John D. Rockefeller by John Singer Sargent. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

He is said to have been the richest, most famous self-made man who's ever lived. Attracting the ire of peers, politicians, workers, and competitors, his name has become synonymous with extreme wealth and monopolistic business practices. That's right -- we're speaking of the founder of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller. Love him or hate him, you know the name, and odds are good you know what he was famous for. 

However, despite dominating the entire oil industry for his practically his entire life, Rockefeller was so much more than a so-called robber baron. Toward the latter half of his life, Rockefeller became a generous philanthropist, one who shared with society not only his wealth but also his wisdom regarding business, life, religion, and even friendship.

Here's what you can learn from the one and only John D. Rockefeller.


Rockefeller was not only the richest man in history, but also one of the oldest-lived ones. Born at a time when life expectancy wasn't much higher than 45, Rockefeller lived to be an unheard-of 97 years old. Given his wealth, and the amount of time he spent walking the Earth, it's safe to say Rockefeller had plenty of sage advice on that most principal of subjects: life. 

As you might imagine, a great deal of Rockefeller's success came from working hard and saving up money -- in his case, capital that eventually purchased his first oil refiner. It comes as no surprise, then, that Rockefeller gives the following advice regarding saving, perseverance, and focus:

"I believe that thrift is essential to well-ordered living."

"Singleness of purpose is one of the chief essentials for success in life, no matter what may be one's aim."

"I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature."

Perhaps foreseeing that many would seek to emulate his example, Rockefeller has the following to say to those who wish to follow in his wealth-building footsteps:

"If your only goal is to become rich, you will never achieve it."

Which brings us to, arguably, his best pieces of advice for living a fulfilling life.

"I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty."

"Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great."

"I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living."


However, for those who want to rise up and try to give Rockefeller a run for his money, he has no shortage of insights:

"If you want to succeed you should strike out on new paths, rather than travel the worn paths of accepted success." 

Thinking of starting a business with your best friend? Rockefeller advises to think very hard before making the leap.

"A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship."

And, at the end of the day, the following two quotes alone are indispensable for those hoping to rise above their current station:

"The most important thing for a young man is to establish a credit -- a reputation, character."

"I would rather earn 1% of 100 people's efforts than 100% of my own efforts."


The other key pillar of John D. Rockefeller's life, in addition to unimaginable wealth and business success, was his faith. Ask a stranger on the street what first comes to mind when thinking of Rockefeller, and you'll probably find that his charitable work will be a secondary thought to his immense wealth and monopolistic business practices. However, this is arguably unfair, as he spent a huge chunk of his life not making money, but giving it away.

With each charitable initiative he set out upon, whether it was acting as a benefactor to multiple African-American colleges or donating tens of millions of dollars to medical research, Rockefeller went about donating much in the same way he made his fortune:

"Giving should be entered into in just the same way as investing. Giving is investing."

Rockefeller's "charity is investing" philosophy also helps explain another bit of sage advice he had for anyone looking to help others:

"Charity is injurious unless it helps the recipient to become independent of it."

One of a kind

Say what you will about Rockefeller's business practices, but he was one of a kind. We can all learn a great deal from his advice. And the best part? These quotations are just the tip of the iceberg. There is a treasure trove of quotes out there for those interested in learning what the one and only John D. Rockefeller had to say. 

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