John D. Rockefeller and his career by Silas Hubbard

John D. Rockefeller and his career by Silas Hubbard
John D. Rockefeller and his career by Silas Hubbard

The biography John D. Rockefeller and his career by Silas Hubbard is a detailed research on an industrialist and philanthropist, who was admired by many and despised by others. The author gives an insight into the life and career of one of the pioneers of America’s oil business. From a wretched home, John D. Rockefeller grew to become a business guru.  How he achieved this explains why this book shall remain a prescription for generations to come. Little wonder, modern tycoons like Bill Gates are tapping from Rockefeller’s business model to excel in their business.


Silas Hubbard begins the biography John D. Rockefeller and his career with mind-searching observations that that attracts the attention of the reader. He notes that many find the success of John Davison Rockefeller to be quite mysterious and full of uncanny dealings. And of course, like anyone would be eager to unravel, the author takes particular pains to untie any mystery surrounding the riches of his main focus and also to explain, if at all, the mysterious dealings that may have raised Rockefeller to fame. For the many people who think that success in life is portrayed when you amass wealth, Rockefeller will always be a marvel. And for those who believe that there is a deeper meaning to life besides just making money, Rockefeller’s life is subject to criticism as opposed to admiration.

Hatred for monopoly is an inbred thing in America. Despite that fact, John D. Rockefeller found a way to change a whole generation’s perspective. His tactics circumvented the rules against monopoly such that the Constitution or State Laws were unable to stop or track, at least for some time. He became an unnecessary middleman, but one who creates a system so powerful that you cannot do without. His success in business has seen him get numerous imitators to challenge existing limiting business laws.

The great petroleum discovery

The American commercial world had a renaissance following news of the discovery of oil deposits in the middle of the nineteenth century. Until this discovery and even after the civil war, America was a developing country. There was no money, and the likes of Rockefeller spent a better part of their time cultivating in their farms. One cannot rule out the fact that Britain liked the state of affairs in America. As Hubbard writes, “The growth and development of the American Republic was a perpetual reproach to the monarchies and despotic governments in Europe.” If they were unable to politically control America, they would rather make it an economic slave forever.

The superpower that America has become today makes it almost like a miracle, given that this modern-times super-power fully relied on Europe for economic survival. A country may not still be enslaved politically by others, but it could remain under control as long as its economy is 100% determined by another. That was the case in America. However, it did not take long before things turned around for the better.

As the author notes, the financial emancipation of America took place courtesy of two major events. The first one was the gold discovered in the West, and the second was the oil deposits first discovered in Mississippi Valley. Both discoveries hold equal weight in making the country what it is today.

Of great interest in this book is petroleum, which would make John D. Rockefeller so powerful that he was hated and loved in equal measure. His brilliance and genius mind would see him steer an infant industry to become one of the most profitable areas of investment.

This biography, therefore, does not just focus on telling a story of success but also shares factual figures. By the time of the book’s writing, the author notes, America had exported petroleum products worth two thousand million. Today, it continues to record high amounts of oil exports.

Rockefeller’s venture into the oil industry

Throughout Rockefeller’s life, he seemed to have developed a keen interest to explore opportunities to make money. The book does not give any breakdown on the Titan’s childhood entrepreneurial spirit, but this is in the public domain. As a boy, he would buy candy in bulk, mostly by the pound, then split it into smaller pieces and sell to siblings at a profit. He developed this attitude based on how his father William, also called Big Bill, had raised him.

Big Bill often abandoned his wife and five children as he spent most of his time by the roadside selling cures to chronic illnesses. His snake-medicine was used to treat all ailments, including cancer. The poor living conditions in which Rockefeller grew made him unable to get good clothing. He was even left out of a grammar school class as he lacked proper dressing.

Due to his father’s recklessness, Rockefeller developed the need to be cautious. A combination of this cautiousness and business genius made him a force to reckon within the business world. According to the book’s author, Rockefeller observed Englishman Samuel Andrews make a fortune for himself with his oil venture. Having invested $4,000 to build an oil refinery, he made returns of up to $10,000, something that sparked Rockefeller to do something. He immediately got some money and entered into a partnership with Andrews for an oil refinery. He had to borrow money to meet the company’s expanding stock of crude and finished oil products. Many came to know him as a rampant borrower. The efforts paid off in the long run when profits began trickling in.

