The History of John D. Rockefeller

The History of John D. Rockefeller

John D. Rockefeller is widely considered one of the wealthiest people in American and human history, but how was he able to amass one of the largest fortunes that the world has ever seen?

John D. Rockefeller was born to William Rockefeller Sr. and his first wife Eliza Davidson in upstate New York on July 8th, 1839. John was born into a large family and was just one of six siblings in this marriage, including his brother William Rockefeller Jr. who would end up cofounding Standard Oil with him.


The Rockefeller Family

One of the most commonly asked questions we have seen throughout history is how did the Rockefellers manage to build their empire? Unfortunately, the answer to that question is largely unknown. The Rockefellers both as individuals and as a family have chosen to keep the cumulative total of their wealth including all assets, cash, equity, family member net worths, and the estate mostly private. With that, the early growth of the families wealth is something that is uncertain, but we have found ties to land, real estate investments, and of course, the oil industry.

The Rockefeller family has made it a priority to protect their estate, the majority of which was sealed in their family trust back in 1934. They set up another trust in 1952, both of which are managed by Chase Bank. Their trusts are managed by committees within Chase that oversee and manage the fortune, while Rockefeller Financial services handles the families sizable financial investments.

Acclaimed author and researcher Malcolm Gladwell estimated that at the peak of the Rockefeller’s wealth, they would have been worth around $320 billion, in today’s dollars. That’s approximately three times the net worth of Bill Gates or three to four times that of Warren Buffet, two of the wealthiest people in history.

How did the Rockefellers build Standard Oil, and make them one of the richest families in history?


The History of John D. Rockefeller

The Founding of Standard Oil

Even though standard oil wasn’t officially established until 1870, there was a lot of work that went into creating one of the largest and most lucrative oil companies and monopolies in history. John D. Rockefeller and his brother William started laying the groundwork of the company back in 1863. It was a partnership formed between themselves, Samuel Andrews, Henry Flagler, Stephen V. Harkness, and Oliver Jennings. Jennings made it into the partnership as he was married to a woman who happens to be the sister of William’s wife.

After starting off as a partnership, John later dismantled the partnership in 1870, after which they incorporated Standard Oil. The reason that they named their corporation standard oil is so that it would stand as an organization that stood on reliable product quality and service standards. He wanted to set the tone for an industry that was still very much in its infancy. They envisioned creating something new, great, powerful and revolutionary for oil.

This ideal is what lead John Rockefeller and his fellow stakeholders to create a business that would dominate the oil industry, leading the charge in innovation and unmatched success. John was the single largest shareholder in the company at the time, with William being the second most, so that they could shape and direct the company in the way that they saw fit. Though they appeared to be collaborative in their decision-making process with the other stakeholders and founders of Standard Oil, it was apparent that John made it a priority to keep the power in his corner.


Growing Standard Oil

The Rockefeller’s goal was to grow Standard Oil through the acquisition of other related companies. As Standard Oil continued to grow, they would buy out their competitors along the way. Bought competitors that were deemed as beneficial to growing the standard oil empire were integrated quickly into their pipeline. Used to increase the overall efficiency and output of their company.

Standard Oil also bought out competitors that were not directly beneficial for the growth and effectiveness of the organization. They would also buy out competitors that were getting in the way but weren’t at all beneficial to the growth and expansion of Standard Oil. Rockefeller would then close down as a means of eliminating the competition and gaining greater control over the oil market.

The next step the Rockefellers took toward building the monopoly was in gaining exclusive control over oil shipping along the New York Central, a major railroad which ran through New York to Boston and then across the Midwest to Chicago and St. Louis. Rockefeller inked a deal with them in which he would give them a discount of over 70% on barrels, as long as they agreed to ship at least 60 car loads of oil per day. Not only did this lock in an enormous amount of business for standard oil, it was absolutely impossible for any other oil company to compete with that price. No other company was big enough to compete or offer that generous of a discount.

There were some other notable time and money saving tactics that Rockefeller deployed to maintain control of costs and manage prices. This included using the Erie Canal during the warmer months of the year for oil transport, to help them save on shipping costs with the rail lines which they relied heavily on throughout the rest of the year. He cut transportation deals in secret with other companies that helped drop the price of kerosene by more than 50 percent from 1865 to 1870. Those who they didn’t put out of business or buy out became heated opponents and enemies of the Rockefeller empire and Standard Oil.

Up to this point Standard Oil was well recognized as the leading powerhouse in the industry, but the depth and sweeping breadth of the power of standard oil was yet to be uncovered. Outside of Rockefeller and the key stakeholders, few had any idea just how much control Standard Oil had over their business and the oil industry.


Competition and the Sherman Antitrust Act

The assembly of the Hepburn Committee could be seen as the first step in leading toward the investigation of Standard Oil as a monopoly. A. Barton Hepburn received orders from the state of New York to investigate the railroads for the rebates and discounts that they had been handing out within the state. They came to find that half of their total traffic were receiving rebates, and that the vast majority of that total traffic was coming from the Standard Oil company. This particular investigation lead uncovered the volume of business that Standard Oil was controlling, but ultimately lead in a scolding of the railroad companies for permitting this to happen.

Rockefeller recognized that at this rate, it wouldn’t be long before he himself and Standard Oil would be under investigation. In response, he developed a few work-arounds so that he could hopefully continue to grow the company without attracting too much attention.

In 1882, they pooled the companies that they had either built or bought out across the country and combined them so that they would now be under the control of a single group of 37 stakeholders, which then placed their shares in a trust of 9 trustees. The trustees included the Rockefeller brothers, John and William, along with some of the original founders and a few others.

8 years later, the American Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act by an overwhelming majority. This act was created and passed to prevent any business or organization from conspiring to monopolize an industry through restraining trade. Though that phrase seemed to have a loose or subjective meaning within the verbiage of the act, this gave power so that the Ohio Attorney General could conduct a thorough investigation of Standard Oil.

Though it wasn’t until 1911 when the United States Justice Department dug in their heels against Standard Oil At this point, the company was in control of 85% of all final oil sales that occurred domestically within the United States. The federal government not only sued Standard Oil for their disobedience against the country’s antitrust laws, they also made an order for standard oil to breakup into 34 separate companies.


Expansion Before the End of Standard Oil

Before the Sherman Antitrust Act worked to disband Standard Oil, they had expanded outside of the US and built sizable business in international markets. They extended their business into China, marketing kerosene for lamps. They were able to carve out their niche by marketing themselves to Chinese farmers, offering a better fuel to burn than the vegetable oil that they commonly used before them. Before long, China had become their biggest client in Asia. Meanwhile, they had built partnerships in the Middle East as well.


Standard Oil As We Know it Today

Despite Standard Oil becoming dismantled by antitrust legislation, their legacy still lives on today. Standard Oil was broken into dozens of oil and gas and pipeline companies. ExxonMobil, Chevron and Marathon Oil are some of the most notable companies that remain in business today. Business experts and historians believe that had the company not been disbanded, they would be worth in the range of $1 trillion.

