitors and said, don't bother to throw that sludge in the river.

I'll just take it off your hands. Not surprising, he had the cheapest product on the market. No one could compete with John D. Rockefeller.

The company was Standard Oil Company. No one could compete with John D. Rockefeller. And you're listening to Burt Folsom, author of The Myth of the Robber Barons, share with us the story of John D. Rockefeller. I think almost everyone knows he was the first billionaire in America, but most people don't know that he gave away more money in his lifetime than anyone had earned in U.S. history. And, of course, tithing and his Christian faith had been a fundamental part of his life from the first time he earned 50 cents, he was giving away five cents. And, of course, the environmentalist at work.

He essentially ended whaling. When we come back, more of this remarkable story, John D. Rockefeller's life story, here on Our American Stories. Here at Our American Stories, we bring you inspiring stories of history, sports, business, faith, and love, stories from a great and beautiful country that need to be told.

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That's OurAmericanStories.com. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare neuromuscular condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis, from early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care, every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone. Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric 2023 Nissan Ariya.

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Visit Goldco.com slash iHeart. And we continue with our American stories and with Burt Folsom, author of The Myth of the Robber Barons. He continues to share with us the story of John D. Rockefeller. Now, he says, what did God tell us to do? Love the Lord with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.

Okay, so the relationship with God is first. He would pray regularly. He would always pray at business meetings if things got tense. He would be there with his directors, and if there was a big argument, everybody would look around, and Rockefeller would disappear. And they'd find he had a cot out there, and he'd be there praying, and they'd all go back and kind of look at each other.

And soon he would come back and say, well, now I think maybe we ought to think of this possibility, and they'd say invariably it would be an interesting thought that he would have, and it would kind of direct the meeting in the right way. He took his Christianity very seriously. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Well, that part isn't so pleasant. Neighbors are not always so pleasant, but the idea, he thought, was that doesn't mean I just have to warmly embrace them, but I ought to want the best for them. And so it got him thinking of people as kind of equals before God.

It produced a kind of humility. For example, here was a scripture he liked from the book of Galatians. Of course, the New Testament is letters, many of them written by the apostle Paul, and this is one of them. He says, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free. This is before God now. Before God, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Okay, you love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, love your neighbor, and we all sound there.

He says, so I can't really get too big-headed, especially since I read also that Paul says in the book of Romans, don't think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. But he was secure with God. He said, God is love, and God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. And he would meditate on these scriptures.

He said, I meditate until they got in his heart. Now, it plays out interesting with his children. Okay, how are you going to organize your life on these biblical principles as Rockefeller was reading them? Number one, God first, that's obvious. Number two, he says family is very important in the Bible. It's a key institution, marriage and the family.

Family second and career third. Now, see, this is what bothers historians and why very few historians ever write accurately on Rockefeller because they're very offended by this guy who's a billionaire who owns more wealth than anybody in American history and gave away more than anybody had previously possessed, and he put his career third. I mean, it looks like some phony setup. It's hard to take seriously until you realize the biblical underpinnings of his life. Rockefeller said, I never set out to be rich. Had I done so, I would have failed. The wealth is a byproduct of following biblical principles.

And even then, you have to be a caretaker of what God has given you. Okay, with the children. Allen Nevins, a Columbia University professor, wrote a delightful two-volume work on Rockefeller that still is worth reading.

I like it very much. He wrote it right after Rockefeller died in 1937, and he's trying to find, what do you think of Rockefeller? He interviewed employees, he interviewed the children, and the children all loved him, had great affection. He was there in their lives.

Isn't that interesting? He's a billionaire. He's running the most successful oil industry in the world, and he's there for his children. So he taught them how to ride bikes.

This is Nevins. He's interviewing them, the historian. Oh yeah, he taught us how to ride bikes. He taught us how to ice skate, although he never wanted to do it.

Sunday was the day of rest, and we had to do that. And they said, well, what else about your father? He said, oh, he'd have fun. At dinner, sometimes he would try to balance a plate on his nose. He said that was fun. He said that he'd play blind man's bluff with us.

