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Associated Press

Happy Birthday, John D. Rockefeller, America’s First Billionaire

July 08, 2010
by Rachel Balik
As the main shareholder of the notorious Standard Oil Trust, John D. Rockefeller was not only America’s first billionaire, he was also one of the country’s greatest philanthropists. His multiple charitable foundations continue to provide for worthy causes to this day.

John D. Rockefeller’s Early Days

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John Davison Rockefeller was born on July 8, 1839, in Richford, N.Y. He showed an ability to manage money and accumulate wealth at an early age. PBS explains that by the time he was 12 years old, he had saved more than $50 and even managed to loan it out at a 7 percent interest rate. In high school, he was a math whiz.

He got his first job at age 16 as an assistant bookkeeper. John worked extremely hard for four years, and then went into business for himself as a commission merchant before he was 20. The business made tremendous profits in its first year.

Rockefeller and Standard Oil

Rockefeller’s Philanthropy

At the age of 58, Rockefeller stepped down from running Standard Oil to focus on philanthropy, committing particularly to funding education. Rockefeller’s General Education Board allocated money for public and secondary schools and for universities and scholarship programs. According to the Rockefeller Archives Center, one of the most essential tenets of the board was that it provided educational aid “without distinction of race, sex or creed.

In conjunction with the American Baptist Education Society, Rockefeller also founded The University of Chicago. According to the University's Web site, he called it “the best investment I ever made.”

In 1901, Rockefeller founded the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research. Devoted to biomedical research and the origins of disease, it was the first center of its kind. Eventually renamed Rockefeller University, its researchers have won a collective 23 Nobel Prizes.

The Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization established by Rockefeller and incorporated in 1913, continues to thrive. A timeline on the Foundation's Web site details its development and projects from 1913 to the present.

Rockefeller had hoped to reach the age of 100, but fell three years short of his goal when he died suddenly of sclerotic myocarditis on May 23, 1937, at his home in Florida.
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