Though the disbanding of Standard Oil is something that has long passed, it is still something of controversy. There are many people that don’t believe that Standard Oil was a monopoly. In fact, there’s a large group of experts that believed that what they were doing was great for the oil business and the economy, pushing them and other companies to create a superior product at competitive prices. In fact, many economic historians believe that the company was in the process of losing their dominant position in the market during the time the antitrust legislation was being passed. This was due to the fact that other large oil companies such as Texaco, Shell, Gulf Oil, and others were on the rise and some of them were beginning to vertically integrate as well.


 Where is the Rockefeller Family Today?

There are over 150 blood relatives of John D. Rockefeller Sr. alive today. Though some individuals who are close to the family have noted that they don’t believe that the remaining funds in the trusts will be able to sustain the current living generation of Rockefellers, or that it will begin dwindling soon.

That’s of course difficult to believe considering that in 2016 it was estimated that the remaining family fortune was $11 billion.

Posted in John D. Rockefeller, Monopoly, Sherman Anti-Trust Act, Standard Oil Company, Standard Oil Trust | Leave a comment

The History of Petroleum in the United States

The History of Petroleum in the United States

Petroleum, also known as crude oil, and natural gas are carbon-based fuels trapped under the earth’s surface. Plant and animal remains from millions to hundreds of millions of years ago formed carbon-based fuels. And they are a couple of the most important natural resources we use today.

Petroleum and natural gas can be found in just about every aspect of our lives. From the time you wake up and go to work to the time you sleep, you are most likely using them in one form or another. Your heated home. The electricity you use for your lights and computer. And the car you use to drive to work. You guessed it! These are all things that require petroleum or natural gas.

US oil and natural gas are resources that play a big part in the US economy today. And the history of US oil and natural gas production date back to 1859. Let’s take a look at the history of US oil and natural gas exploration, production, processing, transportation and marketing.


Exploration and Production

The US was not the first country to extract oil to be used as a resource. Crude oil was actually believed to be used first in the Middle East by ancient Babylonians and Egyptians for things like construction and mummy preparation! It would be many years later before oil was understood and used to its full potential. But first, it would have to be discovered in the US. And in the US, the first successful and commercially viable well was discovered in 1859, starting the history of US oil production.

It all began in Titusville, Pennsylvania when Colonel Edwin Drake was looking for a source to extract kerosene. At the time, kerosene was widely used as a light oil. It was a popular, clean fuel that could be used to light homes for cheap. And gasoline, which had few commercial uses at the time, was only a byproduct of kerosene.

In Pennsylvania, Drake created the first commercial well for oil using a new drilling technique. The new technique used a pipeline in boreholes. This allowed for much deeper drilling compared to how things were done previously. And it allowed for much larger, viable quantities of oil to be extracted from deep within the earth. He was able to go down 69 feet before hitting both oil and natural gas!

Before Drake used the new drilling technique, people had been skimming oil off the surface of the water in Pennsylvania’s Oil Creek or collecting oil from the region’s salt wells. As you can imagine, it was very time-consuming and not the most effective way to obtain oil. However, with the well’s success and a high demand for the natural resources, the start of an oil rush had begun.

After Drake’s oil well in Titusville, oil extraction began. And a pipeline to bring natural gas to a village was built. Western Pennsylvania became a popular area for other people who were interested in oil exploration. That later led to researching refinery techniques as well as oil exploration in other areas. In 1861, oil was discovered in Kern County, California. And in Texas, oil was discovered in 1901.

And what about natural gas? Well, natural gas started as an unpopular byproduct of oil exploration. It was almost exclusively used as a source of light. However, new uses for the gas led to more exploration and later trying to figure out a way to best transport the natural resource. In the past, natural gas was often discovered alongside oil or by noticing air seeping from the ground; maybe from bubbles in the water or in a flame.

The first large-scale exploration and extraction of natural gas began in the late 20th century. In southern Tennessee and Texas, the Barnett Shale was explored, and by 2006, about 40,000 wells for gas production were in place! And in 2019? According to the Environment Impact Assessment, the US will have produced an average of 92.1 billion cubic feet of gas a day. That’s 10 percent more than the previous year!

Today, both oil and natural gas exploration and production is a lot more scientific. Geologists will first look for an area where shale, a kind of rock, is formed. Why look for rock? Shale formations often contain large accumulations of oil and natural gas.

Geologists can look at exposed rocks on the surface of the earth or drill cores deep into the earth to get a better idea of what rocks are present. They can also conduct a seismic survey, sending waves through the earth to collect information on the different properties in the layers of the earth.

After collecting information, geologists piece everything together before deciding on the best place to drill for oil and natural gas. It can be very complicated, and each method can have uncertainties as the data collected cannot always tell you exactly what is below the earth’s surface. However, petroleum and natural gas’s high demand continues to be the reason for their continued exploration and production.

A lot has changed since the 20th century in the US. After 1901, over 1,500 oil companies started up within a year. And today, there are around 9,000 independent producers of natural gas and oil in the US. The exploration and production of oil and natural gas went through a lot of change and rapid growth. And now, of those 9,000 producers, there are over 900,000 gas and oil wells in the US that are actively producing natural resources, and production does not seem to be slowing down.

The History of Petroleum in the United States

Processing (Refining)

What does it mean to refine crude oil? To put it simply, it means heating and breaking down the petroleum to produce different products such as diesel, jet fuel or gasoline. Crude oil is like a mixture of all the products. And the mixture needs to go through a refining process in order to separate, convert and treat it.

Crude oil can have a number of different molecules present depending on the deposit. That means each oil well may have a different composition and properties. So in order to use the natural resource, it needs to be heated and separated.

Natural gas is less complicated than processing crude oil, but it is just as necessary to refine natural gas before its use. Consumers will use natural gas that is almost entirely made of methane. However, like crude oil, raw natural gas contains other compounds and needs to be processed. Some of the gas can separate from oil on its own, while other times, equipment known as Low-Temperature Separators use pressure differentials to separate the natural gas.

Let’s go back and take a look at the pivotal moment in US oil production history – the first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania. Before the first US oil well, petroleum was not available in large quantities. It was gathered from natural seepage through the earth’s surface, and was not in large enough quantities which limited its use. However, after being able to extract sufficient amounts of crude oil, large-scale refining systems were in development.

Refineries started with simple distillation units called stills. They were used to separate the different products in petroleum through means of heating the crude oil in a vessel. Then, the vapors were condensed into liquid fractions. Depending on the temperature at which the crude oil is heated, a different product could be separated from the mixture. Who knew crude oil could be so complex?

In the beginning, the main product that oil refineries were able to get was kerosene. Later, they were able to separate other fuel products. The products include things like gasoline, diesel fuel, waxes, asphalt, heating oil and lubricating oils. Different uses for the products began to emerge. And the demand for gasoline accelerated dramatically when Henry Ford created an affordable car in 1908. And it is still in high demand today!

