Know Your History: Rockefeller Breaks Up & Gets Richer

In 1912, after decades of pummeling the competition with unfair business practices and intimidation, the oil titan, John D. Rockefeller, sat and listened as a federal court dismantled his empire right in front of his eyes. Buoyed by the Sherman Anti-Trust act of a few years earlier, the government was finally ready to take on the undisputed champion of the Gilded Age. Rockefeller had risen from poverty to build the Standard Oil Company. By age 33, he had crushed the competition, creating an oil trust that cornered the market on 90% of the oil used in the United States.

Standard Oil innovated the market through standardizing the making of kerosene which lit the country. Rockefeller made a product that was assured to be safe, building a brand that the public could trust. He also innovated how oil was transported by building an extensive pipeline which could by-pass his usage of the railroads, insuring him more profit. As electricity eventually overtook the use of kerosene for lighting American cities, Rockefeller then supplied the country with the gasoline to power the horseless carriage. He, along with Carnegie and JP Morgan sat at the head of the Robber Barons table.

But as Teddy Roosevelt’s progressiveness seeped into the consciousness of the nation, Rockefeller’s days as the chairman of the largest monopoly ever created were numbered. When the verdict was reached, Standard Oil had to be broken up into thirty-five different companies. The empire of Rockefeller was finished. The era of the Robber Barons came to an end. Included in those thirty-five new corporations were the well-known oil companies, Exxon, Mobil, and Chevron.

In an ironic twist, however, Rockefeller, who ended up having shares in all thirty-five of those companies, ended up actually making more money. His diversified holdings easily made him the richest man who ever lived, amassing a staggering worth of more than 600 billion dollars in today’s currency – about 10 times that of Bill Gates.

Who knows? Perhaps he would have broken it up sooner if he would have known the windfall awaiting him.

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