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JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER: THE QUANTITY-MINDED TYPE
AMONG the captains of industry with which factory-dottedAmerica has added to the Chamber of Horrors of history, hardly a single one has firedthe ambitions of more Americans than has John D. Rockefeller. Too successful to betypical of modern quantity-minded men generally and very different in outer appearance,he is yet worth studying because the very greatness of his success makes him thearch-type of the class to which he belongs.
Andrew Carnegie radiated a rather dour self-satisfaction.Charles M. Schwab a cheerful, steady conceit. Thomas F. Ryan a contented rapacity.But John D. Rockefeller never gave any impression of happiness. Yet be was happy,probably in the same way that all of these men were happy. Alfred Henry Lewis 35
"Yes," responded the bookworm.
"Do you know the only thing that gives mepleasure?" queried Rockefeller. "It is to see my dividends coming; justto see my dividends coming in."
John D. Rockefeller was a huge-boned bulk ofa man. At the heyday of his career the Rockefeller eyes were small and glittering,an unflattering student of him said, and added, "like the eyes of a rat,"while the contours of the Rockefeller mouth--a thin, long slit, which drew down atthe corners--further suggested the cutting, gnawing rodent.
His father was a swashbuckling country sport,,peddler, and horse trader. To his son the father gave only the sort of educationwhich the country districts afforded at that time. At sixteen the son left schooland started to work. At eighteen he was a bookkeeper in Cleveland, Ohio. At twenty-onehe formed a partnership, and under the firm name of Clark and Rockefeller went intothe produce commission business. The Civil War came along. The war, with its opportunitiesfor profitable trading, made them both moderately rich.
The first American to vision the possibilitiesof petroleum, according to Ida M. Tarbell, 36 was not Rockefeller nor any of hisassociates. It was George H. Bissell, a graduate of Dartmouth College, a journalistand teacher, who sent a quantity of coal oil, as it was then called, to ProfessorB. Silliman, Jr., Professor of Chemistry in Yale College. The Silliman report containedall the facts that were essential to fire the cupidity of the Rockefellers. The reportanalyzed the oil and pointed out the value of the oil as lubricant, as gas, and asilluminant. A horde of pioneers and adventurous business men then laid the foundationof the industry.
In 1862, when Rockefeller was only twenty-threeyears of age, an Englishman, Samuel Andrews, who was anxious to establish a refineryin Cleveland, gave him his first insight into the oil business. A $4,000 investmentby the produce partnership backing Andrews, who became the ablest mechanical superintendentof the early history of the industry, set Rockefeller on the road that enabled himin 1870 to incorporate the Standard Oil Company for a million dollars, and laterto become one of the few billionaires the world has produced. The period of eightyears between twenty-three and thirty-one, which culminated in the formation of thefirst American trust, was one of intense preparation for the golden future. Allianceswere formed, reformed, and rejected. The interest in the original refinery he soldto his partner Clark. He bought a share in a larger refinery for $72,500 and formeda new partnership with Andrews. Rockefeller and Andrews absorbed a refinery startedby his brother William, and Henry H. Flagler was at that time added to the partnership.At the end of this period of preparation, John D. Rockefeller, his brother William,Flagler, Andrews, and a refiner named Stephen V. Harkness, formed the Standard OilCompany of which John D. Rockefeller was made President.
It was in 1870, when he was thirty-one, thatRockefeller began the far reaching campaign which not only established the StandardOil Company as the first American trust, but made him personally the master of theindustry.
Railroad rebates were the weapons with whichhe struck down his competitors though be used with equal effectiveness other weaponswhen rebates failed him. The weapons with which be fought for the conquests of businesswere different from those with which Caesar and Napoleon fought for the conquestsof empire, but they were, if anything, more effective. Within three months afterhe had frightened the railroads into giving him rebates and drawbacks on both whatbe paid them for freight and out of what his competitors paid as well, twenty-oneout of twenty-six refiners in Cleveland were bought in by him at about fifty centson the dollar. The fury and hatred which this inspired in those whom he was crushingwas like that with which the rising tide of Christians inspired the Apennine Romans.The hatred of the relatively decent men in the oil industry was so great that fora time all those who dealt with the Standard Oil Company and its allies were ostracised.Men who sold crude oil to the trust were sent to coventry. Lifetime associates cutthem on the streets; they would not drink with them--in an age when social drinkinghad the character of tribal ritual; they tried in every way to ruin them for desertingthe cause of free trade. As the truth about the operations of the trust became public,the sympathy of the entire nation went out to those whom be was ruthlessly strippingof their wealth.