With the demand for automotive fuel on the rise after 1910, refiners had an incentive to develop more sophisticated technology to increase their yield of gasoline. A process called thermal cracking, which heated heavier oils, was the earliest process. Pressurized reactors were used to split large molecules to get smaller fractions like gasoline and light industrial fuels.

The 1930s and WWII also contributed to the improvement of the refining process where catalysts were used to improve quality and increase the supply of fuels. Can you guess why? Fuel was an indispensable resource needed to fuel tanks and other forms of transportation during the war. And come the 1950s and 60s, demand for jet fuel and lubricating oils led to more improvements in catalytic reforming processes to increase yields.

There were many factors that played an essential part in the history of petroleum. John. D. Rockefeller was another one of these factors playing a major role in refining oil. In 1865, he started the Standard Oil Company. And he was known as the first “baron” to the oil industry. His career started in refining, and his company came to control 90 percent of the refining capacity in the US in 1879. Today, you may recognize the company ExxonMobil, Rockefeller’s successor company.

In the US today, you can find four of the largest refineries in the world! Two of the refineries are located in Texas, and the other two being in Los Angeles. Each refinery has the capacity to refine between 500,000 to 600,000 barrels of oil a day. And on top of that, 35 states in the US have refineries! Refining has become big business in the US.

Processing petroleum has become more sophisticated over the years. Who knows what it might look like in the future.



With a high demand for oil and natural gas, transporting the natural resources was also something that had to be addressed.

There were no oil pipelines back in the day. So transportation was a lot more tricky. The first method that was used to transport oil was in wooden barrels. They were carried on horse drawn carts and carried down to rail road stations. And from there, the railroad system was used to transport the oil barrels to refineries before being unloaded.

Can you imagine all those barrels being packed, moved around by horse and then moved by train? This method of transportation was highly inefficient. It was a very slow process and expensive. Simple pipelines that were made from wood were later created to help cut costs. And gradually, as demand increased, sturdier pipelines made of iron and steel were built to help with transportation.

Over time, a transport system using tanker trucks was used and became the primary way to move crude oil to the refineries in the 1940s. Well sites would have large field storage tanks which would hold the oil until tanker trucks arrived. The trucks started off carrying between 40 and 50 barrels, but later were built to eventually hold up to 220 barrels of petroleum.

After a while, transporting with tanker trucks reached capacity limits. It was then that pipeline systems that stretched long distances were being considered. There was a lot of uncertainty as there were risks like pipe clogging. But they were eventually considered the most economical way to move large amounts of crude oil over long distances. And it was definitely a whole lot better than having to move barrels by horse!

Today, oil can be transported by pipeline, rail, truck or ship. Pipelines are most commonly used to move crude oil from the well to facilities and refiners. Rail is also an option for long distance shipping. Trucks limit oil storage, but offer flexibility when it comes to transporting oil to different destinations. They are usually used as the last step when transporting oil to storage destinations. And lastly, ships are also an option when transporting oil in bulk at a fraction of the cost when compared to pipelines.

The options for transportation of natural gas were a little less varied compared to US oil transport. When Colonel Edwin Drake dug the 1859 well and hit oil and natural gas, US natural gas production got its start. And that is when a small pipeline was built to transport the natural gas 5 1/2 miles to a nearby village. It was moved safely and easily to the village for use, but it was still difficult to transport the gas very long distances.

In 1891, one of the first major pipelines for natural gas made a pipeline 120 miles long from Indiana to Chicago. It worked, but it was still not efficient enough until the 1920s. It was then that more effort was put into creating an improved pipeline infrastructure for natural gas. Advances in pipe production including new techniques in welding led to a boom in pipeline construction, allowing for thousands of miles of US pipeline.

Today, natural gas, like oil, is mainly transported along pipelines. The gas needs to be highly pressurized in order to move it. And to make sure the air stays pressurized, there are compressor stations located along the pipeline to compress the gas through use of a motor, engine or turbine. And when companies cannot transport on land, they have the option to liquefy it and then transport it by ship!



US oil and natural gas production help people commute to work, keep their homes warm, and enable them to do a multitude of other activities. You can buy and sell oil and gas just about everywhere.

In the past, petroleum was mostly taken to extract kerosene. And most of the other products in petroleum would go unused and discarded. However, in the 20th century, oil became a preferred source of energy. And with that, gasoline sales surpassed kerosene sales. As for natural gas, it was often burned because it was an unwanted byproduct before the 1920s. But as people began to realize its many uses, it became a product worth extracting.

So as the use of oil and gas became more popular, more companies were in search of ways to market their product. Different ways to improve exploration, production and processing would help US oil and gas market growth. New models for business and services continue to evolve. These result in reduced operation costs and promote growth in the market.

Many US companies take on various pipeline projects to help expand production and sustain growth. Market players also invest in plans that help increase oil and gas product demand. In addition, government policies support the exploration and production of US oil and gas and encourage companies in the industry to boost US oil and natural gas investments. What does this all do? It helps with oil and gas markets and ensures continued growth.

The history of US oil production and US gas production have a rich history. Everything from their exploration, production, refinement, transportation and marketing have changed, advanced, and grown over the years. It is unknown what the future holds for these natural resources, but until we stop using or decrease the amount of things we use these products for, US oil production and natural gas production will still hold a place in our foreseeable future.

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What is the Difference Between a Thriller Novel and a Mystery Novel?

Tucked in a darkened corner of the library, you scan the shelves for a good read. Late at night, your spouse catches you browsing the pages of Amazon. (When else do you read a worthy suspense novel?) Thrillers and mysteries heighten the senses and draw us in.

Crime fiction took over general fiction in 2018. Why?

– Good triumphs over evil. And people need to believe that in their souls.

– Readers seek engagement and excitement. Suspense novels deliver.

But is there a difference between thriller novels and mystery novels?

Thriller vs. Mystery: Case Solved

Intrigue. Suspense. Clues. From the first chapter, the author grabs your attention. No turning back. Heart beating fast. Furtive glances around the room. You read and read and read. You sit on the edge of your seat. (Or the bed. Or the couch.)

The unknown beckons you down the path. Curiosity begs you to turn page after page. You think you know where the story is headed until…you run smack into an unexpected twist. The masterful simplicity of it makes you think, “How did I not see that coming?”

Thriller and mystery novels …

– Heighten the senses.

– Stimulate the brain.

– Reduce stress.

– Create a human connection.

– Keep you on guard.

Good suspense novels, both mystery and thriller, include…

1. Apparent conflict: a crime or an intense problem to solve.

2. Quick pacing: the quicker the pace, the greater the suspense.

3. Misleading clues: perfect for leading to an unexpected twist.

4. Descriptive atmosphere: mood, tone and location build suspense.

5. High stakes: risky outcomes keep readers hungry.

Despite the similarities, these novels differ, primarily in their expectations. But structural and content differences show up as well.

The Tension of a Thriller Novel

Roll out a few basics, and thriller novels roll out intrigue, danger and a moving, twisting plot. The quest to prevent a crime before time runs out makes a quality thriller a true page turner. Plus, they translate well onto the silver screen.

