This paper investigates the literature that is available on The History of the Standard Oil Company. It establishes how investigative journalism can be used to effect fundamental changes in the society. According to the literature available, The History of the Standard Oil Company was written by a 19th century journalist, Ida Tarbell. The book was basically an expose of the activities of a typical capitalist company run by John Rockefeller, the Standard Company. Although Ida Tarbell started her writing career with McClure’s magazine, her writing later influenced many upcoming journalists to focus on investigative journalism with a view to expose the deals of large companies that were attempting to introduce industrial monopoly. Essentially, the book largely succeeded in bringing sanity to the American market by hastening the breakup of these monopolies (Tarbell 12).
This marked the genesis of the popular literature The History of the Standard Oil Company. According to historical accounts, the book was first published in 1902 and rapidly grew to become the best seller and just a popular book for decades. The book entailed a critical analysis of unethical practices of the large companies and how they collaborated with the ruling class for fleece the public. In the book, Ida Tarbell also gives a detailed account of the plight of the workers at Pennsylvania oil fields to support the case against the Standard Oil Company. However, her criticism of the unethical practice did not prevent her from acknowledging the contribution of Rockefeller to the national economy and the fact that he had built such a successful business empire. In fact, she attributed the fact that Rockefeller could build such a successful empire to his unrivaled wit in business. In addition, Ida Tarbell takes caution in the entire book not to unequivocally condemn capitalism. Instead, she criticizes the manner, in which business people are taking an advantage of capitalism to introduce unethical practices. Although, she has never directly referred to it, it appears that she personally has no problem with capitalism. In fact, she certainly recognized that capitalism was the business model that could enhance great business success throughout the world. Thus, she emphasized that the fact that large industries played dirty policies ruined their greatness (Tarbell 132).
In the 1980s, public concern considerably increased about the practices and activities of the Standard Oil Company and peaked following the legislation of Sherman Anti-Trust Act in late 1980s. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act prohibited any form of unfair competition in the United States that would force smaller competitors out of the market. However, the American government as well as U.S. courts at the moment was not enthusiastic about this Act. Thus, the Standard Oil Company managed to establish itself as a monopoly that had control over more than 80% of the US oil production. In cases where competition existed, the company could afford to cut their prices to the extent of driving small companies out of the trade. In addition, the company occasionally offered refunds to oil producers to use the Standard Oil pipelines to transport their oil. This was the height of unethical business practice that assured the company a leading role in the oil industry despite the existence of adequate laws to the contrary (Tarbell 111).
However, after several years of inaction by the United States government, President Theodore Roosevelt decided to act after public pressure mounted on his government in 1909. Thus, he ordered an investigation into the practices of the company and constituted a lawsuit that pitted the US government against the Standard Oil Company. The company was charged in the Federal courts of illegally blocking competitive trade in total disregard of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. According to the Standard Oil Company, contrary to the belief that they it was stifling competition in the US oil market, it had significantly built a competitive culture between the individual small companies that operated under it. Thus, a case in court purporting that it was acting in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was in bad faith and against the principles of capitalism (Tarbell 132).
A court battle ensued between the United States government and the Standard Oil Company. Finally, the Federal Circuit Court delivered its verdict in 1909, thereby ending the long wait of about eight months. The judge decided that the practices by the Standard Oil Company amounted to a violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and effectively hindered trade between states. Thus, the judge imposed a penalty on the Standard Oil Company that essentially destroyed the moneyed elite behind the company. For instance, its control over smaller companies in the oil industry was broken up as this shifted the benefits to its primary stakeholders. An appeal by the company did not ease the situation either when the Supreme Court Judges held the previous court ruling (Tarbell 22).
Out of the courts, the Standard Oil company had to contend with the growing influence of investigative journalists who kept the public informed about the practices of the company. In this book, Ida Tarbell presented her case against corruption in the most eloquent manner possible. In addition, the book showed how she could combine her analytical skills, social ethics and drama to communicate to the audience. Indeed, Tarbell also considered her book as the greatest achievements in her career in journalism. The fact that she had to go through volumes of books and records of private information to compile her writing was quite refreshing. Having grown at a time when women’s place in the society was way too low, Ida Tarbell`s work was a great achievement, especially considering that she understood a system that government agencies had either ignored or just failed to understand (Tarbell 132).
By 1890, the company controlled a sizeable portion of the US oil market exceeding 88%. However, the fall of the company began in 1892 after the state of Ohio managed to sue the company leading to the eventual dissolution of its trusts in the same year. However, the company managed to maneuver through the different state legal systems. Consequently, the Standard Oil Trust was reborn in 1899 and this time it held stocks in over 41 smaller oil companies in America. The trend continued until the conclusion of the case against the US government in 1904 that opened the door for competitors in the oil industry. It was this competition that ended several years of its dominance of the oil industry and thereby considerably reducing its market share. By 1906, the Standard Oil Company only controlled 70% of the market share after the Supreme Court ruling on the same case. The company’s fortunes continued to nosedive after the resounding victory of the United States government and the people who had exerted a lot of pressure on the government. Finally, the company was closed in 1911, thereby ending decades of commercial monopoly in the oil industry (Tarbell 112).
In conclusion, The History of the Standard Oil Company remains one of the most comprehensive analyses of the Standard Oil Company. The depth of investigative journalism that it encompasses together with the fact that it stimulated a culture of integrity in the American society makes it one of the best books of the 20th century. I would definitely recommend it to a friend.