John D. Rockefeller: American Croesus

 

Today was born John D. Rockefeller,
Oil magnate,  monopolist,  buyer and seller.
Amassed a vast fortune, the most in his time.
An old man, he'd meet you and give you a dime.

LAMB: So if we were to find John D. Rockefeller Sr. at his worst moment, or as defined by somebody like Ida Tarbell, where was he--where was he located and when--what was he doing that made everybody so mad?
Mr. CHERNOW: OK, Rockefeller was notorious from the time that he was a--a--a young man. I mean, we have to remember that the oil industry, like the computer industry today, was created by young men, which is often the case of new industries. And after Colonel Edwin Drake struck oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, there was a wild, rip-roaring gold-rush atmosphere. It wasn't the kind of thing that, you know, old, settled people rushed off to west--western Pennsylvania. It was all of these young guys who had just been demobilized after the--the Civil War.
Rockefeller created Standard Oil in Cleveland in 1870. He quickly realized that the most significant factor in the competitive rush to dominate oil was going to be transportation because, basically, one company's oil product didn't differ that much from another. And so Rockefeller created a conspiracy with the railroads called the South Improvement Company that not only gave preferential rates to Standard Oil, but at the same time, gave punitive rates to Rockefeller's rivals.
When news of this leaked out in western Pennsylvania, Rockefeller was--was burned in--in--in effigy. There were huge torchlight parades in towns like Titusville and Oil City and Franklin and the other centers of the--of the oil region. And there was so much protest that this conspiracy was disbanded.
What happened, though, was that during that time where the conspiracy still seemed to be very much alive, Rockefeller took over 22 of the 26 other refineries in--in--in Cleveland because his competitors felt that they could not possibly compete with Standard Oil, which was in cahoots with the--the railroad. So it was a very significant moment. It was the first time that his name appeared in the newspaper.
But then, even though he was controversial in the oil industry, it was many, many years before the general public realized that one of the 10 richest and most powerful men in the United States was this John D. Rockefeller, who controlled the oil-refining industry. He was a very, very shadowy and secretive figure. [1998 Brian Lamb interview of Ron Chernow, author of "Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller]

Filed under: business, Economics

Tags: Standard Oil, Titan

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