July 8, 1839

John Davison Rockefeller is born in Richford, upstate New York, to William Avery ("Bill") Rockefeller, a travelling peddler of novelties and "cures," and Eliza Davison Rockefeller, a devout Baptist.

Bill Rockefeller
Rockefeller Archive Center

Bill Rockefeller

Following allegations of rape, Bill Rockefeller moves his family to Owego, New York, close to the Pennsylvania border.


The Rockefeller family moves again, to Strongsville, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, to the home of Bill Rockefeller's sister and brother-in-law.

John D. Rockefeller at age 16
Rockefeller Archive Center

John D. Rockefeller at age 16

Bill Rockefeller marries Margaret Allen, a woman 25 years his junior, beginning a secret life as a bigamist.

Under pressure from his father, John D. Rockefeller drops out of high school two months shy of commencement. He enters a professional school, where he studies double-entry bookkeeping, penmanship, banking, and commercial law.

September 26, 1855

At 16, Rockefeller gets his first job, working for Hewitt & Tuttle, commission merchants and produce shippers. He would celebrate "job day" the rest of his life.

Rockefeller starts keeping careful accounts of his finances in Ledger A, where he meticulously notes every receipt, expenditure and charitable donation.


Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species is published. The book's influence will be felt not only in science, but also in business and society at large.

August 28, 1859

Edwin Drake strikes oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, instigating an "Oil Rush" to the region.

Soldiers in the Civil War
National Archives

Soldiers in the Civil War

Civil War begins. Rockefeller, like some other northern businessmen, hires substitutes to avoid fighting. The war at first disrupts industry, but ultimately it will accelerate economic development in the North, contributing to Rockefeller's meteoric ascent.


At 24, Rockefeller gets involved in the oil business, along with partners Maurice Clark and Samuel Andrews. Andrews, Clark & Co. builds a refinery in The Flats, Cleveland's burgeoning industrial area, which will soon be linked to the East Coast hubs by the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad.

Laura "Cettie" Spelman
Rockefeller Archive Center

Laura "Cettie" Spelman
September 8, 1864

Rockefeller marries Laura Celestia ("Cettie") Spelman in a small, private ceremony, following a nine-year courtship.


At 25, Rockefeller buys out his partners and founds Rockefeller & Andrews, Cleveland's largest refinery.

Laura gives birth to the Rockefellers' first child, Elizabeth ("Bessie").

The Rockefeller Estate on Euclid Avenue
Rockefeller Archive Center

The Rockefeller Estate on Euclid Avenue

Rockefeller strikes a major deal with a railroad, guaranteeing a certain volume of shipments in exchange for rebates. The first of many, this deal was made with Jay Gould, owner of the Erie Railroad.

The Rockefellers move to Euclid Avenue, Cleveland's "Millionaires' Row."


Rockefeller founds Standard Oil of Ohio with $1 million in capital, the largest corporation in the country. The new company controls 10 percent of U.S. petroleum refining.


Laura gives birth to Alta.


Rockefeller is tainted by the scandal surrounding the South Improvement Company scheme, a secret alliance between major refiners and the railroads. However, he uses the scheme to persuade other Cleveland refiners to sell out to Standard Oil. Following the so-called "Cleveland Massacre," Rockefeller owns 22 of the 26 refineries in town.

Laura gives birth to Edith.

September 18, 1873

"Black Thursday." The stock exchange crash sets off a depression that will last six years. Standard Oil takes advantage of the economic downturn to absorb refineries in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Pennsylvania's Oil Region.

January 29, 1874

Laura gives birth to John D., Jr.


At 38, Rockefeller -- still relatively unknown to the public -- controls almost 90 percent of the oil refined in the United States.

Rockefeller at age 40
Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller at age 40

At 40, Rockefeller is numbered among the country's 20 richest men.


Standard Oil expands into the overseas markets of Western Europe and Asia, selling more oil abroad than in the U.S.


Atlantic Monthly publishes "Story of a Great Monopoly," by Henry Demarest Lloyd. The article's critical view of Standard Oil strikes a chord with readers. Lloyd's book-length study of Standard Oil, "Wealth against Commonwealth," appears in 1894.


Standard Oil trust is formed. Rockefeller creates a highly centralized structure with enormous power but murky legal existence.

Standard Oil builds up its distribution system, streamlining the delivery and sale of oil and underselling its adversaries.


The Rockefellers move to New York and build a mansion at 4 West 54th Street.

Standard Oil in New York City
Rockefeller Archive Center

Standard Oil in New York City

Standard Oil moves into new headquarters at 26 Broadway in New York. The address will become synonymous with Rockefeller's business empire.


At age 13, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., suffers a nervous collapse due to "overwork." He spends the winter at the family's country house, healing through hard physical work.


Amid growing anti-monopoly sentiment, economic concentration becomes an issue in the presidential campaign. Both parties condemn it.

A New York Senate committee launches an investigation into Standard Oil. Rockefeller is called to the witness stand, and gives evasive testimony.

Eliza Rockefeller
Rockefeller Archive Center

Eliza Rockefeller

Eliza, Rockefeller's mother, dies at age 76. Her estranged husband does not attend the ceremony. Rockefeller asks the minister to say that she was a widow.

Rockefeller agrees to contribute to the founding of a new Baptist college in Chicago. The University of Chicago will become his first major philanthropic undertaking.

Andrew Carnegie publishes "The Gospel of Wealth," arguing that the wealthy have a moral obligation to serve as stewards for society.

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
Rockefeller Archive Center

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.

Coinciding with a stressful period, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., develops alopecia, a rare condition that results in the loss of all his body hair.


Standard Oil attains its peak influence. Its dividends surge to 31 percent and its control of the market is uncontested.