Thriller novels differ from mystery novels. (Compare with the list in the next section.) They…

– Introduce conflict through a crime about to happen.

– Focus on preventing the crime.

– Give the reader information the hero does not get.

– Reveal the villain from the start of the novel.

– Create high-level danger from the onset.

– Produce a greater adrenaline rush — from the couch.

– Run a ticking clock the hero must beat.

Thrillers create a constant sense of danger for the protagonist. Quick-paced, high-stakes pressure engages readers and raises their heart rate. The details revealed to the reader and unknown to the protagonist heighten suspense.

Several subgenres make thrillers attractive to a wide audience of readers. Medical, psychological, action, crime, political, legal, military, spy and science fiction — this genre offers something for everyone.

The Curiosity of a Mystery Novel

Quality mystery novels engage the reader beyond pure entertainment. Humor, wit, intelligence and prevailing justice win the day. And, between the first and last pages, you cannot put the book down until you figure out whodunit.

Mystery novels differ from thrillers in several ways. They…

– Introduce conflict as an unsolved mystery.

– Focus on solving the crime.

– Concentrate on post-crime details.

– Solve to unveil the unnamed villain.

– Craft a strong hero or protagonist.

– Build on moderate danger.

These novels raise a lower level of suspense than thrillers. The reader and the protagonist solve the crime at the same pace. No inside information makes you want to scream, “Don’t open that door!” or “The bomb is under the bed!” Neither you nor the hero knows what lay unseen.

Cozy. Historical. Police procedurals. Forensic. Whatever the mystery subgenre, readers engage with the tension of an unsolved crime. In the end, justice wins with the unmasking of the villain. Good puts evil in its place. The tension resolves.

Genre Over Unlabelled: Readers Win

Does the genre matter? Is it important to categorize these books? Some seem to morph both labels into one. Combine a case to be solved, plentiful action scenes and insider information. What label do you put on that?

The genre becomes important for two reasons:

– A bookstore needs to know where to place it to entice the most readers.

– It focuses the writer and targets his or her writing, producing a better quality novel.

In the end, genre gives readers a quality mystery or thriller novel — they can easily find it.

Thriller or Mystery: Your Choice

Thrillers and mysteries engage the mind of the reader as he or she thinks along with the protagonist. Problem-solving proves to be fuel for our brains. But each genre gets there with different content and structure.

You get to choose which will make your heartbeat fast on any given dark, wind-howling night.

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Posted in Author, Fiction - Thriller, Mystery, Suspense/Thriller, Thriller, Writers | Leave a comment

The Key Elements of a Suspense Story

Suspense is a popular genre of fiction writing for good reason. First, suspense is not just a genre, it is an element of fiction that keeps readers reading and continually has them coming back for more. Common elements of suspense include empathetic characters, creating concern, including impending danger for the characters and escalating tension. However, there is so much more to creating a compelling suspense novel. Here are some more key elements to include in a suspense novel that will keep readers turning the pages.


Using foreshadowing is a technique anyone who wants to write suspense fiction should master. Start planting clues early and remind readers that something bad is going to happen. Readers will pick up on the clues and will naturally start to worry about the hero of the story. Foreshadowing can seem small, or they can be obvious and monumental clues.

High Stakes  

When writing suspense fiction, low stakes and low consequences equates to low interest. Make sure your main character’s goals and reasons for achieving them are clear from the outset of the story. As your story progresses, the stakes should get higher to build the momentum and suspense of the story.

The Element of Surprise

Suspense is based on uncertainty. So, make it your friend if you want to write suspense fiction. Think about an expected outcome and flip it around. Maybe something bad happening ends up being a blessing in disguise. If you mix positive and negative foreshadowing, you will keep your readers on their toes, wondering what will come next and surprised by whatever it is.

Withholding Information

Generate interest in your story by requiring the readers to want more. Instead of giving your readers every bit of needed information, leave some important details out. If your readers only know what the main character knows, they will naturally crave additional information and keep reading until they get it. Slowly revealing information to your readers keep them engaged in the protagonist’s journey and will propel them through the novel. Not only is it okay to be vague at times, it will actually help make your suspense story better.

Put Time on Your Side (But not the Hero’s)

You can easily build up suspense and tension by putting time constraints on your characters. If your hero works against a clock while your villain has the clock as an advantage, the suspense will naturally build and will give your story momentum.

Pressure-Filled Situations

Create situations that put pressure on your hero. If you put your hero in situations that seem insurmountable, you create a sympathetic character your readers will root for. It is crucial for you to test your hero to the breaking point, but make sure your hero never breaks, no matter how stressful the situation is.


Use your villain to complicate the progress of your hero. Suspense stories thrive on drama, and creating dilemmas for your hero to deal with is a great way to build it. As your hero deals with and overcomes all the dilemmas you create, your readers will become more endeared and will root for the success of the hero. Give your hero problems with no-win solutions, like a situation where two people are in peril and the hero can only save one. Your readers will be so enthralled with the story  they will keep turning the pages to see how every situation is solved.


No one’s life ever runs smoothly all the time. Use this familiar issue to your advantage in your suspense story. Make your hero go through several unexpected events and have nothing be straight-forward. If your hero must constantly be concerned about every decision that must be made, it adds a bit of intrigue and suspense to the story. Your readers will want to know what tactics your hero takes to overcome the obstacles that are put in the way. The hero’s improvisation will bring interest to the story.

Intriguing Villains

The villain in a suspense story helps to drive the plot. In a suspense story the villain is always present, so you need to create a colorful character. Make sure this antagonist of your story is smart and motivated. Take time to consider your villain’s motivations and character. Let the readers know and understand why the villain makes particular choices. Make the readers believe in and fear the villain, and make the villain a worthy opponent for the hero.

Provocative Heroes

If you are going to put time and effort into creating a fantastic villain, you need to put considerable time and effort to create the ideal hero. The hero in a suspense story is different than a hero in other types of stories. The suspense hero must be believable and sympathetic. Readers need to truly care about your hero. Otherwise, they will not keep reading the story. Also, take time to show your readers why they should care about the hero. Do not simply tell them they should.

Now that you have a good idea of which elements to include in a suspense story, here are some tips on how to write a great one:

Keep the Plot Moving

Keep your readers entertained by providing a suspenseful atmosphere. Quickly move from one scene to another and regularly introduce new ideas to keep the readers hooked.

Make a Big Promise Early — and Keep It

Early in your suspense story you need to make a big promise to your readers. A big promise will captivate readers and keep them hooked until the end of the story. Let your readers know what the payoff will be, and then lead them there. The promises you make lie in the areas between the action. The tension and suspense will build as the readers wonder if and how you will be able to keep the promise you made.

Use Locations for Suspense

Set your suspense story in areas that lend themselves to suspense. Use the location of your story to enhance the suspense by incorporating it into the plot rather than simply having it be the background.

Take Away Helpful Tools From Your Hero

There are many tools your main character can use as weapons depending on the situations you put your hero in. A common trick is to make the climax of the story the ultimate meeting between your hero and your villain. During this scene, make sure your protagonist does not have access to weapons, other tools or even helpful allies. The existence of a precarious situation with no logical way out will build suspense that your readers will love.

