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Ida M. Tarbell, photograph by J. E. Purdy & Co., 1904

Journalist Ida M. Tarbell witnessed John D. Rockefeller’s tactics in the 1870s, when the Standard Oil Company forced her father and other Pennsylvania oil producers out of business. She spent years researching and writing an exposé of Standard Oil for McClure’s, a popular magazine. Published in 19 installments between 1902 and 1904, Tarbell’s revelations aroused public indignation against Standard Oil.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Ida M. Tarbell, photograph by J. E. Purdy & Co., 1904

Ida M. Tarbell: Exposing Standard Oil

The rise of corporate trusts and monopolies in the Progressive Era spurred Congress to legislate regulations on business practices. The first such law, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, met its greatest test in a case against the Standard Oil Company. Journalist Ida M. Tarbell brought the company’s shady dealings to light, and the federal government sued Standard Oil. The Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil’s breakup in 1911, but only after more narrowly defining illegal monopoly. Congress strengthened antitrust laws with the Federal Trade Commission Act and Clayton Antitrust Act.

We, the people of the United States, and nobody else, must cure whatever is wrong in the industrial situation, typified by this narrative of the growth of the Standard Oil Company.

Ida M. Tarbell, The History of the Standard Oil Company, 1904