A Story Of John D. Rockefeller As A Business Titan

The United States went from being an agricultural society in the 19th Century to becoming industrialized. Many men were able to rise to great heights thanks in large part to the development of manufacturing technologies and new technologies. These men were sometimes called “captains in industry” because they could use their intellect, resources, and power for the greater good. The late 1800s business titans were more often referred to as “robber barons.” Robber barons made their fortunes through treachery. Bribery. Monopolies. And conspiracies. Matthew Josephson thoroughly debated the question of whether John D. Rockefeller an oil magnate was a Robber Baron. Ron Chernow argued the contrary. Josephson claimed that John D. Rockefeller was an example of a capitalist who exploited the poor and had monopolies.

John D. Rockefeller used monopolies to gain control over oil in America. Rockefeller saw the enormous potential of America’s oil industry when it was first discovered (Josephson 29, 29). Rockefeller was determined take over this emerging market. He wanted to buy out all competitors and control every aspect oil-related to production, transport, refinement, distribution. Rockefeller endured intimidation in order to succeed, and he did so grudgingly (Josephson, 32). Rockefeller even made deals with railroad companies in order to increase his profits (Josephson 32). Rockefeller’s brutal monopolizing was not punished for many years. Rockefeller’s monopoly over oil wasn’t his only vice as a robberbaron. John D. Rockefeller made many crimes that were not just victims. His later charitable giving would not be enough to compensate the misery he created for thousands of Americans working in the lower classes. Rockefeller made it difficult for anyone who didn’t buy from him. Poor business decisions led to the death by one of his business partners (Chernow, 38). Pennsylvania’s already failing mines saw many accidents and fires. Although workers tried multiple times to form unions, Rockefeller wouldn’t allow them. Pre-labor laws America was full of such horrors, and John D. Rockefeller made sure that they didn’t. Rockefeller was perhaps most evil of all the things he did in life. The South Improvement Company was the beginning of Rockefeller’s financial treachery. The South Improvement Company was an oil refiner trust that funneled their profits directly to themselves (Josephson 32). Rockefeller made all his trust members sign a secrecy pledge. All others were subject to cripplingly high prices. Members received rebates. The trust was appraised to determine if they were worth the money and then bought them out at half or even a third of what they were worth (Josephson 34). Outsiders who worked in the oil sector were forced to choose between selling to Standard Oil or making no profit. Rockefeller’s officers put it this way: “If we don’t buy your property from us, it is worthless because our railroads have an advantage” (Josephson, 34). Rockefeller took control of America’s oil industry with a classic case of “surrender/die”. Rockefeller, who had no regard for the small man, crushed every competitor under Standard Oil. He was a robber baron who used bribery and treachery to establish himself.

Ron Chernow is the opponent to Josephson and has compelling evidence in support of his contention that Rockefeller wasn’t a robberbaron. Chernow’s weak arguments appear to revolve around debunking Ida Tarbell’s narrative. Tarbell, who was a journalist and exposed Rockefeller’s travesty, was in fact guilty of writing demagogy. Her accounts were often exaggerated. Chernow acknowledges that the South Improvement Company’s misdeeds were real (Chernow at 24). Chernow does not dispute the truth of these two heart-stopping stories. Rockefeller must be held accountable for both Standard Oil and Rockefeller’s claims. Chernow exonerates Rockefeller from two or three allegations that do little to lessen the damaging effects of Rockefeller’s company.

John D. Rockefeller is undoubtedly a robberbaron. This fact is clearly evident by his mistreatment and destruction of unions, corporate spying, and monopolies. Matthew Josephson accurately rated Rockefeller. Rockefeller’s deception, conspiracy and evil were not the work of any “captain or industry”. He was, in fact, the most robbery-baron.



Cody Young is an educational blogger. Cody is currently a student at the University of Utah pursuing a degree in communications. Cody has a passion for writing and sharing knowledge with others.

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