Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Richest Man in History, Against All Odds

In recent years I have become a fan of biographies, and this past week I’ve been listening to an audiobook about the life of John D. Rockefeller, who became the richest person in history in the early 1900’s (and adjusting for inflation, I understand that still today no one has yet surpassed the wealth he accumulated).  Rockefeller was very religious (a devoted Baptist), and he was extremely generous, founding universities, helping church ministries, funding medical research, and basically creating the type of intentional philanthropy we see today in people like Bill and Melinda Gates.  

One thing that has amazed me so far about Rockefeller is that his father was – how to say it? – an absolutely horrible person.  He was a fraud, literally, claiming to be a medical doctor (often under a false name), traveling around the countryside and using his charm to convince people to pay ridiculous prices for fake medicines that pretended to cure cancer, among other things.  He was a fraud of a family man, also, disappearing for months at a time, cheating on his wife repeatedly, and eventually even marrying another woman in Canada without bothering to tell either wife about the other.  After being hurt by his father’s actions over and over, eventually John came to realize that he was ashamed of his father – a realization that must have been painful.

Despite such an embarrassing and disastrous father, John Rockefeller not only did well in life, but his work in the oil industry revolutionized business and brought him to unparalleled levels of both worldly success and generosity.