Keep Your Readers Guessing

The feeling of suspense is reliant on the unknown. If the readers can predict your ending too early in the book, they will likely not care about finishing it.  So, keep them on their toes and turning the pages to find out what will happen. Throw in a few twists and turns along the way to always keep your readers guessing. But, be careful to not go too far. You want to build suspense, but not at the cost of completely confusing your readers.

Do not Overstep

Writing a suspense story is a fine craft. It is crucial to build the feeling of suspense, but if you are not careful, you can create too much of it and it will lose its effect. Give your readers some calmness between the heaviest scenes, so they do not become overwhelmed with the suspense you have created.

Use Short Sentences

You should vary the length of your sentences throughout your story to have a good rhythm and flow and to avoid repetition. However, when you start writing the most suspenseful parts of your story, use short sentences to increase the pace and build anticipation.

Use Suspenseful Character Development

It is crucial to have strong character development in a suspense story. Do not be afraid to make a drastic change in a character’s situation mid-way through the story. Doing so can help to create drama and make your character more sympathetic and human. Some good ways to create suspense for characters include giving them flaws that threaten to derail their goals or successes, making a character take a step or two backward after making some progression and adding surprises or shocking information to their backstories.

Use Parallel Plotlines

Using parallel plotlines is a great literary device for instantly building suspense. As you write about two different events, your readers will automatically begin to wonder how the two storylines and their characters connect and why they do so. Your readers will be compelled to keep reading to find out how and why the two storylines connect.

Writing a suspense story does not need to be a daunting task. But, it does take a lot of forethought and planning. If you want to try your hand at writing a suspense story, start jotting down ideas and follow these tips. Before you know it, you will have a fantastic story that readers will not want to put down.

Book on fire

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The Key Elements of a Psychological Thriller Novel

To create a truly thrilling psychological thriller takes a deft and creative mind. It is crucial for the reader to be engaged and thrilled by the content. So, the writer must take an extra effort to include specific elements to ensure the goal is achieved. Here is some helpful information about psychological thrillers and the elements that should go into them to make them great reading material.

What is a Psychological Thriller?

At its core, a psychological thriller novel exploits and exposes the unstable or delusional nature of its characters. It has similar features to Gothic and detective fiction, but a primary difference between them is that psychological thrillers are often told through the viewpoint of characters who are psychologically stressed. So, their distorted mental perceptions are clearly exposed. Psychological thrillers also frequently include elements of mystery, drama, action and paranoia.

Write What Your Readers Know

It is easy and natural to write what you know as an author. But, when you set out to write a psychological thriller, it is better to write what your readers know. You can accomplish this goal by setting the novel in a familiar place like a home or a workplace. Also, make the subjects common like sibling rivalry or parenting. Doing so will help the readers place themselves in the story and imagine the action happening to them. To get going down this road, take an everyday situation and ask yourself what could be the worst that could happen.

Make Your Characters Real

Avoid writing about out-of-the-ordinary characters for a psychological thriller. Instead, focus on people your readers may encounter in everyday life. If the main character is a housewife or working parent, they are far more relatable to your readers.

Have Flawed Characters

The best characters in psychological thrillers have flaws. To keep with the theme of having characters be real and relatable, the flaws can be something readers can easily relate to. For example, your main character can be keeping a deep, dark secret from the past or have a dangerous jealous streak. It is a wise idea to give your main character an external problem to solve as well as an internal one to deal with.

Have a Twist

Having a twist is essential for a psychological thriller. Whether you put it close to the beginning, in the middle or at the end, you must include it. A great twist can make or break a psychological thriller, so take the time to craft it carefully and well.

Scare Your Readers

Perhaps the most important element of a psychological thriller is the scare factor. Go beyond typical tactics that have been done over and over again. Instead, think about factors that scare you and use that as your starting point. Go as far as possible to make your characters suffer. Your readers will love you for it.

Make Good Use of Your Setting

Create a setting that promotes the emotions you want your readers to feel, like anxiety and fear. Creating a setting that has a lack of light and a dreary and creepy appearance is a great place to start.

The Difference Between a Traditional Thriller and a Psychological Thriller

The differences between a traditional thriller and a psychological thriller are subtle but important. First, it is crucial to understand that “thriller” is a broad genre of fictional literature and “psychological thriller” is a subgenre or small subsection of the overall category. Therefore, there are going to be several similar traits between the two. In general, thrillers are defined by the moods they elicit and producing feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation and anxiety. They have a tendency to keep readers focused waiting for the next suspenseful moment. Writers of this genre use literary devices like red herrings, plot twists and cliffhangers to keep readers engaged. Thrillers are often villain-centered plot that includes obstacles for the protagonist, or hero, to overcome. On the other hand, psychological thrillers are more focused on the psychological factors or internal flaws the main character must overcome.

Tips for Writing a Psychological Thriller

Now that you understand what a psychological thriller is and what elements need to be included, here are some great tips on writing one:

  • Engage the writer quickly.

When you set out to write a psychological thriller, start it out in a way that will immediately engage the reader. Set the tone from the first page. A good strategy is to write a prologue or backstory for your main character first. Even if you do not include it in the final draft, it will give you a place from which you can start.

  • Put the reader in the middle of the action.

Engage the readers immediately by creating tension and putting them in the middle of the action. Use lots of action verbs and vivid descriptions in your writing.

  • Develop your characters.

Your psychological thrillers will go nowhere if your readers do not care about the characters. Even if your hero is a flawed character, readers will want to root for the hero and be repulsed by the villain.

  • Create emotional connections with characters.

Provide physical details and an emotional backstory for treaders to connect with your characters.

  • Leave the readers hanging.

Include cliffhangers by connecting scenes together and keeping the action going. The end of one chapter should give a glimpse into the next one so the readers are enticed to keep reading.

  • Use time to your advantage.

Look at the element of time as another character in your story. Use time as a catalyst for the action. Giving your hero a lack of time will make your readers uncomfortable and spur them to keep reading to see how the situation is resolved.

Writing a psychological thriller does not need to be a daunting task. If you have the creativity and drive, you can write a great piece of fiction that will have readers on the edge of their seats. All you need to do is start writing!


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How to Write a Suspenseful Thriller Novel

In case you didn’t know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). With authors all over the country participating, it got us thinking – how does one go about writing a novel, anyway?

While there are plenty of genres out there to choose from, the fact that Halloween comes just before NaNo starts seems like as good an inspiration as any. So, for this post, we’ll be looking at how to write a suspenseful thriller novel.

A few conditions, though, before we begin. First, this post is meant to be a set of loose guidelines, not hard and fast rules. Writing is fluid and flexible – focus on what works best for the story, not checking off boxes. Once you understand these guidelines, you can break them or ignore them however you see fit.

Second, even by following guidelines, there’s no guarantee that a story will be particularly suspenseful or thrilling. Writing is also subjective – some readers will get into it while others won’t. It’s imperative not to get discouraged, as you can’t write for everyone.

