Who Was The World’s First Billionaire?

According to World Atlas, there are currently over 2,200 billionaires worldwide. China has the highest concentration of billionaires, with over 800 people boasting mass wealth. Beijing is the Chinese city which has the most billionaires. The United States has close to 600 billionaires, with SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk currently holding the top spot for richest person in the United States, according to Forbes. While constant changes in the stock market are now at play when it comes to personal fortune, the original billionaire didn’t have such high-tech tools at his disposition. John D. Rockefeller was the first billionaire in the world, and currently holds the second spot for the richest person to have ever lived, following 16th Century German merchant, Jakob Fugger.

John D. Rockefeller Was America’s First Billionaire

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John D. Rockefeller is historically known as the first billionaire in the world. The New York native was born in 1839, and amassed much of his wealth as a pioneer in the oil industry. He founded the Standard Oil Company in 1870 alongside his business partner, Henry Flagler, in Cleveland, Ohio. His net worth, at the time of his death in 1937, was estimated at $418 Billion. (figure adjusted to inflation and represents equivalent in 2019, per Wikipedia). At the time, his immense wealth represented close to 2% of the entire American economy.

Early Beginnings: Focus And Determination

John D. Rockefeller was certainly a focused and determined business-minded man, and he had a very clear vision of the things he wanted to achieve in his lifetime. At the age of 16, he started his first professional position as an assistant bookkeeper, working for a small Cleveland firm by the name of Hewitt & Tuttle. He was a naturally organized employee, and was skilled at calculations and negotiations. Many of his duties were related to logistics; he worked out that freight transportation costs could be altered based on certain criteria. Time of travel, weather conditions, and time of year were all factored into his proposed rates. His ability to use intellect, reason, and determination to negotiate costs would serve him well in his career.

His success as a businessman was largely equated to his intelligence, his savviness, and his in-depth understanding of the oil market. The success of the Standard Oil Company cannot be undermined. Though the company dissolved in 1911, it would go on to branch out into various smaller oil monopolies, including the BP company, Exxon, and Chevron.

Rockefeller allegedly said that he intended to make $100,000 (approximately $2.4 Billion in 2021) by the time of his death, and he wished to live to 100 years old. He surpassed his first goal, and fell short of his second by less than 3 years. He passed away at the age of 97 years old, in 1937.

Philanthropy

Rockefeller was a life-long philanthropist, and started his charitable contributions early in life. When he was just a young bookkeeper, he would donate 6% of his earnings to various organizations. Over the years, this percentage increased, and he contributed much of his wealth to various organizations and philanthropic missions throughout his entire life. A Baptist, Rockefeller’s philanthropic missions were originally church-related, though he branched out into education and human rights support over the years. He is credited as having funded the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller University, the General Education Board, and the Rockefeller Foundation. He was particularly invested in helping people of need, the oppressed, women, and minorities throughout his life.

Legacy And Rockefeller Center

John D. Rockefeller had four daughters and one son with his wife, Laura Celestia Spelman. His son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., quickly followed in his father’s footsteps, and established himself as a lead financier and philanthropist in the late 19th Century. As a real estate tycoon, he founded the immense Rockefeller Center, a Manhattan complex which consists of 19 commercial buildings, which is sprawled out over 22 acres. Construction of the Rockefeller Center started in 1031, and the entire complex was completed in 1939. The project is significantly known as one of the greatest American achievements during the Great Depression, and is still renowned for it’s cultural, economic, and architectural impact. The Rockefeller Center is home to Radio City Music Hall, The Rink, NBC Studios, and hosts various museums, shops, offices, and high-end luxury apartments.

While becoming a billionaire in the 21st Century is far more common than it was a century ago, there are few who can compete with the legacy of John D. Rockefeller. In American history, he is certainly one of the key figures who shaped a lot of the countries established businesses and landmarks.

SOURCES: World Atlas, Forbes, Business Insider

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