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Interesting Historical Facts
Polarine Is A Early Sign Of Standard Oil Co
Standard Oil was a predominant American integrated oil producing, transporting, refining, and marketing company. Established in 1870 as a corporation in Ohio, it was the largest oil refiner in the world and operated as a major company trust and was one of the world's first and largest multinational corporations until it was broken up by the United States Supreme Court in 1911.
John D. Rockefeller was a founder, chairman and major shareholder. As it grew exponentially and engaged in business strategies, tactics and practices that were lawful but drove many smaller businesses under, Standard Oil became widely criticized in the public eye, even as it made Rockefeller the richest man in modern history. Other notable Standard Oil principals include Henry Flagler, developer of Florida's Florida East Coast Railway and resort cities, and Henry H. Rogers, who built the Virginian Railway (VGN), a well-engineered highly efficient line dedicated to shipping southern West Virginia's bituminous coal to port at Hampton Roads.
John D. Rockefeller c. 1872, shortly after founding Standard Oil
Standard Oil began as an Ohio partnership formed by the well-known industrialist John D. Rockefeller, his brother William Rockefeller, Henry Flagler, chemist Samuel Andrews, silent partner Stephen V. Harkness, and Oliver Burr Jennings, who had married the sister of William Rockefeller's wife. In 1870 Rockefeller incorporated Standard Oil in Ohio. Of the initial 10,000 shares, John D. Rockefeller received 2,667; Harkness received 1,334; William Rockefeller, Flagler, and Andrews received 1,333 each; Jennings received 1,000; and the firm of Rockefeller, Andrews & Flagler received 1,000.
Using highly effective tactics, later widely criticized, it absorbed or destroyed most of its competition in Cleveland in less than two months in 1872 and later throughout the northeastern United States.
In the early years, John D. Rockefeller dominated the combine, for he was the single most important figure in shaping the new oil industry. He quickly distributed power and the tasks of policy formation to a system of committees, but always remained the largest shareholder. Authority was centralized in the company's main office in Cleveland, but decisions in the office were made in a cooperative way.
In response to state laws trying to limit the scale of companies, Rockefeller and his associates developed innovative ways of organizing, to effectively manage their fast growing enterprise. In 1882, they combined their disparate companies, spread across dozens of states, under a single group of trustees. By a secret agreement, the existing thirty-seven stockholders conveyed their shares "in trust" to nine Trustees: John and William Rockefeller, Oliver H. Payne, Charles Pratt, Henry Flagler, John D. Archbold, William G. Warden, Jabez Bostwick, and Benjamin Brewster. This organization proved so successful that other giant enterprises adopted this "trust" form.
Standard Oil Refinery No. 1 in Cleveland, Ohio, 1899
The company grew by increasing sales and also through acquisitions. After purchasing competing firms, Rockefeller shut down those he believed to be inefficient and kept the others. In a seminal deal, in 1868, the Lake Shore Railroad, a part of the New York Central, gave Rockefeller's firm a going rate of one cent a gallon or forty-two cents a barrel, an effective 71% discount off of its listed rates in return for a promise to ship at least 60 carloads of oil daily and to handle the loading and unloading on its own. Smaller companies decried such deals as unfair because they were not producing enough oil to qualify for discounts.
In 1872, Rockefeller joined the South Improvement Company which would have allowed him to receive rebates for shipping and receive drawbacks on oil his competitors shipped. But when this deal became known, competitors convinced the Pennsylvania Legislature to revoke South Improvement's charter. No oil was ever shipped under this arrangement.
Standard's actions and secret transport deals helped its kerosene price to drop from 58 to 26 cents from 1865 to 1870. Competitors disliked the company's business practices, but consumers liked the lower prices. Standard Oil, being formed well before the discovery of the Spindletop oil field and a demand for oil other than for heat and light, was well placed to control the growth of the oil business. The company was perceived to own and control all aspects of the trade.