I don't know if that's a game that any of you have ever. My father did that with us. You get a blindfold, and then the kids are in the room hiding somewhere.

And he's there moving around, and you've got to be quiet, or else he'll feel you moving around and then rush at you and get you. And so you had to be very careful. But one thing that was interesting is they said one day he came and cracked his eye on the table leg. And Rockefeller himself had talked about that, coming to work with a black eye and having to explain that at work.

But it was playing with his kids. The children did not have the same aptitude that he did. And so Rockefeller said, this isn't an idea of what I want for them. It is what God wants for them, and I need to try to put them on the path to success. For example, John D. Jr. was not a good businessman.

We just have to say right off. Rockefeller tried him out, John D. Sr., and had him in control of a part of the business and investing about $1 million. A lot of money back in the 1800s. And he came back, and his investment after his risk taking was done was worth about $400,000. In other words, he lost about 60% of it. And he said, I really dreaded going in to see Dad, right? And so he came in and sat down and told his father about it. And he said, John D. just said, son, yeah, you've described it right, and you did make some unfortunate moves there. And then he said, you know what, in my own investment experience, I've even occasionally done worse. Now obviously he didn't do worse often or he wouldn't be the first billionaire, right? But he said, I've had some where I even did worse.

And he said, why don't we look at other avenues that you might want to pursue? And he ended up being active with the Rockefeller Foundation. But the point is he didn't berate his son, but at the same time he tried to direct him towards something that he thought he could be productive. His children, in other words, have massively positive accounts of their father. And the grandchildren do too.

I remember him fondly as well. As an employer, again, he's framed with his biblical understanding of the world. So the employees are fellow human beings before God who have equal standing before God. And, I mean, it starts right off. He was born in 1839, so he was 22 years old when the Civil War began. Even before the Civil War began, he used some of the prophets that he'd made as a young man to free a slave, to buy that slave's freedom. Had Rockefeller had his fortune before the Civil War, we might never have had a Civil War because he would have bought the freedom of the entire black population in the South.

At least he would have tried. Well, the Bible says, he looked and he says, 1 Timothy chapter 1 verse 10 talks about sinful behavior and that slave trading is among the sinful behavior. So not only can I not be supporting that, but slaves stand equal before God. I want to help this slave reach his potential.

We're going to buy his freedom. And you've been listening to Burt Folsom tell the story of John D. Rockefeller. And he's the author of The Myth of the Robber Barons. Go to Amazon or the Usual Suspects and pick up this book, Everything You Think You Thought or Thought You Knew about the robber barons.

Much of it not true or only partially true. And you're learning some of that right here on how John D. Rockefeller organized his life and he organized it around biblical principles. And even he attributed his wealth to not pursuing wealth, but simply living by these principles and always starting with God first. I mean, he put God first before prophets and the prophets flowed. And then he put family second, which is the proper biblical order if you're a Christian.

And again, that means putting prophets below it. And last, career. Career is not all profit. It's how you treat your people. It's how you treat your customers.

It's how you treat everybody and your neighbors. And so in the end, what happened because he organized his life this way was this massive fortune, much of which he gave away. And how he treated his kids in particular is so important. Any men listening here who think their priorities have to be their work and they don't have time for their kids because they're helping their kids by providing for them are not listening carefully to this story. And by the way, his purchasing of a slave, there's no doubt having read this biography and all that I've read on Rockefeller, he would have bought every slave possible and maybe ended slavery himself. Rockefeller didn't have the wealth to do it.

He became wealthy after the Civil War. When we come back, more of Burt Folsom's remarkable storytelling, John D. Rockefeller's life story continues here on Our American Stories. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis. From early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care, every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone. Listen to untold stories, life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric 2023 Nissan Ariya.

This is the total package. Premium finishes, a lush interior, unrivaled tech, and unbelievable torque, all powered by an electric heart. Nissan has been pushing the boundaries of what's possible for 90 years. Loaded with new electric and semi-autonomous technologies, the Ariya is Nissan's most powerful EV ever. When you're ready to unlock the thrill of driving, do it in luxury. Do it in the all-new, all-electric Nissan Ariya. And see for yourself why the Ariya is the EV for people who love to drive. Visit NissanUSA.com to learn more about the all-new 2023 Nissan Ariya. Available features, limited availability.

