William Rockefeller

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William Rockefeller
William Rockefeller.jpg
Born William Avery Rockefeller, Jr.
(1841-05-31)May 31, 1841
Richford, New York,
Died June 24, 1922(1922-06-24) (aged 81)
Tarrytown, New York
Cause of death Pneumonia
Resting place Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York
Occupation Financier, businessman
Known for Co-founder of Standard Oil
Religion Northern Baptist
Spouse(s) Almira Geraldine Goodsell
(m. 1864—1920; her death)
Children Lewis Edward Rockefeller
Emma Rockefeller
William Goodsell Rockefeller
John Davison Rockefeller II
Percy Avery Rockefeller
Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller
Parent(s) William Rockefeller Sr.
Eliza Davison
Relatives See Rockefeller family

William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. (May 31, 1841 – June 24, 1922) was an American businessman and financier. He was a co-founder of Standard Oil along with his older brother John Davison Rockefeller (1839–1937). He was also a prominent member of the Rockefeller family.

Early years[edit]

William Jr. was born in Richford, New York. He was the middle son of con artist William Avery Rockefeller Sr. (1810—1906) and Eliza Davison (1813—1889). In addition to elder brother John, William Jr.'s siblings were Lucy (1838—1878), Mary (1843—1925), and twins Franklin (Frank) (1845—1917) and Frances (1845—1847). He also had two elder half-sisters, Clorinda (c. 1838—?, died young) and Cornelia (c. 1840—?), through his father's affairs with mistress and housekeeper Nancy Brown.[1] In 1853 his family moved to Strongsville, Ohio. As a young pupil in public school, he was inspired and motivated by his teacher-mentor, Rufus Osgood Mason, whom Rockefeller later named "A Rockefeller Patron."

Business career[edit]

Oil business[edit]

In 1865, he entered the oil business by starting a refinery in Ohio. In 1867, his older brother John's partnership of Rockefeller & Andrews absorbed this refinery. In 1870, that company became Standard Oil.

Rockefeller was very adept in business matters. He served as the company's New York representative until 1911 when Standard Oil of New Jersey was split up by the United States Supreme Court. He also had interests in copper mining and processing, railways (which had expanded extensively in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), and public utilities, and built up the National City Bank of New York, now part of Citigroup.

Copper mining[edit]

In the late 1890s, Rockefeller joined fellow Standard Oil principal Henry H. Rogers in forming the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, a holding company that intended to control the copper industry. Rockefeller, along with Henry Rogers, devised a scheme which earned them a profit of $36 million. First, they purchased Anaconda Properties from Marcus Daly for $39 million, with the understanding that the check was to be deposited in the bank and remain there for a definite time (National City Bank was run by Rockefeller's friends). Rogers and Rockefeller then set up a paper organization, known as the Amalgamated Copper Mining Company, with their own clerks as dummy directors, saying the company was worth $75 million.

They had Amalgamated Copper Company buy Anaconda from them for $75 million in capital stock, which was conveniently printed for the purpose. Then, they borrowed $39 million from the bank using Amalgamated Copper as collateral. They paid back Daly for Anaconda and sold $75 million worth of stock in Amalgamated Copper to the public. They paid back the bank's $39 million and had a profit of $36 million in cash.

With help from banker John Dennis Ryan, Amalgamated acquired two large competitors, and soon controlled all the mines of Butte, Montana. By the late 1920s it had become Anaconda Copper Company and was the fourth-largest company in the world.

Personal life[edit]

Rockwood - William Rockefeller home in Tarrytown, NY
Percy Rockefeller's Indian Mound Cottage on Jekyll Island.
The mausoleum of William Rockefeller in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Rockefeller married Almira Geraldine Goodsell (March 19, 1844 — January 17, 1920) on May 25, 1864 in Fairfield, Connecticut.[2] There were many connections among this and other elite families. Her sister Esther Judson Goodsell was married to Oliver Burr Jennings, who became one of the original stockholders of Standard Oil. Together, William and Almira had:

  1. Lewis Edward Rockefeller (March 2, 1865 — August 3, 1866)
  2. Emma Rockefeller (June 8, 1868 — August 11, 1934), who married Dr. David Hunter McAlpin
  3. William Goodsell Rockefeller (May 21, 1870 — November 30, 1922), who married Sarah Elizabeth "Elsie" Stillman
  4. John Davison Rockefeller II (March 8, 1872 — 1877)
  5. Percy Avery Rockefeller (February 27, 1878 — September 25, 1934), who married Isabel Goodrich Stillman
  6. Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller (April 3, 1882 — August 13, 1973), who married Marcellus Hartley Dodge Sr.

William Rockefeller, Jr. died of pneumonia on June 24, 1922 in Tarrytown. He had caught a cold during a car trip he took with brother John and nephew John, Jr. to visit his childhood home in Richford, New York.[3] He was interred in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

The New York Times, in discussing a trust that Rockefeller set up for his born and yet-to-be born great-grandchildren, stated that he "left a gross estate of $102,000,000 which was reduced to $50,000,000 principally by $30,000,000 of debts and $18,600,000 of inheritance and estate taxes."[4]

Family and descendants[edit]

Rockefeller and Almira's second son, William Goodsell Rockefeller, married Sarah Elizabeth "Elsie" Stillman, the elder daughter of James Jewett Stillman and Sarah Elizabeth Stillman; the father was National City Bank president. The new couple's family included James Stillman Rockefeller. He became a member of the Jekyll Island Club (aka The millionaires Club) on Jekyll Island, Georgia, along with J. P. Morgan, Joseph Pulitzer, and other business moguls of the day.

Percy Avery Rockefeller, William Jr. and Almira's youngest son, married Elsie's younger sister Isabel Goodrich Stillman. In 1906, they had a vacation home completed on Jekyll Island, which they nicknamed "Indian Mound." The 25-room "cottage" remained in the family until the island was ordered evacuated in 1942 by the U.S. government following its entry into World War II.[5] Five years later the entire island was purchased by the state of Georgia for preservation and security.[5] Decades later the former "Indian Mound" Cottage was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as Rockefeller Cottage.


In 1886, Rockefeller bought property in Westchester County along the Hudson River from General Lloyd Aspinwall. He had a mansion built that he named "Rockwood Hall". Rockefeller continued to acquire lands, ultimately creating at this site the estate known as "Pocantico" in Tarrytown, New York.


  1. ^ Chernow, Ron (1998). "The Flimflam Man". New York Times. 
  2. ^ "Almira Geraldine Goodsell". backushistory.info. Retrieved September 2013.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. ^ "William Rockefeller Dies At Home; Cold Contracted In Rain Fatal". The New York Times. June 25, 1922. Retrieved 2011-01-11. Rockefeller, a founder of the Standard Oil company and one of the wealthiest men in the United States, died of pneumonia Saturday morning at his home. 
  4. ^ New York Times, 5 August 1937, p. 1 "Estate of William Rockefeller Increasing $1,000,000 a Year"
  5. ^ a b "Jekyll Island". The Golden Crescent. National Park Service. Retrieved 2012-09-31.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]

Media related to William Rockefeller at Wikimedia Commons