Even the powerful banker J. P. Morgan and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie have not been the center of conspiracy theories as have focused on John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil Company, although one conspiracy website refers to Andrew Carnegie—at one time, the richest man in the world—as a “Rockefeller stooge.”
Rockefeller (1839–1937) was born in Richford, New York, and began working as a bookkeeper at age sixteen. Seven years later, he joined entrepreneur Henry Flagler and inventor Samuel Andrews to begin refining crude petroleum.
The three incorporated the firm as Standard Oil Company in 1870, bringing in John’s brother William to join the company. Rockefeller emphasized cost-cutting and demanded that the “common man” have cheap kerosene, employing chemists to develop better methods of refining and to search out new ways to use petroleum by-products.
Although Rockefeller bought out other refiners, creating for Standard Oil a near-monopoly position, consumer prices on kerosene plummeted—and continued to do so until the time of the Standard Oil breakup in 1911.
The claims leveled against John D. Rockefeller and his descendants are so many and diverse as to defy easy categorization. Populist groups tended to ignore Rockefeller personally and attack his connections with the large (in their view, monopolistic) railroads.
The critique of the railroads involved traditional concerns with price-fixing and monopolies, but also contained a criticism of “long-haul/shorthaul” price differentiation, in which large shippers, such as Rockefeller, received rebates not extended to those shipping over shorter distances.
Other reform groups and “muckrakers” such as Ida Tarbell maintained that Rockefeller unduly pushed smaller competitors out of business and used ruthless pricing tactics in an attempt to “corner the market.”
Rockefeller’s new mechanism for controlling multiple companies, called the trust, was viewed as fundamentally undemocratic and, with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, was outlawed. That act, ironically, had the effect of driving companies from the inefficient trust structure into much more efficient vertical combinations, which in turn increased—rather than decreased—their power.
A tither to his church all his life, Rockefeller had a fortune of nearly $1 billion, and gave away charitable contributions totaling $550 million through the Rockefeller Foundation, the General Education Board, the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, and the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial. These philanthropic organizations became the source of yet other conspiracy theories.
The Institute for Medical Research, for example, has been accused of conducting a massive propaganda campaign to eliminate nondrug “holistic” treatments for diseases, in order to increase profits for the “Rockefeller-Farben combine.” In this theory, Rockefeller, through the Institute, hoodwinked the medical profession into adopting drug therapies by shaping the treatment of medical research in the universities.
In 1952, Emanuel Josephson published Rockefeller, “Internationalist”: The Man Who Misrules the World, one of the first book-length conspiracy attacks on the Rockefellers. Josephson claimed that the Rockefeller family sought “to control all necessities from the time they are produced until they are consumed” (Josephson, 20).
The foundations, in Josephson’s view, were only attempts to remain free of taxation, allowing the family to dominate U.S. Steel, Westinghouse, Republic Iron and Steel, and dozens of other U.S. companies.
Not only did the family own stock in these companies, but they also, through marriage and appointments, dominated the boards of other important companies. Winthrop Aldrich, chairman of Chase National Bank, was John D. Rockefeller’s brother-in-law through Rockefeller’s marriage to the daughter of Senator Nelson Aldrich—one of the creators of the Federal Reserve System.
According to the theory, Rockefeller, Morgan, Paul Warburg, and other “internationalists” sought to use the Federal Reserve and the newly imposed income tax to control the U.S. economy and to then implement a socialist/Bolshevik agenda.
The classic conspiracy book, None Dare Call It Conspiracy (1971) by Gary Allen and Larry Abraham, place Rockefeller, Warburg, and Morgan, as well as National City president Frank Vanderlip and financiers Bernard Baruch and Jacob Schiff, at the center of a world conspiracy through the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which is directed, in turn, by the Rothschilds.
Through the CFR, the Rockefellers controlled not only Standard Oil, U.S. Steel, Eastman Kodak, Xerox, IBM, and Firestone, but also dominated the media by owning or influencing NBC, CBS, Timemagazine, Life magazine, and all the major newspapers and publishing houses. Like most theories, Allen and Abraham only imply or infer a Rockefeller presence in this and other conspiracy networks.
Not only did the Rockefellers play prominent—some would say “shadow”—roles in business, but they were also active in politics. John, Jr.’s son, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, worked in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal administration, then held a number of appointed positions in the Eisenhower administration or on public commissions.
He ran for the Republican nomination for president three times, and lost, before being named vice-president after Gerald Ford was sworn in to replace President Richard Nixon, who resigned. Winthrop Rockefeller, the youngest of John, Jr.’s sons, was elected governor of Arkansas in 1966.
Through the work of David Rockefeller (b. 1915), the son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and the head of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace in the 1950s, the family’s internationalist pursuits continued. David Rockefeller set up the Trilateral Commission in 1973 to promote cooperation in international matters.
Through the influence of the CFR and the Trilateral Commission, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Rockefeller influence promoted “multilaterialism” and international lending as a means to destroy national sovereignty and produce a “one world government.”
The fact that David Rockefeller wrote a 1980 Wall Street Journal editorial attacking notions that he was the “mastermind of an international conspiracy” (Gilmour, 1) only served to convince conspiracy theorists even more of his guilt.
Instead, theorists pointed to Rockefeller’s work with President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, on a white paper dealing with international technology issues as clear evidence of his agenda. Thus, to the present, the name “Rockefeller” infuses virtually every major conspiracy theory except those dealing with UFOs and the Kennedy assassination.