Contact your dealer for local inventory information. They said inflation had peaked. They said prices were coming down.

Well, they were dead wrong. The new inflation numbers just came in, and inflation is back up. Contact Goldco today to protect your retirement savings now from rising inflation. Right now, we're offering up to $10,000 in free silver when you open a qualified gold IRA account while supplies last. Visit Goldco.com slash iHeart.

Visit Goldco.com slash iHeart. And we continue with Our American Stories and author Burt Folsom, author of The Myth of the Robber Barons. He's telling the story of John D. Rockefeller.

Let's pick up where we last left off. His workforce also benefited greatly from him. For example, he paid high wages, competitive wages. I want to get a good staff of people working for me, and I want to pay them well because if I pay them well, they'll work well. And if somebody didn't, by the way, they would get canned.

They would get fired. People, if you pay them well and have confidence in them, will often work very well, and I want to reward them with bonuses. You know, in the book Myth of the Robber Barons, which Young America's Foundation published and I wrote, we went through Rockefeller. We have made sure we had a chapter on him. And just to give you, this is again his business model.

I'm reading from page 94. Rockefeller treated his top managers as conquering heroes and gave them praise, rest, and comfort. It says Rockefeller knew that good ideas were almost priceless. They were the foundation of the future of Standard Oil. To one of his oil buyers, Rockefeller wrote, I trust you will not worry about the business. Your health is more important to you and to us than the business. Long vacations at full pay were Rockefeller's antidotes for weary leaders. Here's another quote. After Johnson Camden consolidated the West Virginia and Maryland refineries for Standard Oil, Rockefeller said, quote, please feel at perfect liberty to break away three, six, nine, twelve, fifteen months or months or more.

Your salary will not cease however long you decide to remain away from business. Now one point I want to make right off. This wasn't a deal he extended to everyone, but it was a deal he extended to this guy because that person had gained enough financially for the company that even if he took that long away, the company would still benefit from his previous doings. And Rockefeller wanted him to be fresh for action again, not overworked. What's interesting is in reading, neither Johnson Camden or others rested very long.

They were too anxious to succeed in what they were doing and to please the leader who trusted them so they wanted to get back in. By the way, Henry Ford, who was the second billionaire in US history, also paid very high wages. Some of you may have heard of his five dollar day, which was more than twice the industrial wage to build and he was doing it, of course, to build cars. Now I know some people say, well, wait, there were a lot of businessmen out there who were low balling their employees.

What do you call that? Well, I call those people, those businessmen, non-billionaires. In a free market, you're going to get people who do that.

But what's interesting, right, we have the freedom to move and not do that work. And when you have Rockefeller who's employing not only tens of thousands, but at a certain point hundreds of thousands of people and Henry Ford the same way, there are opportunities out there and it has an impact on the market driving wages up. Now I know unions could be helpful and I'm not saying that there's no need for them, but I'm saying that it's interesting that the first actual push up on wages was not really pressure from the unions. It was voluntary by Rockefeller and then by Ford, the first two billionaires in US history. So you have that, now there are other things about Rockefeller, just a flavor of how he operated. Standard Oil Office was in New York City. It was a tall skyscraper and the executive offices were on the top floor. And if somebody had really done good work for the company, they could get a promotion. And sometimes it would be a promotion if it was really work well done to the top floor of the Standard Oil Building, which everybody knew was the elite.

He had an accountant in Cleveland who had done massively good work in helping the company save massive amounts of money. And he received a promotion to go to the top floor of the Standard Oil Building in New York. He was excited.

Alan Nevins talks about his story. He interviewed him in his book and the guy says, I was there. It was exciting. He said, I was exhilarated. I told everybody, going to New York, Standard Oil Building, top floor.

That's me. Top floor. And so he goes there. He gets in the elevator. He punches. The elevator door opens and comes out. The plush carpet.

The elaborate scenes. And he walked on the carpet. And then he looked around. Oh, there were offices, people he had heard of like H.H.

