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John D Rockefeller Jr and his fatherThe Rockefellers offers insights into topics in American history including entrepreneurialism, business management, politics, philanthropy, journalism, the fine arts, and labor in American history. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this Web site to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.


1a. After reading the examples of letters that were written to John D. Rockefeller Sr., requesting donations, list the kinds of arguments and appeals used by the writers to convince Rockefeller to donate money. Then, using what you have learned from the film and the website about Rockefeller as a person, explain which of these letters you think might have been most successful and why.

1b. As a follow-up activity, explain which kinds of arguments and appeals would be most likely to convince you to make a donation to some person or organization.

2. Read the letters between John D. Rockefeller Sr., and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. What information about the family's finances, the relationship between the two men, and "Junior's" values helps explain why the younger Rockefeller became one of the world's greatest philanthropists?


1a. First, briefly define each of the following terms:

  • Corporation
  • Rebate
  • Horizontal integration
  • Vertical integration
  • Economy of scale
  • Supply and demand
  • Holding company
  • Monopoly
  • Trust
  • Cartel

1b. Now, after reviewing the material on John D. Rockefeller Sr. and Ida Tarbell, the excerpts from Tarbell's "The History of the Standard Oil Company," and the video interview with Paul Krugman, describe the process by which John D. Rockefeller, Sr. gained control of the American oil refining industry. In your description, use as many of the above terms as you think appropriate.

2. After viewing the video interview with Paul Krugman, answer the following questions: Which companies would you consider to be monopolies today? Do you believe that all monopolies are bad and should be outlawed? If so, why? If not, how would you distinguish between a good monopoly and a bad one?


1. Visit the website of the Library of Congress's American Memory collections and view some of the "Stereoscopic Views of the Oil Region of Pennsylvania and New York." What do these photographs show you about the effects of the oil industry on the landscape? What industries near you have visible effects, and what are they?

2. Using the map of the United States, locate Acadia National Park, one of the beneficiaries of the Rockefellers' charitable donations. Then visit the park's website to find out more about the stone carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. What was the purpose of these roads? How involved was Rockefeller in their construction?

3. Read the biography of John D. Rockefeller Sr., paying close attention to his assessment of Cleveland's advantages for doing business. Then visit the Library of Congress's American Memory collections and view a railroad map of the US in 1870. Use the tools to zoom in and look closely at the map, or look at a more detailed map of the Pennsylvania and Ohio area. Can you find Cleveland, Rockefeller's home base, on the shores of Lake Erie? Trace the major railroad routes at the time of Rockefeller's business expansion. Which areas have the best railroad connections? What conclusions can you reach about Rockefeller's deals with the railroads to ship his oil? Why was Cleveland a good home base for Rockefeller?


1. Review the biography of painter Diego Rivera and the description of what happened to his Rockefeller Center mural. To provide context for the controversy over the Diego Rivera mural, research two topics: American reactions to the Russian Revolution and the establishment of a Communist dictatorship in the Soviet Union, and the effect of the Depression on the ideological contest between capitalism and Communism. How does the information you have gathered help explain why the mural was so controversial?

2. Read the description of the Attica riot and view the interviews on the Attica prison riot. Then, imagine that you are an aide to Governor Rockefeller during the crisis. He has asked you to prepare him a memo outlining the arguments for and against his going to Attica to negotiate directly with the prisoners. End your memo with a recommendation for the governor.

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