Although John D. Rockefeller, Sr. tried to avoid the spotlight, he was well known in later life for giving out nickels and dimes to children. Having bestowed upon a lucky child a nickel, Rockefeller would also offer some words of advice – generally encouraging the child to save the nickel and work hard or that coins were for saving and not for indulgence.

John D. Rockefeller, Sr. gives a nickel to a child on his 84th birthday, 1923

Did you notice Rockefeller’s gleaming shoes? Rockefeller’s polished shoes are said to be linked to how his fortune survived the Great Depression. The story goes that Rockefeller was getting his shoes shined by a young boy who proceeded to give him some free advice on the stock market unaware of who the man was. Rockefeller realised that if a shoe shine boy had advice on the market it must be overbought, and if it was overbought then it was about to crash – and crash it did. However, thanks to his shrewd business instinct Rockefeller had pulled out of the market just in time.


John D. Rockefeller, Sr. died May 23rd 1927 age 97. It is estimated that he gave out between 20,000 and 30,000 nickels in his lifetime.

It was not only children who were the recipients of nickels; Rockefeller would also playfully give out nickels to wealthy and successful business men such as tyre mogul Harvey Firestone.

It was during the Great Depression that Rockefeller switched to giving nickels instead of dimes.

Rockefeller was the first American to become worth more than a billion dollars.


Related capsule: 1932: Construction of the Rockefeller Centre

Ron Chernow, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. (2013)

Source: Unknown

About The Author

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Assistant Curator

Sophia joined the Retronaut team as a researcher in 2014. After graduating from Liverpool in 2013 with a BA in Ancient History, she moved to London and now works at Bletchley Park as a volunteer archivist. From test shots of Lauren Bacall to space suits for dogs, working for Retronaut means that Sophia can keep exploring the moments where history, culture and photography collide.

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