An average man would have been thwarted by thepopular contempt which was inspired by the exposure in 1872 of the methods by whichhe and his associates were ruining their competitors and stealing their business.
But Rockefeller was no average man. He had theaverage man's appetite for money, but swollen to colossal proportions. He had theforesight which the average man lacks, and saw the enormous profits to be realizedif he could control the oil industry. He had the cunning which enabled him to formulatethe schemes that would give him that control. Above all, he had the one essentialingredient of the true quantity-minded man--the indomitable will necessary to makeother men do what he wished them to do in order that he might get that control. Theoil regions might rage and try to boycott him; the railroads be forced to repudiatetheir agreements with him; legislatures and congresses investigate and excoriatehim; grand juries indict him; competitors sue him; the public bate and fear him.He kept on undisturbed.
"The oil business belongs to us," besaid. It has a familiar sound. Did not a quantity-minded king say: "The state?I am the state." And a quantity-minded Pope of Rome equally sure of his titleto rule, proclaim himself the vicar of God over all the earth?
After he was fifty, Rockefeller discovered otherrealms than that of business. He had always remained a pious member of the Baptistchurch, a church which in his formative years was even more devoted than it is todayto the folkway of which tithes, alms-giving, and charity are the symbols. When Rockefellerbad become many times a millionaire, he naturally became a philanthropist. In 1892,when he was fifty-three, he began the series of philanthropies on the grand scalewhich quantitatively dwarfed those of all contemporary millionaires. He discoverededucation in that year--something to which Charles W. Eliot had at a correspondingage already given more than thirty years of productive and creative time as teacher,scientist, author, publicist, reformer, and university administrator. Between 1892and 1910, he gave to the "University of Chicago founded by John D. Rockefeller"twenty-five million dollars; to The Education Board be gave during the same periodforty-three million dollars. He gave millions to the Rockefeller Institute for MedicalResearch in New York City; to the Rush Medical College in Chicago, to Johns HopkinsHospital in Baltimore, to Barnard College in New York City. His gifts to the variousbranches of the Baptist church, notably the Baptist Missionary Society, dwarfed allsimilar gifts to the churches of America.
If we measure the contributions of men to thedevelopment of education, to medicine, and to religion, quantitatively and not, qualitativelythen it is possible to construct a very ingenious argument to justify Rockefeller'swhole career of aggrandizement. It is possible to argue that the net result of hiscupidity, his political debaucheries, his ruining of other men, his exploitationof the consumers of oil, was a concentration of wealth which resulted in great giftsto education, to medicine, and to religion. On the theory that the end justifiesthe means, it may be argued that good having come out of evil, the evil has beenjustified. This is, however, a very superficial view of this whole matter.
First, the qualitative contributions to theseaspects of civilization are more important than the quantitative. Pestalozzi andFroebel contributed more to education, Pasteur and Lister more to medicine, and CardinalNewman and Theodore Parker more to religion than did Rockefeller. It is not numberof buildings, amount of equipment, or size of staffs that is most important; it isthe ideas that are contributed which go marching down the ages and which make forthe real forward movement of mankind. And these ideas are not contributed by themen who devote their lives to quantitative acquisition.