Finally, learning how to write a suspenseful thriller novel is just the first step. We can provide you with all the tools, but you still need to create the foundation and the story itself. Also, this isn’t a guide on “how to make millions by writing suspense novels,” so keep that in mind.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s begin!

By the Book: What is a Suspenseful Thriller, Anyway?

Before we can get into the nitty-gritty of how to write this kind of novel, we should understand the elements that make a suspenseful thriller. Here are the “official” definitions of both suspense and thrillers.

  • Suspense – a state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what may happen

  • Thriller – stories that are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation, and anxiety.

Another crucial point to keep in mind is that the term “thriller” is relatively vague, meaning that not all of them can be classified as “suspenseful.” However, using these definitions, we can craft a general outline for how our novel should go.

Anatomy of Suspense

Unfortunately, suspense is something that can be difficult to master, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get into how it works and why. Here are a few core components that should be included when building a suspenseful scene, chapter, or novel.

A Character the Audience Cares About

One of the most valuable pieces of suspenseful writing is the emotion tied to the character involved. Simply put, the audience isn’t going to care if a no-name background extra gets killed. In fact, that happens all the time. Instead, the reader needs to have some kind of emotional attachment for the suspense to work.

Creating Stakes

For suspense to work well, the stakes have to be high. If the dreaded outcome is that our protagonist is late for school, what’s the consequence of that? If it’s nothing major, then we can’t have suspense. Instead, raise the stakes, so the reader cares more. For example, perhaps being late to school means expulsion for our protagonist.

Building Tension

Suspense and tension are somewhat similar tactics. Both are centered around a feeling of dread regarding what “could” happen to a particular character. However, there is a critical distinction between the two.

With suspense, the dread may or may not be based on evidence. If a character we like is creeping around a “haunted” house, the reader may anticipate that a ghost or ghoul will appear, even if nothing like that exists in the story’s narrative.

With tension, however, the reader is presented with enough information to draw a particular conclusion. The tension rises as the character moves closer and closer to that conclusion. Using our haunted house example, we can build tension by showing a serial killer roaming the halls, looking for his next victim. As we see our protagonist and the killer moving closer together, we’re afraid of what might happen, so the suspense (and tension) builds.

Simply put, suspense can be built around the unknown, whereas tension is more grounded.

Creating a Payoff

Writing suspense and tension requires a certain ebb and flow. However, just as crucially as building suspense is paying it off. If our protagonist is in the same house as a serial killer, what happens next?

One excellent way to visualize this is by blowing up a balloon. The more air goes into it, the more likely that it will pop. Eventually, we’ll need a release. Either the balloon pops, and we get that burst of excitement and action, or we deflate it. Obviously, the latter option is much more thrilling, which is necessary for our novel.

So, that means that our payoffs need to be exciting, not dull. Promising high-stakes action isn’t worthwhile if nothing ever comes from it. If our protagonist leaves the haunted house and the killer never knows that he was there, what was the point?

One crucial thing to understand as well is that the payoff doesn’t have to be massive. Our protagonist doesn’t have to get into a final showdown with the killer. Perhaps they come face to face, but something prevents the killer from making his move. So, he plans to murder our protagonist later on. We’ve paid off the tension of the scene without making it climatic, but still preserving some of it for the rest of the story.

Throughout our suspenseful novel, we need to create this ebb and flow. Introduce suspense into a particular scene or chapter, and then pay it off somehow. If we keep “deflating the balloon” of each scene, then the reader will get bored.

Creating a Novel

Now that we understand the core components of suspense, we have to figure out how to incorporate them into our novel. But first, we need to know what it takes to write a book altogether. Here are a few guidelines.

Main Plot vs. Subplot

When writing our novel, we need to have an overarching storyline that moves the reader from one point to the next. The plot can be big and bold (saving the world), or it can be more personal (graduating college). However, because we have a lot of room to explore in a whole novel, we will need to utilize subplots as well.

A subplot is a secondary (or tertiary) storyline that happens in addition to the main plot. While our protagonist is trying to graduate college, his sister is trying to be a stage actress. Creating multiple plotlines in a novel can make it more enticing to the reader. In all cases, you need to create some kind of payoff, rather than leaving plot threads hanging by the end.

A Progression of Events

To make a more compelling novel, one has to have elements that drive the plot forward. Scenes should build upon each other, delivering the reader to the next one naturally and logically. Otherwise, we’ll have a collection of scenes with a loose association, which can feel meandering and boring.

Using our haunted house example from above, that scene could feed into another scene where the serial killer starts stalking our protagonist. From there, our protagonist starts noticing the killer in different areas, so he starts to get paranoid and nervous. He calls the police to report the behavior, only to discover that the killer is an officer!

In that case, the progression of events makes sense and moves forward smoothly. Usually, when a writer hits a wall, it’s because nothing is driving the plot to the next scene. What can help alleviate this situation is to outline the main story and subplots so that you know where everything is going. Then it’s just a matter of filling in the details.

Bringing it All Together: Writing a Suspenseful Thriller

By this point, we have a bunch of different elements that can come together to create our novel. Here are a few additional tips to help you flesh everything out.

Characters Drive the Plot, Not the Narrator

In many stories, it’s easy to move the protagonist from one place to the other because that’s how things are “supposed” to go. However, the protagonist should be acting on his own. An excellent way to address this problem is to ask, “why?” Why is he at the haunted house in the first place? Why does he call the police?

It’s also crucial to answer these questions for your antagonist as well. Why does the killer want our protagonist? Why does he keep killing? Figure out the answers from the character’s perspective, not yours as the writer.

Stagger Your Suspenseful Moments

If you have a story with non-stop suspense and tension, it will become too overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to take a break with some comic relief or less-stressful situations. You want to have moments where your protagonist and antagonist are “at rest.” Just make sure that these breaks don’t slow the plot too much.

Use Conflict to Move the Plot

One of the best ways to advance your story is through conflict. The best way to use this is to have it be a catalyst for change. If our characters are in the same spot they were before the conflict, then what was the point? Otherwise, it was just drama, in that it didn’t affect the plot.

Build Toward Something

Finally, to make a good suspenseful thriller, there has to be a climactic moment when everything comes to a head. Our protagonist faces off against the killer in a cat-and-mouse game, where only one can emerge victorious (and alive).

The key to creating this do-or-die moment is to eliminate all other possibilities. The killer has trapped our protagonist in a warehouse, where the only escape is a key on the killer’s waist. Rescue isn’t an option because no one knows that our protagonist is there. Each of these elements is another blow into the balloon. Eventually, it has to pop.

Overall, writing a suspenseful thriller is all about finding the right balance of tension and payoff. Experiment with different scenarios, and keep in mind that your plot may change or adjust as you go. Having a clear endpoint in mind is good, but you don’t want to get locked into it. Let the story dictate how it ends.



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Allied-Occupied Germany: How Four Zones Became Two

Few things can unite people like a common enemy. It seems that when the chips are down, nations will work together for a unified goal, even if their cultures and methods are wildly different.

