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Rare Autograph Quotation by Millionaire John D. Rockefeller
– Condemning Making Money for Money’s Sake –
Penned For Reproduction in Autobiographical Writings
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I know of nothing more despicable and pathetic than a man who devotes all the waking hours of the day to making money, for the moneys sake.

JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER. Autograph Quotation, ca. November 1908. 1 p., with docketing on verso. 4⅝ x 3⅜ in.

Inventory #24845       Price: $2,500

Ida Tarbell, a leading muckraking journalist, published The History of Standard Oil Company in 1904, revealing the company’s price wars against competitors, corporate espionage, and legal evasions. Rockefeller published his memoirs in response to the resulting public outrage.

This quotation first appeared on the cover of the November 1908 issue of World’s Work, in the second of a series of articles written by Rockefeller and edited by Walter Hines Page. The verso of this document bears a World’s Work rubber stamp, “Plate Wanted,” with details filled in by pencil.

The next year, Doubleday, Page & Company published the series of articles in book form as Random Reminiscences of Men and Events. The volume collects the adages and character portraits of a “garrulous old man,” as Rockefeller describes himself. Countering Tarbell’s portrait of a greedy robber baron, Rockefeller portrayed himself as fortunate to be surrounded by capable hard-working associates, and his enormous wealth as a lucky by-product.

Historic Background

The quotation appears in this article entitled “Some Old Friends,” in a subsection on “The Value of Friendships.” He continues, “If I were forty years younger, I should like to go into business again, for the association with interesting and quick-minded men was always a great pleasure.”

In his preface, Rockefeller wrote, “There is still another reason for speaking now: If a tenth of the things that have been said are true, then these dozens of able and faithful men who have been associated with me ... must have been guilty of grave faults ... while I live and can testify to certain things, it seems fair that I should refer to some points which I hope will help to set forth several much-discussed happenings in a new light. I am convinced that they have not been fully understood. All these things affect the memories of men who are dead and the lives of men who are living, and it is only reasonable that the public should have some first-hand facts to draw from in making up its final estimate.” 

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Standard Oil, and a federal court appointed a special examiner to take evidence in June 1907. In April 1909, the court found Standard Oil guilty, under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, of forming a monopoly and restricting interstate commerce. In May 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling and ordered Standard Oil to be broken up into 34 companies. Rockefeller, who held over one quarter of Standard’s stock, received a proportionate share in each of the new companies. The breakup was very profitable, and his personal wealth rose to $900 million. He created the Rockefeller Foundation in 1913, and gave nearly $250 million to it (the equivalent of tens of billions today) before his death.

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) was born in New York and became an assistant bookkeeper at the age of 16. He entered into a business partnership in 1859 and concentrated on refining oil. In 1867, Henry Flagler entered the partnership, and they purchased local refineries. Rockefeller founded Standard Oil Company in 1870 in Ohio, and as gasoline and kerosene became more important, his wealth soared. At one time, he controlled 90 percent of all oil in the United States and revolutionized the petroleum industry. His corporation gained enormous influence over railroads that transported his oil around the country.  He also pioneered the structure of modern philanthropy and founded both the University of Chicago and Rockefeller University.

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