Secondly, it is a complete mistake to assumethat without philanthropies of the Rockefeller type, the world would have been withoutthe educational, medical, and religious institutions and activities which their giftsbrought into being. On the contrary, it is quite probable that, had wealth not beenso concentrated, support of these institutions by the state, and contributions fromindividuals, who had been deprived of wealth by the Rockefellers, would have exceededtheir relatively niggardly philanthropies to them. The institutions might not havebecome such grandiose projects in point of size, but they might have permitted amuch greater degree of freedom to those who really created and conducted them. Thepresent stranglehold which "big business" has upon all our eleemosynaryinstitutions would have hardly developed had the part played by educators, by scientists,and by artists in their development been better recognized, and the part played bythe contributors of money been minimized.
Finally, had these various projects not beencentralized, as sheer "bigness" required, there would have been less regimentation,less standardization, less conformity in American life. For quantity-minded men alwaysbuild so as to make mankind amenable to centralized control. The empire builders,the church builders, the business builders must have great multitudes who respondalike to patriotism, to religion, to consumption. Multitudes must thrill to one flag,to one creed, to one trade mark. And it is not a mere coincidence that the institutionswhich the Napoleons, the Pope Gregorys, the John D. Rockefellers create and develop,all tend to make mankind conform to things as the quantity-minded like to have them.
The Rockefellers of today "give" colleges,hospitals, foundations, just as the medieval barons used to "give" monasteries,nunneries, chapels, and the Roman senators used to "give" baths and amphitheatres.But in reality they "give" nothing. They merely return a part of what theywere acquisitive and powerful enough to seize. Unfortunately they return these partsof their accumulations in forms and on conditions which lessen if they do not completelydestroy their value to the public.
History is a record of mankind's leadership byits John D. Rockefellers. Now and then mankind has turned for a time to a more sensitivetype to be led, or to be entertained, or to be instructed. In religion it has sometimesfollowed a Zoroaster, a Buddha, a Christ. In ethics, it has sometimes followed aConfucius, a Socrates, a Spinoza. Even in political leadership, it has sometimesfollowed a Pericles, a Danton, a Lincoln. But it has usually followed such men fora short time only. It generally ends their leadership by crucifying them. It alwaysends by perverting their ideas. Generally, and naturally enough, and perhaps properlyas well, the herd-minded masses are turned from their leadership and from devotionto their ideas by the quantity-minded men--men more interested in extending the swayof the church than in the practice of its teachings; men more interested in enlargingthe territories of the state, than in making it the instrument for carrying out ethicalideas; men more interested in acquiring the wealth to be secured from the entertainingand exploiting of the multitude, than in enriching life--these types of men seizepower by a superficial appearance of carrying out the ideas of the leaders they pretendto follow.
The quantity-minded individual may or may notbegin his career with a better intellectual endowment than the herd-minded majorityof his fellows. The opportunities which wealth and the exercise of power confer naturallyaffect the quantity-minded man and place him in an environment that tends to raisehim above the intellectual level of the masses. John D. Rockefeller began his careerwith no more in the way of schooling and intelligence--perhaps even less--than theaverage man. Success created the environment that enabled him to rise far above theJohn Does from whom he sprang.
The peculiar toughness of mental fiber and unusualstrength of appetite which make the quantity-minded man are no respecters of family,of nationality, of race. They put in an appearance in the peasant's hut, just asreadily as in the king's palace; in the person of a laborer digging in a trench,just as readily as in an educated and intelligent individual. Quantity-minded JohnA Rockefeller and herd-minded John Doe may be alike in their tastes, in their preoccupationwith the material aspects of life, but the predatory man has what the average manlacks: the superb appetite for pelf and power and the indomitable will without whichit is impossible to secure and retain great wealth and great power. He is fascinatedby the value of the things which be possesses; the amount of power that he can wield.What counts are millions of dollars--not how they are secured; the hundreds of factoriesbe owns and thousands of workers he exploits, not the quality of the things, be makes;the size of his houses, the value of his paintings, the amount of his philanthropies,and not the design of the houses, the taste in the paintings, the wisdom of the philanthropies.He is merely objectified personal will, much as is the barbarian, the child, andthe brute. The quantity-minded man can always be recognized by either of two qualities:the ability to get wealth and power, or the ability to hold on to the wealth andpower he already possesses.
