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Rufus T. Bush
Born February 22, 1840(1840-02-22)
Tompkins County, New York, U.S.
Died September 15, 1890 (aged 50)
New York City, New York
Occupation Business, Oil refining
Spouse(s) Sarah Hall
Children Wendell Bush
Irving T. Bush
Parents Peter T. Bush
Phebe (Sutherland) Bush

Rufus T. Bush (February 22, 1840 – September 15, 1890) was an American businessman, oil refining industrialist, and yachtsman. His notable testimony against Standard Oil's monopolistic practices through railroad rebates left a lasting impression, while the 1887 transatlantic ocean race of his sailing yacht Coronet and his subsequent circumnavigation on the same yacht evoked much interest in the national press.


Early life and career

Rufus T. Bush and his son Irving T. Bush are descended from Jan Bosch, a native of the Netherlands, who immigrated to New Amsterdam, now New York, in 1662.[1] Their family has no known connection to the family of Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush.[2]

Born in Tompkins County, New York, Rufus T. Bush grew up on his father's farm, then moved to Michigan in 1851. After graduating from Lansing High School, and spending two years at the State Agricultural College (now Michigan State University) and graduating in 1861 from the Michigan State Normal School (now Eastern Michigan University) in Ypsilanti, he and his wife were schoolteachers for two years.[3]

Rufus T. Bush started in business by selling sewing machines in Chicago.[1] He briefly moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada for the manufacture of machines before moving to New York City. He greatly profited by procuring the names and addresses of ministers around the United States and direct-mailing their congregations to sell wire laundry line.[3]

Oil and Standard Oil

After the laundry-line venture and other business enterprises, such as buying land in the mountains of Virginia,[3] Rufus T. Bush invested in the oil refining business, providing capital for the new firm of Bush & Denslow, which operated an oil refinery on the Brooklyn waterfront.[3].

As co-owner of a smaller refinery, Rufus T. Bush publicly testified in 1879 against Standard Oil's practice of railroad rebates, stating that, "All the profit that the Standard Oil got, they out of the railroad in the form of rebates." Academic historians recently described Bush's testimony as notable for its "quotable accusations" that subsequently became a "cliché permanently included" in histories of Standard Oil.[4] Muckraker Ida Tarbell published verbatim Rufus T. Bush's testimony concerning Standard Oil's hold over railroad lines and the effects of these discriminatory practices within the body of her landmark book The History of the Standard Oil Company in 1904.[5]

Bush & Denslow's Brooklyn refinery was later bought by Standard Oil during the 1880s, allowing Rufus to retire from business. The refinery itself was dismantled by Standard Oil.[3]

The yacht Coronet

Page 1, The New York Times, March 27, 1887

Rufus T. Bush had owned a steam yacht in the 1880s.[3]. After retiring, he had a large and luxurious sailing yacht, the Coronet, designed for him and built in Brooklyn. Rufus T. Bush put forth a $10,000 challenge against any other yacht for a transatlantic race. The ocean race between the Coronet and the yacht Dauntless in March 1887 made Rufus T. Bush and the victorious Coronet famous--the New York Times devoted its entire first page for March 28, 1887 to the story (as seen at right).[6]

After winning the 3,000 mile race and the $10,000 purse, Rufus T. Bush decided to sell the Coronet and listed the vessel in England for $30,000.[7] Rufus and his family (including his son Irving T. Bush) then circumnavigated the globe on the Coronet in 1888, stopping in Hawaii, Japan, India, and elsewhere. The Coronet was sold before Rufus's death in 1890.[6]


Rufus T. Bush died on September 15, 1890, after accidentally taking a fatal dose of aconite. He left an estate estimated at $2,000,000 to his wife and two sons.[8] The family quickly incorporated under the name The Bush Co.[3]

Rufus T. Bush's fortune provided the necessary seed money for his son Irving T. Bush to start the construction of Bush Terminal on the waterfront site of the former Bush & Denslow refinery in Brooklyn during the 1890s. Among other contributions, the terminal funded construction of Bush Tower, a landmark skyscraper on famous 42nd St. next to Times Square in New York, as well as the building of Bush House, London, an elaborate office building that currently houses the BBC World Service.

After passing through a succession of owners, the Coronet is currently being restored in Newport, Rhode Island. It is the oldest registered yacht in the United States and is one of the last remaining grand sailing yachts from the nineteenth century.[6] It retains its elaborate original interiors and is registered on the U.S National Register of Historic Places (#04000571).

See also


  1. ^ a b "Bush, Rufus Ter". The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time. 14 (Supp. 1). New York: J. T. White Company. 1910. pp. 102. Retrieved 2008-11-23.  
  2. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions About BBC World Service". London: BBC World Service. Retrieved 29 November 2008.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Denslow, Van Buren (Jan. 1891). "Prominent citizens of New York: Rufus T. Bush," Magazine of Western History 13 (3): 370-379.
  4. ^ Olien, Roger M.; Hinton, Diana Davids; & Olien, Diana Davids (2000). Oil and Ideology: The Cultural Creation of the American Petroleum Industry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, p. 60
  5. ^ Tarbell, Ida M. (1904). The History of Standard Oil. New York: McClure, Phillips & Co, p. 199-201.
  6. ^ a b c "Coronet". Ships of the World: An Historical Encyclopedia. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1997. pp. 123. ISBN 0395715563.  
  7. ^ "The Coronet's Owner; Looking at the Contest Simply as a Business Enterprise" (March 29, 1887). The New York Times
  8. ^ "Rufus T. Bush's Fatal Error" (Sep. 16, 1890). The New York Times, p. 8

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