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How John D. Rockfeller dominated the Oil Industry for 50 years

1. Foreword

This text will explain you the commercial methods used by John D. Rockfeller to conquer and rule the American oil industry between 1863 and 1911. I tried to put these practices in their contexts, and to show the structures of this industry. I stopped at the final 1911 dismantling, this period offering a textbook case of a vertically integrated monopoly for the appropriation of a single natural resource. I based myself on old sources, especially Tardell's groundbreaking book, and also on more general books on the Robber Barons and the oil industry. I tried to give a neutral image of the Standard Oil story, allowing the reader to make value judgements by himself.

This text is divided in three parts. The first one discusses the structures of the oil industry at the time of the Standard. The second presents the methods used by Rockfeller in the horizontal, then vertical integration of the industry, the oligopolistic strategies and arms twistings made possible by the alliance with the railroads. Finally, a third part will summarize chronologically the events that led to the quasi monopoly of the Standard Oil until its dissolution in 1911.

I tried to illustrate these pages with graphs and old documents, and not to drown this simple story in a flood of anecdotal details. The general layout is quite different from the austerity that is standard in academic texts, but be sure that my research was careful and that you won't lose time reading this. I used Word 7.0 for the word processing, and the documents were either scanned or directly downloaded from the internet, reason for which I don't always know their sources. This particular layout was made with Front Page 97.

A first version of this paper was made in 1997 for the professor Zuahyr Mikdashi, for his Energy Economics course at the University of Lausanne.

Hoping to provide the reader with a pleasant hour, I beg his pardon in advance for any errors and omissions that may have escaped my rereading, but as painted Van Eyck, ALS IK KAN.

François Micheloud

Pully, mars 1997

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