William Rockefeller—the younger brother of John D. Rockefeller—was born on 31 May 1841 at Richford, in Tioga County, N.Y. He entered business at the age of 16, clerking for a miller in Cleveland, Ohio, before he joined his brother John's produce business a year later. When John D. Rockefeller subsequently entered the oil refining industry—going into partnership with Samuel Andrews—and found that it promised to develop into a booming export business, he invited William to take charge of the Rockefeller and Andrews exporting business in New York. In 1867, William Rockefeller and Co. was formed as a subsidiary to Rockefeller and Andrews.
William Rockefeller built up the company's export traffic, which in time became the Standard Oil Co. of New York. Rockefeller remained the firm's president until 1911, when the Standard Oil trust was dissolved as a result of antitrust legislation. Retiring from his once-active role as a captain of industry, William Rockefeller devoted the remainder of his life to his railroad interests and investments until dying of pneumonia at the age of 81 on 24 June 1922 at Tarrytown, N.Y.
(Tanker: dp. 15,500; l. 446'; b. 58'2"; dr. 27'6"; s. 10.5 k.; cpl. 51; a. none)
William Rockefeller—sometimes cited as William D. Rockefeller—a steel-hulled tanker built for carrying oil in bulk, was constructed at Philadelphia by William Cramp and Sons for the Standard Oil Co. and completed in December 1916. Acquired by the Navy for duty with the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS), William Rockefeller was commissioned on 9 January 1918, Lt. Comdr. Richard E. Tull, USNRF, in command.
William, Rockefeller conducted her maiden voyage for NOTS soon after commissioning, transporting a bulk cargo of oil from Philadelphia to England. After arriving at Sheerness on 18 March, she discharged her cargo and returned to Philadelphia on 9 April. She bunkered, underwent minor repairs, and loaded a full cargo of fuel oil before sailing on 28 April for New York.
The next day, she joined a convoy bound for Scotland and made port at Lamlash on 15 May. Three days later, the bulk oil tanker proceeded on for Rosyth. On 21 May 1918, the German submarine UC-58 torpedoed William Rockefeller, and the latter sank in just 13 minutes. While the tanker's two escorting destroyers subjected the German U-boat to a fierce depth charge attack, William, Rockefeller's crew abandoned ship. Eleven men, including Commander Tull, the commanding officer, were awarded Navy Crosses for bravery. All but three men of her complement of 51 were saved.