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“The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest,” John D. Rockefeller once claimed. Rockefeller is widely considered the wealthiest American in history, the country’s first billionaire. His fortune primarily came from his firm, Standard Oil Company, which grew to dominate the oil industry and become the first great American business trust. Through Standard Oil, Rockefeller controlled ninety percent of all oil in the United States, making him one of the most powerful businessmen in American history. After retiring from daily operations of Standard Oil at age fifty-six, Rockefeller became one of the most respected philanthropists in history. Read more about him!

The information and sample article links below provide access to a sampling of articles from historic newspapers that can be found in the Chronicling America: American Historic Newspapers digital collection (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/). Use the Suggested Search Terms and Dates to explore this topic further in Chronicling America.


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Important Dates:

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  • June 27, 1891: John D. Rockefeller is reported to be the wealthiest man in America with about $150,000,000 and an income of $25,000 per day.
  • August 2, 1896: An article documents Rockefeller’s life and his rise to wealth, from poverty to possessing millions of dollars.
  • April 1902: John D. Rockefeller donates $250,000 to Barnard College, showing his dedication to education.
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  • May 1903: John D. Rockefeller is on track to become a billionaire, with millions of dollars coming from oil profits.
  • March 1905: The government orders an investigation into Standard Oil Trust.
  • July 1, 1905: John D. Rockefeller announces a donation of ten million dollars for higher education in the United States.
  • April 6, 1909: The government’s three-year war to dissolve the Standard Oil Company reaches its final chapter, as final arguments are presented before the judges.
  • October 3, 1914: An article describes the Rockefeller’s 50th wedding anniversary, and offers a glimpse into the life of the 75-year old wife of the oil king.
  • December 24, 1914: John D. Rockefeller is criticized for donating generously to education, but mistreating the miners working for Standard Oil Company.
  • September 1, 1915: It is revealed that miners are trying to get a criminal prosecution of Rockefeller for the death of more than 40 strikers in the recent coal strikes.

Suggested Search Strategies:

  • [Try the following terms in combination, proximity, or as phrases using Search Pages in Chronicling America.] John D. Rockefeller, John Rockefeller, Rockefeller, Standard Oil.
  • When searching using these terms, be aware that his son John D. Rockefeller, Jr. may appear in these searches.

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Sample Articles from Chronicling America:

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