Rogers, who was going to be a president of Standard Oil at one point. And John Archibald, he says, oh my gosh. And he went in and there was an unpleasant thing he discovered.

There was no office with his name on it. And so he went into the secretary and said, now I'm supposed to be, gave his name, have this office. And she looks and he says, oh, yeah, OK. We're not going to have that ready for another week. And he went back and he sort of was thinking, OK, I've told everybody I'm going to be up here on the. And she offered him another office several floors down, temporary, while they waited. He says, OK, I can tell everybody I'm so important that they don't have an office for me and I'm not up there.

Or I can try to make something happen up here. So he's looking around. Is there a closet anywhere where I could find her? So he goes in and he found an exercise room. There was a small one. And there was some guy in there on some, you know, treadmill.

I wonder if I could use this. And so he came in and he looked around and he says, this just might work as an office. And so there was even a chair in there.

That's a start. And so he asked the guy in the exercise machine, I'm going to be needing this as an office. Would you please take your equipment elsewhere?

And the guy says, all right, and gets up and leaves. So then he's there and he says, OK, what else do I need? I need a desk. I need some paper. I need some pens.

I need a phone. I'm important. And so he went down there and went to the secretary. The guy says, well, ma'am, I've been here.

We don't have to wait a week, at least for the time being. I've worked a place out. I've got the exercise room over there. And she says, oh, really? And she looks at her. Well, did Mr. Rockefeller say you could have that?

He likes to exercise in there. And, you know, in literature, you know, we call it the epiphany, the moment of awareness. Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. That guy in the room, who was a, oh, no, no, no.

It isn't happening that I'm promoted to the top floor. And within five minutes, I've kicked John D. Rockefeller out of his clothes. And he said he went back into the exercise room into that chair and slumped. He says, I just could hardly even muster the strength. He says, I was waiting to be fired. I was too limp practically to walk. And I waited there the rest of the day, and nothing happened. And I came back, and I thought, well, I've got to officially be fired.

And so he came back, and nothing happened. And at the end of a week, he got his office up there. And so Nevins, you know, the interviewer was saying, well, did Rockefeller ever mention this to you in any case?

No, and I didn't ask. But you see the point here. Rockefeller, although he never knew this guy, knew that that was not an insult. Had it been, he would have done something.

But he knew that this was an accident. And he also knew nobody gets promoted to the top floor at Standard Oil unless they've earned his company many millions of dollars. And Rockefeller is the biggest stockholder.

So he probably paid minimal attention to it. And when the guy moved into his office, Rockefeller moved his exercise machine back, and life went on as usual. But it made this guy want to work hard for Standard Oil. There's something compelling about John D. Rockefeller as a boss. There is something indeed compelling about John D. Rockefeller as a boss. He paid well, and this is just another part of living by the golden rule and living according to biblical principles. He paid people well. By the way, he was no softie.

I mean, if you didn't do your job, that was another matter. The story of John D. Rockefeller, his life, his faith, his fortune, and so much more here on Our American Stories. For each person living with myasthenia gravis, or MG, their journey with this rare neuromuscular condition is unique. That's why Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis, a new podcast from iHeartRadio in partnership with Argenics, is exploring the extraordinary challenges and personal triumphs of underserved communities living with MG. Host Martine Hackett will share powerful perspectives from people living with the debilitating muscle weakness and fatigue caused by this rare disorder. Each episode will uncover the reality of life with myasthenia gravis, from early signs and symptoms to obtaining an accurate diagnosis and finding care. Every person with MG has a story to tell. And by featuring these real-life experiences, this podcast hopes to inspire the MG community, educate others about this rare condition, and let those living with it know that they are not alone. Listen to Untold Stories Life with myasthenia gravis on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Experience the power and design of the all-new, all-electric, 2023 Nissan Ariya.

This is the total package. Premium finishes, a lush interior, unrivaled tech, and unbelievable torque, all powered by an electric heart. Nissan has been pushing the boundaries of what's possible for 90 years. Loaded with new electric and semi-autonomous technologies, the Ariya is Nissan's most powerful EV ever. When you're ready to unlock the thrill of driving, do it in luxury. Do it in the all-new, all-electric Nissan Ariya. And see for yourself why the Ariya is the EV for people who love to drive. Visit NissanUSA.com to learn more about the all-new 2023 Nissan Ariya. Available features, limited availability.