What amazing forms the type has taken throughoutthe history of mankind: the priests, Torquemada, Loyola, Gregory, Luther, Calvin,Knox; the warriors, Genghis Kahn, Tamerlane, Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Constantine,Charlemagne; the business men, Arkwright, Goodyear, Boothe, Vanderbilt, Daniel Drew,Jay Gould, Carnegie, Morgan, Patterson. But no matter what the outward form of activity,the quantity-minded man has always been in pursuit of more of whatever it is the"thing" to acquire by the conventional standards of his times: more converts,more subjects, more territory, more business, more wealth. The things he accumulatesare merely outer expressions of an inner psychosis. They vary from age to age. HenryAdams calls attention to the way in which Constantine the Great used Christianity:
Good taste forbids saying that Constantine theGreat speculated as audaciously as a modern stock-broker on values of which he knewat the utmost only the volume; or that he merged all uncertain forces into a singletrust, which he enormously overcapitalized, and forced on the market; but this isthe substance of what Constantine himself said in his Edict of Milan in the year313, which admitted Christianity into the Trust of State Religions. Regarded as anact of Congress, it runs:
"We have resolved to grant to Christianas well as all others the liberty to practice the religion they prefer, in orderthat whatever exists of divinity or celestial power may help and favor us and allwho are under our government." The empire pursued power--not merely spiritualbut physical--in the sense in which Constantine issued his army order the year before,at the battle of the Milvian Bridge: In hoc signo vinces! using the Crossas a train of artillery, which, to his mind, it was. Society accepted it in the samecharacter. Eighty years afterwards, Theodosius marched against his rival Eugene withthe Cross for physical champion; and Eugene raised the image of Hercules to fightfor the pagans; while society on both sides looked on, as though it were a boxingmatch, to decide a final test of force between the divine powers. 37
The quantity-minded man, being practical, conformsto the taboos, the virtues, and the traditions to which he finds it necessary toconform in getting whatever it is that he wants. Even when he seizes upon a fanaticalidea, he remains, like Constantine, practical enough to secure results. Since becannot gratify his passion for imposing his will upon the rest of his fellows unlesshe is an adept at compromise, he conforms in substance even when engaged in changingthe outer appearance. He has a genius for recognizing the fundamental conventions.
Where valor is the ruling convention, an Alexanderout-valors all others.
Where piety is the ruling convention, a Loyolaout-pieties all others.
Where wealth is the ruling convention--a Rockefelleroutwealths all others.
The quantity-minded founders of the Christianchurch, for instance, imposed a religion invented by fanatics upon the hostile massesof Europe by adopting one after another of the essential superstitions of the pagansand barbarians whom they sought to convert. The "unknown god" of the Ephesiansbecame the Christian Jehovah; the Saturnalia, the birthday of Christ; the hierarchyof gods and godesses, the college of patron saints.
Times change, but the formula seems unchanging:997 to 2 to 1. The predatory individuals simply adapt themselves to their times,and use equally well armies, or churches, or factories, in their struggle for pelfand power.
The tragedy of mankind, as it is the tragedyfor the quantity-minded themselves, is the fact that the values that inspire theiractivities offer no clue to what is a really superior way of life. Accumulation isset up as the supreme value in life. Accumulation becomes the most desirable activityin which man can engage. Unfortunately, devotion to accumulation contributes nothingto life, unless the purely negative virtue of acting as horrible examples is accounteda contribution.
The quantity-minded man today finds in business,as Lewis Mumford points out, "love, adventure, worship, art, and every sortof ideality," with the consequence that "to withdraw from industry wasto become incapacitated for any further life." 38 The mighty wills,which in the past built great empires and great churches and which today build greatfortunes, find themselves palsied when confronted by the yearning, not entirely tobe killed in any man, to live a really superior life.
There is something tragic in even the best-livedlife. There is something doubly tragic, grotesquely tragic, in the life of an AndrewCarnegie--fifty years of successes achieved by the ruthless extinction of competitorsin the race for wealth and power--frustrated in the end because the mind that achievedmiracles of acquisition in business could not perform an equal miracle in reeducation.
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