Nowhere was this truer than the alliance of Russia and the Western powers during World War 2. Compared to Britain and the US, Russia was trading one mad dictator for another. If it wasn’t Hitler controlling the Motherland, it was Stalin. However, the Allies needed Russian tanks and the massive Red Army to secure victory, so it was an alliance of necessity, not idealism. After all, Russia was once loyal to the Nazis.

This uneasy truce came to a head when it was time to decide what to do with Germany when it fell. All sides knew that it was necessary to prevent another war from breaking out, so allied occupation was a must. However, each country knew how vital it was to secure some portion of the former Reich, lest they cede too much control and influence to the others.

The Yalta conference in 1945 divided the country into four zones. France would control the southwest, America the middle, and Britain the northwest. The Soviet Union would control the eastern third of the country, with Berlin smack dab in the center of their new territory.

However, as a measure to ensure allied cooperation, Berlin itself was divided into four zones as well, and the idea was that the Allies would still run the country from its capital, all in equal shares.

Unfortunately, divisions between Western powers and the Soviets began almost immediately, starting with reparations. The Soviets had suffered innumerable casualties during the war and extracted a heavy price on the German people during occupation. This mentality caused tension between the two sides already, but it was a trade deal that helped spark a more fierce division.

Initially, the Soviets, having control of most of Germany’s agriculture in the East, were supposed to provide food to the other three zones, in exchange for reparation payments from those areas. Instead, the Soviets didn’t fulfill their side, so Britain and the US had to feed Germans with taxpayer money.

Because of this, the Western powers decided that it was better to help Germany rebuild its infrastructure so that Germans could feed themselves. The Soviets, however, disliked the idea, fearing a unified Germany.

Further causing tensions between East and West was the way that elections were handled. The Soviets consolidated their power, merging the Social Democratic Party with the Communists, creating the Social Unity Party (SED). The SED swept elections in the Soviet zone while getting less than half of the vote in Berlin.

By 1947, it was clear that the Communists were in control and seeking to expand their influence. In response, the Western powers decided to unify power in their zones, forming a coalition called Bizonia. That same year, President Truman issued his doctrine, outlining America’s plan to contain Soviet expansion throughout the world.

Both of these events helped spark the Cold War, and Germany was soon split into only two zones: East and West. Berlin remained occupied by all Allied powers, but tensions continued to mount throughout the coming decades, until the final collapse of East Germany and the Warsaw Pact in 1989.

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Lessons from Steve Berry Pt. II

Continuing from the last blog, these are more key takeaways from suspense/thriller author Steve Berry’s History Matters seminar for fiction authors.

Some General Points/Themes for Suspense/Thriller Writers:

  • Outline Entire Novel – keep approximately 100 pages ahead of yourself. Steve believes that for a complicated suspense/thriller storyline, it’s more efficient to have at least a rough outline of where you want the story to go.


  • Start as Close to Ending of Book as Possible – Don’t waste your reader’s time with unnecessary build-up. Go to where the story gets really interesting and that’s where you start. You want to grab the reader as quickly as possible.


  • Prologs – “Before the Story” If you use a prolog, keep it short, tight and concise. It must be relevant to the main story. If the reader skips it, they should be completely lost.


  • “Shorter/Tighter” is Always Better – Don’t try to showoff your huge vocabulary or as one of my old bosses said to me, “Bill, don’t use a $10 word when a 50 cent one will do.” Write in conversational English.


  • Object of Fiction à To Entertain – Remember, your overarching goal is to entertain the hell out of your reader.


  • Find Strong Opening Sentences that Catch the Reader – Start off chapters and paragraphs with strong opening sentences.



  • Avoid filler and unrealistic dialog


  • Avoid direct Questions & Answers in dialog


  • Never use “!” to convey excitement


  • Use Tags “John said…” replied, asked, made clear, etc…


  • Keep dialog short (2-3 finger widths)


  • Break up dialog with “Beats”, example “Malone rubbed his head, then…” to convey a movement


Some of Steve’s Do’s and Don’ts

  • You can never overuse the senses – All 5 of them.


  • “False suspense comes from the accidental meaningless occurrence of events. Real suspense comes from creating a moral dilemma for your characters and their courage to act.”


  • Do not use colons or semi-colons in fiction


  • Limit use of commas – Use only when you want the eye to break


Steve’s 11 Rules of Writing

  1. 1. There are no Rules as long as it works
  2. 2. You cannot bore the reader
  3. 3. Do not confuse the reader
  4. 4. Do not “get caught writing” – avoid author intrusion
  5. 5. Do not lie to the reader – avoid the unreliable narrator
  6. 6. Do not annoy the reader
  7. 7. Writing is Re-Writing
  8. 8. Writing is Rhythm
  9. 9. Shorter is always better
  10. 10. “Story” does not take a vacation
  11. 11. You have to tell a Good Story


Good Writing References

  • Stephen King
  • David Morrell
  • Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
  • The Guide to Self Editing by Browne & King


Steve Berry is one of America’s top tier Suspense/Thriller authors consistently appearing on the New York Times Best Seller’s List. He also excels at teaching his craft to aspiring authors. If any of you have an opportunity to take a Steve Berry class, I highly recommend it.

And remember – History Matters…

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Lessons from Steve Berry Pt. I

A few years ago I experienced a special treat as a writer and a lover of history. Suspense/Thriller author, Steve Berry and his wife Elizabeth appeared at a History Matters Event held at Liberty Hall on the Keen University campus in Union, New Jersey.

Steve and Elizabeth created History Matters several years ago to raise money for historic preservation and conservation in various communities. So far, the most popular choice is a 4-hour seminar that Steve and Elizabeth teach where writers, aspiring writers, and readers buy their way in with a contribution. Usually, that’s somewhere between $75 and $150. All of the money raised from the workshop goes to the particular historical project that has invited Steve to be there.

No expenses or appearance fees are charged. In fact, Steve pays all of those himself. History Matters offers a way to raise money from a group of people who might not normally contribute to historical preservation — writers — with Steve acting as the conduit, providing education and expertise that might not normally be available in your area. So far, Steve and Elizabeth have taught over 3000 students. They have hosted over hundreds of events and raised more than $2,000,000 for local historical settings.

At the Keen University event in October, I attended the luncheon, followed by a 4-hour lecture on the Craft of Writing. Steve talks for three hours on the craft and mechanics of writing and Elizabeth spends an hour on the business of writing.

Steve covers topics such as character development, how to create conflict, develop a story arc, how to use main and subplots, use of point-of-view and many others. If any of you future or current authors have the opportunity, I highly recommend Steve’s course. He also gives a shorter version each year at the ThrillerFest conference held in New York in July each year.

In addition to sharing his expertise in writing honed over many years, Steve and Elizabeth are both incredibly nice and approachable people. A trait I have noticed in almost all of the top tier authors that I have personally met.