In 1885, Standard Oil of Ohio moved its headquarters from Cleveland to its permanent headquarters at 26 Broadway in New York City. Concurrently, the trustees of Standard Oil of Ohio chartered the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (SOCNJ) to take advantages of New Jersey's more lenient corporate stock ownership laws.
Also in 1890, Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act — the source of all American anti-monopoly laws. The law forbade every contract, scheme, deal, or conspiracy to restrain trade, though the phrase "restraint of trade" remained subjective. The Standard Oil group quickly attracted attention from antitrust authorities leading to a lawsuit filed by Ohio Attorney General David K. Watson.
From 1882 to 1906, Standard paid out $548,436,000 in dividends at 65.4% payout ratio. As is common practice in business, a fraction of the profits was put back into the business, rather than being distributed to stockholders. The total net earnings from 1882 to 1906 amounted to $838,783,800, exceeding the dividends by $290,347,800. The latter amount was used for plant expansions.
In 1897, John Rockefeller retired from the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the holding company of the group, but remained a major shareholder. Vice-president John Dustin Archbold took a large part in the running of the firm. At the same time, state and federal laws sought to counter this development with "antitrust" laws. In 1911, the US Justice Department sued the group under the federal antitrust law and ordered its breakup into 34 companies.
Standard Oil's market position was initially established through an emphasis on efficiency and responsibility. While most companies dumped gasoline in rivers (this was before the automobile was popular), Standard used it to fuel its machines. While other companies' refineries piled mountains of heavy waste, Rockefeller found ways to sell it. For example, Standard created the first synthetic competitor for beeswax and bought the company that invented and produced Vaseline, the Chesebrough Manufacturing Company, which was a Standard company only from 1908 until 1911.
One of the original "muckrakers" was Ida M. Tarbell, an American author and journalist. Her father was an oil producer whose business had failed due to Rockefeller's business dealings. After extensive interviews with a sympathetic senior executive of Standard Oil, Henry H. Rogers, Tarbell's investigations of Standard Oil fueled growing public attacks on Standard Oil and on monopolies in general. Her work was published in 19 parts in McClure's magazine from November 1902 to October 1904, then in 1904 as the book The History of the Standard Oil Company.
The Standard Oil Trust was controlled by a small group of families. Rockefeller stated in 1910: "I think it is true that the Pratt family, the Payne-Whitney family (which were one, as all the stock came from Colonel Payne), the Harkness-Flagler family (which came into the Company together) and the Rockefeller family controlled a majority of the stock during all the history of the Company up to the present time".
These families reinvested most of the dividends in other industries, especially railroads. They also invested heavily in the gas and the electric lighting business (including the giant Consolidated Gas Company of New York City). They made large purchases of stock in US Steel, Amalgamated Copper, and even Corn Products Refining Company.
Monopoly charges and anti-trust litigation
See also: Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States
By 1890, Standard Oil controlled 88% of the refined oil flows in the United States. The state of Ohio successfully sued Standard, compelling the dissolution of the trust in 1892. But Standard only separated off Standard Oil of Ohio and kept control of it.
Eventually, the state of New Jersey changed its incorporation laws to allow a company to hold shares in other companies in any state. So, in 1899, the Standard Oil Trust, based at 26 Broadway in New York, was legally reborn as a holding company, the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey (SOCNJ), which held stock in 41 other companies, which controlled other companies, which in turn controlled yet other companies. This conglomerate was seen by the public as all-pervasive, controlled by a select group of directors, and completely unaccountable.
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt depicted as the infant Hercules grappling with Standard Oil in a 1906 Puck magazine cartoon
In 1904, Standard controlled 91% of production and 85% of final sales. Most of its output was kerosene, of which 55% was exported around the world. After 1900 it did not try to force competitors out of business by underpricing them.
The federal Commissioner of Corporations studied Standard's operations from the period of 1904 to 1906 and concluded that "beyond question... the dominant position of the Standard Oil Company in the refining industry was due to unfair practices—to abuse of the control of pipe-lines, to railroad discriminations, and to unfair methods of competition in the sale of the refined petroleum products".
