Monday, March 3, 2014

`The Prize (1) "Our Plan"

The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power is Daniel Yergin's history of the global oil industry from the 1850s through 1990. The Prize became a bestseller owing to its release date: it was published in October 1990, two months after the invasion of Kuwait ordered by Saddam Hussein and three months before the U.S.-led coalition began the Gulf War to oust Iraqi troops from that country.  It eventually went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. 
The Prize has been called the "definitive" history of the oil industry, even a "bible".
My notes

Ida M Tarbell investigated John D Rockefeller.

Before 1859, oil was called petroleum. Most of the oil, called rock oil or Seneca oil, was used for medicine. You could also refine it, and make it into kerosene as a new illuminant in the 1800s.

Native Americans used it as war paint and for maintaining their canoes.  But the White Man commercialized it.

August 28th 1859 oil bubbled up from a piping hammered into the ground. That was Col. Drake’s fortune.

In the early days oil exploration and production was chaos. It was based on the Rule of Capture (rf. several straws in a milkshake).

David Rockefeller, grandson of John D., was among those interviewed for this episode.

Rockefeller created economies of scale from his first oil company, and used these as bargaining power with railroads.

He aimed to take control of all oil companies via all sorts of business practices, including “drawback,” thereby eliminating competition.

The Self Improvement Company – also known as the mysterious thieves and the Black Anaconda – was the beginning of the oil war.

Unfettered post-Civil War business ▪ If you could get away with it, you got away with it.

Rockefeller (Chowder) was obsessed with secrecy, for example, using a separate dictionary of codes, and this underpinned what amounted to espionage.

Companies could not compete with Standard Oil (Club). They either sold out or went out of business.

He became independently wealthy, that is, apart from oil. He kept a discreet life with his family on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, avoiding the ostentations of his wealthy peers.

The power to make money is a gift from God, and he meant to use it for the good of man. It also meant, to him, gaining complete mastery of the oil industry.

At the beginning of 1870s, he owned 10% of the industry. By end of the decade it was 90%, including its transport.

John Archibald, Acme Oil Company. He was tasked to crush competitors.

They were appalled by the rise of the modern corporation. It all seemed undemocratic and unAmerican to Ida Tarbell. She saw the human cost to his father and his business and family.

By end of 1870s the independents built a long-distance pipeline, the first of its kind, as a last-ditch battle against Rockefeller’s monopoly. But the latter built a bigger, longer, and better pipeline.

Standard Oil was the first of the multinational corporations. It also had its own fleet of ships.

Rockefeller ▪ work by day, worry by night. The richest American in his time.

Oil was about the kerosene business in its first 40 years. So Thomas Edison’s invention of the light bulb was a threat.  But soon thereafter the automobile emerged. By one Henry Ford.

Theodore Roosevelt was a champion against monopoly, and gunned for Standard Oil in particular.

McClure’s Magazine commissioned 44-year old Ida Tarbell to investigate Rockefeller for its series on the oil monopoly. She was an accomplished journalist at that point, and had three well-known biographies to her credit.

`The Story of Rockefeller article laid the groundwork for more stories, that is, damaging revelations, about the titan. By 1905 – 1906 he had no place to hide.

By 1911 Standard Oil was given six months to dissolve itself. John Archibald said, Life was one thing after another.  Mobil, Exxon and Chevron were born from the post-monopoly break-up.

Hatred for Rockefeller translated into public hatred for the oil industry and big business in general.

Because he had shares in the breakup companies, his fortunes actually doubled. He funded the University of Chicago, right?

He died in 1937 at age 97, 25 months shy of his aimed century of life.

Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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