Ida Tarbell, John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil Exposed Part 1

About Ida Tarbell who exposed the monopolistic practices of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company.



Dateline: New York, N. Y., November, 1902.

By-line: Ida M. Tarbell (1857-1944). Tarbell at the time served as a contributing editor of McClure's Magazine, which became the foremost muckraking publication of the period. Her father had been an independent oil man before Standard Oil drove his partner to suicide and him into debt.

The Big Beat: When S. S. McClure handed editor-reporter Tarbell her next assignment, it seemed routine enough: an in-depth profile of the quintessential great American business, Standard Oil. He fully expected a puff piece extolling the virtues of a public-spirited corporation. But by the time Tarbell sifted through five years of well-raked muck and wrote up her findings, the assignment turned into a landmark piece of investigative journalism, which tarnished the public image of John D. Rockefeller with its strong story of graft and greed.

In a thoroughly documented series of 19 articles, Tarbell laid out the calculated rise of Standard Oil over the corporate corpses of its competition. Absent from her tale was the Rockefeller long respected as a pillar of the community and praised for his donations to the needy. In his place, Tarbell painted a hand-wringing, ruthless chaser of the megabuck, whose greatest pleasure lay in wheedling the last dollar from some struggling independent oiler in western Pennsylvania. She detailed Rockefeller's plan to monopolize the oil industry. He had begun by securing favorable freight rates from railroads which hauled oil from the Pennsylvania fields to his refinery in Cleveland. Then in 1871 he joined other large refiners in forming the South Improvement Company (SIC), which in turn entered into a secret agreement with the railroads to secure an even greater advantage over their smaller rivals. For every barrel of oil the SIC shipped at the going rate of $2.56, the railways agreed to a "rebate" (kickback, it's called today) of $1.06. Further, the SIC was granted another $1.06 for every barrel that their competition shipped at the going rate of $2.56. Thus, those oilers struggling outside the SIC were forced to pay $1.06 per barrel to their competition in addition to the $1.50 a barrel paid to the railroads. As if this were not enough edge for Rockefeller, the pact granted the SIC complete access to railroad records detailing the shipments made by rivals.

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