Contact your dealer for local inventory information. They said inflation had peaked. They said prices were coming down.

Well, they were dead wrong. The new inflation numbers just came in, and inflation is back up. Contact Goldcode today to protect your retirement savings now from rising inflation. Right now, we're offering up to $10,000 in free silver when you open a qualified gold IRA account while supplies last. Visit Goldcode.com slash iHeart.

Visit Goldcode.com slash iHeart. And we continue with our American stories and the story of John D. Rockefeller. And it's being told by Burt Folsom, author of The Myth of the Rubber Barons.

Let's pick up where we last left off. The interesting thing is that Standard Oil was often reviled and criticized by some people who were jealous. I mean, not everybody was at Standard Oil. There were competing oil companies, some of which were still tossing oil into the river, or at least not producing oil efficiently.

One of them was Ida Tarbell, you may have heard of her. She wrote a book called History of Standard Oil. Her father was in the oil business, and he was selling oil at 11 cents a gallon, and Rockefeller at 8 cents a gallon, and he ruined her childhood. And so she wrote a book called The History of Standard Oil. Essentially, the book is this. There's one chapter called, quote, the legitimate greatness of Standard Oil, where he says, this guy's awesome. I mean, she did do that.

I've got to give her credit. Every other chapter is filled with interviews with people who did not like Rockefeller, and many of these are unconfirmed. One source says that, and they're quote, so it's hard to track some of these down. Rockefeller had many of his staff people who wanted to respond. Rockefeller, however, said, the Bible says, do not repay, this is in 1 Peter, in Peter's letter, 1 Peter, do not repay evil with evil, insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called.

This is a hard one to meet, but it is the biblical standard. And Rockefeller would not attack Ida Tarbell. He said, what we're going to do is, she says this, and our oil will say something entirely different. It's the cheapest and highest quality in the world.

That will tell one story, she'll tell another, and we'll win. Except it was a time of muckraking in the early 1900s, and the press again and again hit on these issues, and eventually an antitrust suit was launched on Rockefeller, saying that he had such a large percentage of the oil market, that he must in some way be quote, in restraint of trade, or as the court said, he had the potential to restrain trade. The wording of the antitrust act is, do not restrain trade. Any combination in restraint of trade is illegal, is the wording.

But they said, well, we can't trace that he's restrained trade, but he has the potential, and so we'll interpret it that way. Standard oil ultimately was broken up into about 30 different corporations, one in each state, and Rockefeller was only allowed to preside over one of them. That was in 1911. So Rockefeller did say, he said later, well, what do you think, you should have said something to Tarbell? And he said, you know what, I think in retrospect, we should have had a challenge out, but not an insult.

He did, he said, I think that was a mistake. Now, I want to take a look at his philanthropy, too, because this is where it gets very, very interesting. In dealing with the biggest giver up to that time in the world, he gave away over half a billion dollars at a time when a 5,000 square foot house could be had for $7,000, and he has half a billion that he's giving away. So Rockefeller felt, I'd like my giving to come under the categories here of health and improvements of health, crops, or building of human capital.

Let me give you an example. Hookworm was a disease in the South that, with a worm getting in you, that sapped people's strength. We estimate in 1910 that 40%, maybe 33, one in every three people had hookworm in the South because it flourished in the hotter climates. The winters couldn't kill it off. Rockefeller spent an enormous amount of money with scientists to try to eradicate hookworm.

He didn't do it completely, but he really lessened it and diminished it considerably as a problem. For crops, let me give you an example. The boll weevil came over from Mexico in the 1890s and was damaging the cotton crops in the United States.

He targeted heavy resources to eliminating and killing off the boll weevil so that cotton could again be a flourishing export. Human capital, colleges. For example, he gave to black colleges, Tuskegee Institute with Booker T. Washington. But he said, hey, they train men.

