Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire by Peter B. Doran

Breaking Rockefeller: The Incredible Story of the Ambitious Rivals Who Toppled an Oil Empire by Peter B. Doran

Author:Peter B. Doran [Doran, Peter B.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Published: 2016-05-24T04:00:00+00:00


CHAPTER 13

Reversals of Fortune

Inside the offices of 26 Broadway, there were many secrets. The perpetually guarded Rockefeller had fortified Standard with hidden facts ever since the earliest days of the company. Standard trusted in secrecy the way a besieged city trusted in its walls. They protected the American monopoly from three decades of attack by would-be competitors, from aggressive state legislative committees, and most especially, from meddlesome reporters. It was for this reason that one clandestine meeting in January 1902 was hard to comprehend. At long last, a journalist had breached Standard’s protective bulwarks.

The unlikely incursion occurred inside the office of Hell Hound Henry Rogers, the second most powerful director at Standard. In the executive hierarchy of 26 Broadway, only John Archbold, Rockefeller’s handpicked successor, outranked Rogers. If anyone knew where the corporate bodies were buried at Standard, it was Rogers. That was why his meeting with a rising star in American mass media named Ida M. Tarbell was so surprising. Rogers should have seen Tarbell as an enemy. At their very first meeting that January, he instead offered her unprecedented access to Standard’s hidden history, its archives and business practices. True to form, he insisted that she keep their interactions secret.

It is difficult to pinpoint the precise reason for Rogers’s open and remarkably candid revelations to Tarbell. Perhaps he felt slighted when Rockefeller promoted Archbold to the top position at Standard. Perhaps Tarbell flattered him, or he was intrigued by her wit. Maybe he just had a soft spot for talented underdogs. After all, it was Rogers who had personally financed Helen Keller’s education, allowing her to become the first deaf blind person to earn a college degree. And it was Rogers who had saved Mark Twain from the poorhouse, when the first man of American letters could no longer keep his creditors at bay. A more compelling reason for Rogers was less high-minded: he wanted Tarbell to cleanse his reputation.1 After word had broken that she was writing a history of Standard Oil, Rogers had asked Twain to broker an introduction. He had no clue as to the fury that Tarbell, a daughter of the Pennsylvania oil boom, harbored for Standard.

When Tarbell was thirteen years old, her father, Frank Tarbell, transplanted his entire family to the oil boomtown of Titusville, Pennsylvania. Home to the very first oil well in America, it was situated close by a legendary place called Pithole. Today the settlement of Pithole has disappeared, but its name stands as a warning to the brutal cycle of wealth creation and destruction caused by crude. It was in Pithole that petroleum flowed in such quantities that for a brief, prosperous moment in 1865, the town accounted for two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s oil production. Previously worthless homesteads around Pithole were suddenly selling for $2 million ($30 million today).2 As venture capital flowed into Pithole, fifteen thousand people followed, all looking to cash in on the petroleum bonanza. Counted among them was Frank Tarbell. Leaving Titusville for the town, Ida’s father had hopes of making a fortune building wooden tanks for crude.



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