Due to competition from other firms, their market share had gradually eroded to 70% by 1906 which was the year when the antitrust case was filed against Standard, and down to 64% by 1911 when Standard was ordered broken up and at least 147 refining companies were competing with Standard including Gulf, Texaco, and Shell. It did not try to monopolize the exploration and pumping of oil (its share in 1911 was 11%).
In 1909, the US Department of Justice sued Standard under federal anti-trust law, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, for sustaining a monopoly and restraining interstate commerce by: "Rebates, preferences, and other discriminatory practices in favor of the combination by railroad companies; restraint and monopolization by control of pipe lines, and unfair practices against competing pipe lines; contracts with competitors in restraint of trade; unfair methods of competition, such as local price cutting at the points where necessary to suppress competition; [and] espionage of the business of competitors, the operation of bogus independent companies, and payment of rebates on oil, with the like intent."
The lawsuit argued that Standard's monopolistic practices took place in the last four years
"The general result of the investigation has been to disclose the existence of numerous and flagrant discriminations by the railroads in behalf of the Standard Oil Company and its affiliated corporations. With comparatively few exceptions, mainly of other large concerns in California, the Standard has been the sole beneficiary of such discriminations. In almost every section of the country that company has been found to enjoy some unfair advantages over its competitors, and some of these discriminations affect enormous areas."
The government identified four illegal patterns: 1) secret and semi-secret railroad rates; (2) discriminations in the open arrangement of rates; (3) discriminations in classification and rules of shipment; (4) discriminations in the treatment of private tank cars. The government alleged:
"Almost everywhere the rates from the shipping points used exclusively, or almost exclusively, by the Standard are relatively lower than the rates from the shipping points of its competitors. Rates have been made low to let the Standard into markets, or they have been made high to keep its competitors out of markets. Trifling differences in distances are made an excuse for large differences in rates favorable to the Standard Oil Company, while large differences in distances are ignored where they are against the Standard. Sometimes connecting roads prorate on oil—that is, make through rates which are lower than the combination of local rates; sometimes they refuse to prorate; but in either case the result of their policy is to favor the Standard Oil Company.
Different methods are used in different places and under different conditions, but the net result is that from Maine to California the general arrangement of open rates on petroleum oil is such as to give the Standard an unreasonable advantage over its competitors"
The government said that Standard raised prices to its monopolistic customers but lowered them to hurt competitors, often disguising its illegal actions by using bogus supposedly independent companies it controlled.
"The evidence is, in fact, absolutely conclusive that the Standard Oil Company charges altogether excessive prices where it meets no competition, and particularly where there is little likelihood of competitors entering the field, and that, on the other hand, where competition is active, it frequently cuts prices to a point which leaves even the Standard little or no profit, and which more often leaves no profit to the competitor, whose costs are ordinarily somewhat higher."
On May 15, 1911, the US Supreme Court upheld the lower court judgment and declared the Standard Oil group to be an "unreasonable" monopoly under the Sherman Antitrust Act. It ordered Standard to break up into 34 independent companies with different boards of directors, the biggest two of the companies were Exxon and Mobil.
Standard's president, John Rockefeller, had long since retired from any management role. But, as he owned a quarter of the shares of the resultant companies, and those share values mostly doubled, he emerged from the dissolution as the richest man in the world.
The result was that although in 1911 Standard still controlled most production in the older US regions of the Appalachian Basin (78% share, down from 92% in 1880), Lima-Indiana (90%, down from 95% in 1906), and the Illinois Basin (83%, down from 100% in 1906), its share was much lower in the rapidly expanding new regions that would dominate US oil production in the 20th century. In 1911 Standard controlled only 44% of production in the Midcontinent, 29% in California, and 10% on the Gulf Coast.
Some analysts argue that the breakup was beneficial to consumers in the long run, and no one has ever proposed that Standard Oil be reassembled in pre-1911 form. ExxonMobil, however, does represent a substantial part of the original company.