Earth & Conservation

Who Are The Rockefellers & How Powerful Are They?

With billions in the bank, the Rockefeller family has become a symbol of wealth and conspiracy. So how did they become so influential?

By some estimates, the Rockefeller family is the most powerful family dynasty in the history of the United States. Just don't tell the Vanderbilts that. The annual softball game is tense enough as it is.

How mighty are the Rockefellers? Let us count the ways.

First, some history: In 1870, entrepreneur John Davison Rockefeller co-founded a modest little concern called the Standard Oil Company. Within a decade or so, Rockefeller controlled about 90 percent of the oil business in America. By colluding with the railroads and undercutting the competition, Rockefeller created one of the nation's first and most lucrative monopolies.

The Supreme Court broke up the monopoly in 1911, but by then the colossal Rockefeller fortune had been amassed. When the estimable Mr. Rockefeller died in 1937, at the age of 97, he was worth about 1.5 percent of the entire United States GDP.

The majority of the family's wealth has been preserved over the decades, thanks to the Rockefeller Trust. An army of lawyers, accountants and committees oversee the use of this money, of which family member receive chunks of the accumulated interest rather than the principal amount.

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The true scale of the family's wealth is difficult to determine, as much of it is tied up in real estate and investments. Some estimates put the total Rockefeller worth at around $11 billion, these days.

That formidable number makes the Rockefellers one of the richest families on the planet. The family is also, historically, among the most charitable. Patriarch John D. Rockefeller gave away more than a half billion dollars to medical research, and some consider him the single greatest medical benefactor in history.

The family's political influence is largely a result of its position in finance and business, but occasionally the connection has been more direct. Nelson Rockefeller was a vice president, Jay Rockefeller was a senator, and many family members have held other prominent political positions.

The Rockefeller family's immense wealth and influence has fueled plenty of interesting conspiracy theories over the years as well, featuring perennial concerns like the Trilateral Commission and the impending New World Order. Investigate at your own risk.

-- Glenn McDonald

Read More:

Forbes: The Rockefellers: The Legacy Of History's Richest Man

PBS: John D. Rockefeller, Senior

Philanthropy Roundtable: John Rockefeller Jr.

Bio.: Laurance Rockefeller