Rockefeller was careful about how he sold every finished product. Hubbard writes that he maintained a “Keen eye to every detail and made haste to manufacture barrels and cases and boxes so that all profits from the oil business would be his.” This is a strategy that made the firm prosper.

The making of a monopoly

The biography gives a detailed explanation of the Titan’s initiative to take total control of the oil industry. One of the most interesting parts of reading the book is the series of events, split into numerous chapters, which eventually leads to the formation of Standard Oil Company.

Whereas his initial ventures in oil gave Rockefeller great wealth, the oil industry was barely a tenth of its potential. Oil was just being used for lighting. Prices kept on fluctuating as oil production went through wax and wane seasons. Rockefeller noticed these market limitations and wanted to do something to stabilize the prices. In conjunction with his partner Samuel Andrews, they approached O.H. Payne, who owned the largest refinery in Cleveland. The three combined their companies with the hope of stabilizing prices. They used tactics to convince other firms to join them. They would either buy them or sell their oil at such low prices that competitors were driven out. Rockefeller eventually united all of these companies under Standard Oil Company.

The Company then set on a journey to buy other business oil refineries throughout the United States. By the time he was done, Rockefeller’s company had control over ninety percent of the oil industry in the United States. To avoid too much public scrutiny, Rockefeller created numerous companies across the country. Purportedly these companies were independent. In essence, he controlled all of these firms. His ambition to become a monopoly would soon land him in trouble with the government. The book explores further on these struggles with the Federal Government.

Oil war of 1872

It is hard to talk about Rockefeller without mentioning the oil war of 1872. Even as he enjoyed absolute supremacy in the oil business of Cleveland, a storm had been brewing in the oil regions. This soon exploded into violence. The biography talks about how Rockefeller had secured a deal for himself and his associates, which made all oil wells of Pennsylvania an asset of his oil company. Simply put, the Titan managed determined railroad rates and drew back on each gallon of oil that other people shipped. Rumors started in the oil regions, which soon became a reality when 100% tariff was increased for all oil shipments. This tariff did not go into the national government accounts, but into those of Standard Oil Company.

The book goes ahead to describe the uprising that resulted from this move. Other oil refiners openly expressed their anguish. It led to the publication of “The Black List,” which mentioned the likes of John Rockefeller, W.G. Warden, Charles Lockhart, R.S. Waring, among others.

The kinds of disagreements and quarrels felt during Rockefeller’s entry into the oil business are the same that are still being faced today. This is a highly lucrative industry, and you should not expect things to flow smoothly. In the Middle East, one of the world’s biggest oil belts, locals, and multinational oil companies often clash when it comes to matters to do with compensation.

As much as this is a biography focused on Rockefeller, it gives us an idea of what would happen if the government is not directly involved in the oil business. In the case of the Titan, he was left to operate as if he was the government on his own. He set the rules, most of which discriminated against the competition. In the long run, his strategies boomeranged, they came back to bite him.

The morality of rebates

The United States constitution’s keynote is its position on liberty. It entails a democratic government that is empowered by the people to ensure equal opportunities for all. But Rockefeller’s monopoly on the oil industry allowed him to receive rebates of $1.06 for each crude oil barrel shipped to the seaboard. He also got $1.06 a barrel on all crude oil consigned by other shippers over Pennsylvania, the Central, and the Erie.

This was an outright mockery of the Constitution. Many marveled at how the man openly defied the United States laws and the Nation at large. The political class, from the President to the Congress and Legislatures, were quick to condemn his practices. A thousand publications were made to denounce Rockefeller. His South Improvement Company perished, but he continued to enjoy every principle of the contracts signed. Hubbard proceeds to give a detailed breakdown of all the resistances and struggles that Rockefeller faced.

The fact that rebates were such a heated discussion during Rockefeller’s time makes one want to think keenly about their morality. A rebate plan is entirely legal as much as it is not fraudulent or misleading. For such a plan, failing to abide by the enumerated terms becomes the consumer’s ultimate fault.


John D. Rockefeller and his career [microform] is the biography of a Titan written by one of the most talented authors in history. Silas Hubbard demonstrates a great mastery of his subject, having conducted widespread research on him. At no point does the book lose focus as it moves from one step to another in a bid to shade more light on the career and life of John D. Rockefeller.


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