Interesting Historical Facts
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; 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, 1897
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 from 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. The total net earnings from 1882 to 1906 amounted to $838,783,800, exceeding the dividends by $290,347,800, which was used for plant expansions.