As of 2015, there are 1,826 recorded billionaires in the world. While this may seem like a high number, 100 years ago there was just 1, an Ohioan named John D. Rockefeller. John was born in Richford, New York in July of 1839 however moved with his family to the Cleveland area at a young age. They initially moved to Strongsville, later relocated to Parma, and finally settled in East Cleveland in 1853. Once established in Cleveland, his family became members of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church. John attended Central High School (today East Technical High School) where he excelled in mathematics and was on the school’s debate team. Rockefeller did not graduate high school and instead decided to enroll in a business course at Seven Hills’ Folsom’s Mercantile College to study bookkeeping. Following the classes he attended, Rockefeller found himself very successful in the business world. In 1863, John and a business partner built an oil refinery in the “Flats” district of Cleveland. At the same time, John’s brother, William, had started a refinery in Cleveland as well. The two brothers merged their companies to become the largest oil refinery in the world and the predecessor for Standard Oil. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil soon became an empire and by the 1870′s, the company was refining 90% of the oil in the United States. Standard Oil eventually came under attack for operating as a monopoly. The company broke up into separate oil companies that became entities such as ExxonMobil, Conoco, Chevron and Amoco. It turned out that breaking Standard Oil into multiple entities was much more profitable for Rockefeller than one conglomerate. Rockefeller’s wealth grew exponentially and by 1916, he became the first billionaire in the world (equivalent to $30 billion today). Throughout his success he maintained his roots in Cleveland. His family had a large house on Euclid Avenue which became known as “Millionaire’s Row”.
According to Forbes, Rockefeller is considered to be the richest person of all time. His total fortune (adjusted for inflation) was $305 billion dollars. In comparison, Bill Gates’ peak fortune was $136 billion dollars. Rockefeller was also a generous philanthropist. He donated $540 million dollars to various foundations and causes throughout his lifetime. John died in 1937 and is buried in Lake View Cemetery on the east side of Cleveland.
Rockefeller’s Forest Hill Estate