In my last year of Uni, I took a course on Progressivism in the United States. I didn’t enjoy a lot of it, as most of it was heavily political with business history thrown in, but I loved the social side. The only ‘business’ side I enjoyed was the scandal of John Rockefeller and Ida Tarbell.
Tarbell was a talented journalist, dedicated to the exposure of political corruption and the increasing popularity of ‘muckraking’. But after her family lost their livelihoods to Rockefeller’s Standard Oil company, she decided to focus on his deceitful tactics and share them with the world. Tarbell discovered that Rockefeller forced smaller businessmen to join his company or be crushed; he was unethical, destroying free and fair trade and controlled most of the railroads that transported the oil to different states (non-Standard companies shipping from Cleveland and Pittsburgh paid $1.44 per barrel, Standard Oil paid 80 cents). Rockefeller also occasionally hired thugs to intimidate businessmen. Tarbell did admire his dedication, but Rockefeller’s company “had never played fair and that ruined their greatness for me.” Tarbell’s muckraking journalism caused the federal government to investigate the Standard Oil Company, and it was disbanded in the early twentieth century.
In 1913, Rockefeller was worth over $900 million, $13 billion in today’s money. He was the richest man in the world, and donated $500 million to universities, charities, churches and temperance societies. Tarbell is now of the most famous female journalists in American literature.