by JF

One of the most famous of all so-called “muckraking” works of the late 19th/early 20th century, this book nevertheless needs to be much more widely known and understood in our time. Ida Tarbell had a long, illustrious career as a journalist, but this is the work, written rather early in her life, which has had by far the most lasting effect.
She documents, for history, for posterity, the unscrupulous and illegal business tactics of the most notorious business tycoon ever to rise in America, John D. Rockefeller, and those tactics of his underling droogies selling themselves out for his hydra-headed company/monopoly/monster: the Standard Oil Company.

The crimes and misdeeds committed on a regular basis by the Standard Oil Combination, as clearly documented by Tarbell, include but are not limited to the following:

1. Getting illegal “rebates” on railroad shipments; 2. Getting illegal “drawbacks” on the higher shipping rates paid by independent oil competitors; 3. Conducting unscrupulous, jesuitical espionage on all shipments made by independent competitors; 4. Consistent, strategic bribery of independent oil agents, politicians, and other key officials; 5. Practicing business in secret in violation of state incorporation laws; 6. Often hiding behind “dummy” corporations to better practice their unscrupulous business methods in secret; 7. Intimidating buyers and would-be buyers of independent oil and habitually demanding that any orders for independent oil be countermanded or the buyer in question would be economically punished by Standard Oil; 8. Hiring gangs of thugs to physically harass and intimidate independent pipeliners (note: but being careful to do this “second-hand” or indirectly, so as to leave an escape route of deniability, of course); 9. The constant bringing of frivolous lawsuits to slow down, obstruct, and wear down independent pipeliners; 10. Establishing a monopolistic system that was in violation of the various States’ laws of incorporation.

Yet, for all this documentation of all of these crimes, Ida Tarbell seems to have been a rather unbiased “muckraker” because she consistently gives credit to J.D. Rockefeller’s business acumen wherever it is due, and she consistently blames the failures of the independent oilmen on themselves and their all-too-impetuous natures, whenever that seems due. However, on the whole, the tone of this work lauds the independent oilmen for their passionate spirit and their honest work ethic, while Rockefeller is branded–at best–an extremely gifted machiavellian who, being in the “right place at the right time” succeeded in sullying forever the scruples of all American businessmen from his time forward.

Reading this book sheds much light on where we are now in America. It documents the desperate struggles of many who tried in vain to slay Rockefeller’s Beast. But for us today, it’s where this book leaves off that is most significant, the subsequent history Tarbell could not have known then for obvious reasons, but which she might have been able to predict: given that Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Combination was nowhere in this history able to be long-checked in its cancerous amassing of power and wealth, would ANYthing at all during the entire 20th century to follow ever be able to thwart Rockefellerian designs to take over EVERY meaningful avenue of power and wealth in America?

Today in the post-20th century, those whose eyes are opened know the answer to that question.

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