Here are a couple of key take aways from Steve’s lecture (if you want more – take the class):

  • Start your story as close to the end as possible. Don’t waste the reader’s time with unnecessary build-up. Go to where the story gets really interesting and that’s where you start. When I was working on The Torch is Passed (sequel to The Pharm House), I re-worked it based on this learning. I threw out the first 30 pages and started at a point where it will be hard for the reader to put down.

Above is an outline for the structure of a suspense/thriller novel. Of course, every author and novel are different, but this is a good starting reference point.

This is a lot to absorb, so I’ll leave it here for now and wrap up in next month’s blog. I hope you enjoy and find useful

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Greystone State Mental Hospital – NJ

Originally opened on August 17, 1876, the hospital was known as the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum at Morristown. The asylum officially received the familiar Greystone Park name in 1924. The idea for such a facility was conceived in the early 1870s at the persistent lobbying of Dorothea Lyne Dix, a nurse who was an advocate for better health care for people with mental illnesses. Because of her efforts, the New Jersey Legislature appropriated $2.5 million to obtain about 743 acres of land for New Jersey’s second “lunatic asylum.” Great care was taken to select a location central to the majority of New Jersey’s population near Morristown, Parsippany and Newark. The land Greystone was built on was purchased by the state in two installments between 1871 and 1872 for a total of $146,000.

At this time in history, New Jersey’s state-funded mental health facilities were exceedingly overcrowded and sub par compared to neighboring states that had more facilities and room to house patients. Greystone was built (673,706 ft²), in part to relieve the only – and severely overcrowded – “lunatic asylum” in the state, which was located in Trenton, New Jersey. In fact, Greystone’s initial 292 patients were transferred from the Trenton facility to Greystone based on geographic distribution, setting precedent for Greystone to become the facility that would generally accept patients whose residences were in the northern part of the state. This proved to be the very reason why Greystone quickly became overcrowded in the heavily populated North while the Trenton facility’s number of patients remained relatively stable in the comparatively sparsely populated South.


In just four years after Greystone opened, it was already accommodating around 800 patients in a facility designed for 600. By 1887, the exercise rooms and attic space were converted to dormitories to create extra rooms for the influx of new patients. In an attempt to relieve the further overcrowding, the Dormitory Building was built behind the Main Building in 1901. It, however, wasn’t enough to alleviate the problem and thus in the same year the dining rooms on each floor had to be converted into dormitories as well. 13 years later, in 1914, the facility housed 2,412 patients, but now had an absolute maximum capacity of 1,600.

The next few decades saw a flurry of construction as supply was scrambling to meet demand. Of note was a new reception building named after the influential Greystone superintendent Marcus Curry in 1927. Patient numbers are believed to have peaked in 1953 with an impressive 7,674 people packed into spaces designed for significantly fewer. An explanation for this dramatic increase can be found in the fact that World War II had ended and left many soldiers requiring treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, which included procedures such as insulin shock therapy and electroconvulsive therapy. Greystone was one of the few places in the country capable of treating such patients.

Modern day

The 1970s and 1980s finally saw some weight lifted from this overcrowded facility because of the trend toward de-institutionalization, which was a direct effect of the use of Thorazine, one of the first drugs that was capable of treating the mentally ill. By 1975, the clinic building had closed with the Curry building closing the following year. Due to the Doe Vs. Klein case, the hospital was required to provide community homes for halfway house-style living. In 1982, 20 independent living cottages holding two patients each were built. By 1988, all patients had been moved out of the Kirkbride building (the main building), and in 1992, the dormitory building closed. For the most part, the main building remained unused except for administrative offices in the center section.

In 2000, Greystone was only a 550-bed facility when then Governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, announced that the state was going to close the facility by 2003. The decision to close Greystone came about not only because of concerns for the aging buildings, but also due to the recent negative press it was receiving. Specifically, accounts of sexual assault in a hospital elevator, patients committing suicide, patients becoming pregnant, and a twice-convicted rapist escaping did not help Greystone’s public image. Some patients were slowly transferred to smaller-capacity programs, reducing the number of residential patients to approximately 450 in 2005. Then, on September 8, 2005, the New Jersey Health Care Facilities Financing Authority closed a $186,565,000 bond issue on behalf of the State of New Jersey Department of Human Services for the completion of a new, 43,000 m² (460,000 ft²) Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, still with a shortage of about 75 beds.

In 2005, the Greystone campus covered over one square mile (259 ha) and consisted of 43 buildings.

The original Second Empire Victorian style building (Kirkbride Building) was 673,706 total square feet. At the base of this massive building was the alleged largest continuous foundation in the United States from the time it was built until it was surpassed by the Pentagon when it was constructed in 1943.

Each ward was initially set up to accommodate 20 patients. Each was furnished with a dining room, exercise room, and parlor. Most wards had wool rugs that ran the full length of the corridors. Other amenities included Victorian stuffed furniture, pianos, pictures, curtains and fresh flowers. Though not all wards were created equally. Wards that housed the most excitable patients were sparsely furnished – presumably for their own safety – with sturdy oak furniture.

Initial fees were $3.50 per week for a normal patient. For persons seeking private apartment-style living, the rent could be anywhere from $5.00 to $10.00 per week.

During the time that Greystone was built, the predominant philosophy in psychology was that the mentally ill could be cured or treated, but only if they were in an environment designed to deal with them. A major proponent of this philosophy was Thomas Story Kirkbride, who participated in the design phase of the main building at Greystone, though the two main designers were architect Samuel Sloan and Trenton State Asylum Superintendent Horace Buttolph (a friend of Kirkbride’s). The building was constructed and furnished according to Kirkbride’s philosophy, which proposed housing no more than 250 patients in a three story building. The rooms were to be light and airy with only two patients to a room. To reduce the likelihood of fires, Greystone and other Kirkbride asylums were constructed using stone, brick, slate and iron, using as little wood as possible. A street on the Greystone Park campus bears Buttolph’s name.

The Greystone campus itself was once a self-contained community that included staff housing, a post office, fire and police stations, a working farm, and vocational and recreational facilities. It also had its own gas and water utilities and a gneiss quarry, which was the source of the Greystone building material. Below the building, a series of tunnels and rails connect the many sections. For many years, a trolley line, part of the Morris County Traction Company, connected the facility with what is now a NJ Transit rail station at Morris Plains and other parts of Morris County.

In 2008, Greystone was ordered to be closed as a result of deteriorating conditions and overcrowding. A new facility was built on the large Greystone campus nearby and bears the same name as the aging facility. Despite considerable public opposition and media attention, demolition of the main Kirkbride building began in April 2014 and was completed by October 2015.

Greystone holds a special place in my heart. In 1987, I moved about a mile away from the campus and in the 1990s, often my daughter and I would ride our bikes onto the Greystone campus and walk around looking into the abandoned buildings. There was a public effort to get the state of New Jersey to maintain the original Kirkbride building at Greystone as a historical architectural monument, as has been done in other states. But alas, New Jersey, a state that taxes everything and spends money on even more, could not find the funds to maintain this beautiful piece of history and it is now gone forever.


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