John D. Rockefeller

Entrepreneur, Industrialist and Philanthropist

No discussion of American philanthropists would be complete without mentioning the Rockefellers – the original American philanthropists. John D. Rockefeller, who founded Standard Oil Company, started it all. Born in New York in 1839 to a homemaker and a traveling salesman/con artist, he became the richest person in American history. As a percentage of the total amount of money in the United States, modern wealthy people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet don’t even come close to how much money Rockefeller had.

As a boy, Rockefeller was good at math, and he got a job as a bookkeeper when he was only 16. In 1863, when he was 24, he got together with some partners and built an oil refinery. A smart and courageous business man, Rockefeller continually borrowed money, and used the money he made to grow the business even larger. He also carefully controlled how much money the business spent, and he even found a use for the waste the refinery produced. Rockefeller continued to build or buy refineries until he owned almost all of the refineries in the United States! This made him an extremely rich man.

He was also a deeply religious and generous man – he wanted to help other people with the money he made. Rockefeller invented the idea of creating foundations to distribute his wealth. The foundations that he created focused on medicine, education and scientific research.

He founded three universities in the U.S. and the Philippines. Most importantly, Rockefeller’s foundations helped eradicate diseases like hookworm and yellow fever, which, thanks to John D. Rockefeller, are no longer a threat to U.S. citizens today. Modern philanthropists still use this model of foundations that Rockefeller invented to distribute their wealth.

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