Rockefeller Archive Center

Rockefeller Archive Center Research Reports are created by recipients of research travel stipends and by many others who have conducted research at the RAC. The reports demonstrate the breadth of the RAC's archival holdings, particularly in the study of philanthropy and its effects. Read more about the history of philanthropy at Also, see the RAC Bibliography of Scholarship, a comprehensive online database of publications citing RAC archival collections.
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Anointed With Oil: God and Black Gold in Modern America

January 1, 2013

To read John D. Rockefeller's first cogitations on oil is to encounter a man swept up in the sacred promises of this material and its seemingly boundless potentials for the modern age. Rockefeller was present at petroleum's birth in the mid-nineteenth century and saw firsthand how this natural resource elicited religious fervor among a new generation of self-made men. Whether rough-and-tumble frontiersmen or polished business types from Philadelphia and New York, many of the aspiring men who moved to the oil region of Western Pennsylvania after the Civil War did so armed with a certainty that they were chasing something from God. It is no wonder that those who found what they were looking for often translated their success into biblical terms, and claimed that their personal enrichment by crude was part of some divine plan. He was just one voice in the multitude, but Rockefeller thus spoke for an entire generation when he announced that the vast stores of oil wealth he sought were "bountiful", "miraculous", "gifts of the great Creator" waiting to be used for "His Kingdom." Such was the providential thinking that infused his early engagements with petroleum and caused him to see the pursuit of oil as the purest Christian venture and such was the emotional power of crude that inspired even this stern Baptist to become Pentecostal-like in his propensity to see miracles all around him.

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