What about women? So he said, I'm going to found a college for black women. And so he said, the smartest thing I ever did in life was make Jesus my savior. And the second smartest thing I ever did was make Laura Spellman my wife. And Spellman College was established in Atlanta, Georgia to educate black women. The assumption here with Rockefeller and others is we make these opportunities widely available, are you going to do the work and develop yourself?

He liked the biblical phrase, if any would not work, neither should he eat. And Rockefeller thought, you need to have to put out some oomph on your own and then get something in return and it's mutually good for the giver and for the receiver. Andrew Carnegie, who was the second wealthiest man in the United States, he built libraries, over 2,500 of them.

See that same human capital? The idea is poor people can have access to libraries. Colleges expand opportunities, but libraries even more because Carnegie said, when I was a poor kid, a migrant from Scotland and I didn't have any education, I could go to a library and read books and learn things. So a library is something that helps a lot of people. Now you notice about these categories of giving here. They take a problem and they try to solve it.

Rockefeller is very results oriented. Hookworm is a problem. You eradicate hookworm and you've solved part of the medical problem, period. An example, in 1903 there was a meningitis outbreak in New York City that killed 3,000 people. Meningitis is a swelling up in the veins around your brain and also apparently in the spinal cord. It can be fatal.

It can be crippling. Rockefeller immediately put meningitis on his list and meningitis was diminished, not cured completely, but it was diminished because of medicines and other things he had to help people with meningitis. One final thing. Rockefeller was happy with his life. He wanted to live to be 100. He didn't quite make it.

Rockefeller died in his 98th year. And many people would say, how do you judge your life? And you'd say, well, are you happy?

You got to be the richest man in the world. However, you were broken up by the government, antitrust and all this. What do you think? And he would say, you have to look at it this way. The issue is not these surface accomplishments. The issue is how well have I followed God directed me to do? Rockefeller would say the key is have I followed God's leading in my life effectively and lived up to what he would have had me do? Did I get quiet enough and in the spirit enough to be and accomplish what he would have me accomplish?

And I won't know that until I get to heaven. Anyway, I present to you today John D. Rockefeller, entrepreneur from the late 1800s, part of the group that led the United States to dominance in the world. He did his part in oil. Others did in inventing the typewriter, the adding machine, Edison with developing electricity, the phonograph, movies.

All of these inventions coming in closely together and making the United States a dominant force in the world by 1900 and preparing us with automobiles and the computer because that was also invented in 1890, preparing us for the 20th and 21st centuries. A great bunch of entrepreneurs. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler.

And a special thanks to Burt Folsom. He's the author of The Myth of the Robber Barons. Go to Amazon. Heck, go to a bookstore wherever you get your books. Get The Myth of the Robber Barons.

You won't put it down. And it dispels so many myths. Ida Turbell, by the way, promulgated many of them because it was essentially a hit piece on the person who put her dad out of business because he was a better businessman. And then in came the trust busters who claimed but could never really prove that his so-called monopoly had been an actual restraint on trade. In other words, that it had cost customers something.

And indeed, they broke it apart. And of course, Standard Oil disappeared, but John D. Rockefeller did not. His business genius continued. But his philanthropic life, he's still my heart. Five hundred million dollars he gave away.

Then, that's early 20th century money on health, crops, and the building of human capital. And my goodness, that building of human capital included traditional black colleges. And then ultimately, when he realized the HBUCs were dedicated to the education of men, well, he created an all-women's black college. He said, the smartest thing I ever did in my life was make Jesus my savior. The second was making Laura Spelman my wife. And thus, the birth of Spelman College. The story of John D. Rockefeller, here on Our American Stories.

Thank you. Now is the time to experience America's pastime in a whole new way. Major League Baseball has teamed up with T-Mobile for Business to advance the game with next-gen 5G solutions, going deeper with real-time data visualization, new camera angles that put fans on the field with their favorite players, and even testing an automated ball strike system in the minor leagues. This is the 5G era of baseball. See what we can do for your business at T-Mobile dot com slash now. Major League Baseball trademarks used with permission. Officially licensed product of MLB Players Incorporated.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-03 04:19:22 / 2023-08-03 04:37:29 / 18

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