Congress passes the Sherman Antitrust Act, which outlaws trusts and combinations in restraint of trade and establishes fines for violators. The law remains in effect today.

Frederick Gates
The New York Historical Society

Frederick Gates

Frederick Gates, a former Baptist minister, starts working for Rockefeller as a philanthropic administrator. Gates helps make Rockefeller's philanthropy more efficient.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Rockefeller Archive Center

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

The stock market crashes, setting off the country's first great industrial depression. Bank closings and massive unemployment heighten social tension.

The World's Columbian Exposition takes place in Chicago. The Rockefellers attend.

Rockefeller buys 400 acres in the Pocantico Hills of Mount Pleasant, New York, on the Hudson River. He keeps the modest house that came with the property. The estate will eventually expand to 3,000 acres.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., enters Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.


Edith marries Harold McCormick, the son of Chicago millionaire Cyrus McCormick, the developer of the mechanical reaper.

Rockefeller decides to retire from Standard Oil, gradually and secretly, in a move designed to keep the press and the public in the dark.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in his 20s
Rockefeller Archive Center

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., in his 20s

Henry Ford assembles the first automobile. Just as electricity is starting to replace kerosene as an illuminant, gasoline enters the scene, creating a rising demand for oil.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., starts working at 26 Broadway. During the first few years, his role there will be marginal and ill defined.

Standard Oil contributes $250,000 to Republican William McKinley's presidential campaign against Democrat William Jennings Bryan, a supporter of antitrust legislation. The candidates' opposing views about trusts polarize public opinion on the issue.


Between 1898 and 1902, many follow the Rockefeller business model; 198 trusts are created in coal, sugar, and other industries.


J. P. Morgan purchases Carnegie Steel from Andrew Carnegie, leading to the creation of U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar corporation and a landmark in business consolidation.

Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research is created. The institute, called Rockefeller University today, will become a leader in the new field of experimental medicine.

September 1901

An anarchist assassinates President McKinley. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt becomes president. His vehement antitrust rhetoric will target corporations such as Standard Oil.

Abby Rockefeller
Rockefeller Archive Center

Abby Rockefeller
October 9, 1901

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and Abby Aldrich are wed at Warwick Estate in Rhode Island. One thousand guests attend.


The General Education Board is created by the Rockefellers to promote education in the South without distinction of race.

Tarbell's piece in McClure's Magazine

Tarbell's piece in McClure's Magazine
November 1902

McClure's Magazine runs the first of 19 installments on the history of Standard Oil, written by muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell.


Abby gives birth to daughter "Babs" (Abby), dubbed "the richest of all babies" in the press.


John D. Rockefeller, Sr., decides to build a mansion at his Pocantico estate. It will take numerous changes and revisions, and eight years of construction, for Kykuit (Dutch for "lookout") to be completed.

President Roosevelt
National Archives

President Roosevelt

Rockefeller and Carnegie are perceived by the press as being locked in competition over the extent of their philanthropic giving.

Abby gives birth to John D. III.

John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s, father, Bill Rockefeller, dies at age 96.

President Roosevelt's attacks on Rockefeller and Standard Oil escalate. Rockefeller is singled out as one of the "malefactors of great wealth." Anti-Rockefeller sentiment is at an all-time high.

After years of heart problems, John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s, eldest daughter Bessie dies at age 40.


The U.S. government has seven different suits pending against Standard Oil. The lawsuits argue that Standard Oil is more than 20 times the size of its closest competitor.

Rockefeller's 26 shares in Standard Oil Company
Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller's 26 shares in Standard Oil Company

William Randolph Hearst's The World publishes a cover story revealing the "Secret Double Life of Rockefeller's Father," revealing Bill Rockefeller's bigamy.

The U.S. government launches its largest antitrust suit to date, targeting Standard Oil.

Rockefeller finances a campaign to fight hookworm in the South. By 1927 the disease will be eradicated.

July 8, 1908

Abby gives birth to Nelson, on his grandfather John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s, birthday.


John D. Rockefeller, Jr., leaves Standard Oil to devote himself to philanthropy. He is named foreman of New York's White Slavery Special Jury to investigate the traffic in young women forced into prostitution.

Abby gives birth to Laurance.

May 15, 1911

The U.S. Supreme Court announces its decision to dismantle Standard Oil. The company is ordered to divest itself of its subsidiaries within six months.


Abby gives birth to Winthrop.


Edith travels to Zurich seeking treatment for depression with Swiss clinical and experimental psychiatrist Carl Jung.

Rockefeller Foundation is incorporated "to promote the wellbeing of mankind throughout the world." Rockefeller gives the foundation $100 million in its first year.

Rockefeller's wealth reaches its lifetime peak of $900 million, thanks in part to the dismantling of Standard Oil. Newspapers run daily box scores of his wealth.

September 26, 1913

A United Mine Workers strike begins in Southern Colorado. Nine thousand workers of the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron, the largest mining operation in the area, go out on strike. Miners and their families are evicted, and they set up massive tent colonies.

April-May 1914

Writer and activist Upton Sinclair stages anti-Rockefeller demonstrations. Protesters descend on Kykuit. Several "Wobblies," members of the revolutionary Industrial Workers of the World union, are killed when a bomb possibly aimed at John D. Rockefeller, Jr., goes off.

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
Rockefeller Archive Center

John D. Rockefeller, Jr.
April 6, 1914

John D. Rockefeller, Jr., testifies before the House Subcommittee on Mines and Mining regarding the miners' strike. He upholds the principle of the open shop and reiterates his support for Colorado Fuel & Iron management.

My American Experience

My American Experience photos

Share Your Story

We invite you to tell us your own stories - whether you lived through a tumultuous time period or learned about it from a relative, a book or a movie.