Challenged Big Business, And Won! (2014)
After weeks of discussion and debate, the McClure's staff became convinced that Trusts (not a big business, but a board that supervised the operation of the big business) would be their focus for exposure and potential reform . . . but which Trust? Steel was considered, in that J.P. Morgan was in the process of creating the behemoth U.S. Steel, which would be the first "Billion Dollar Trust" . . . . but everything associated with that possible story line seemed too complicated. Tarbell told her colleagues about growing up in Northwest Pennsylvania around the emerging and expanding oil industry; given her skill-set and experience, it was a no-brainer that Ida Tarbell would write about John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil (she reluctantly agreed to pursue the project). Tarbell wondered if readers would really enjoy a feature about interlocking corporations and their balance sheets; she didn't sense any potential for danger, just a desire to discover truth.
Rockefeller purchased tank cars, pipelines, banks, real estate, and even bribed politicians. He invested in newspapers so he could be portrayed in the most positive light; he never responded to criticisms and investigations of his methods or his Trust. New oil reserves were discovered in Ohio in 1885, and Rockefeller believed that this huge reservoir was a "Gift from God" given directly to him (even though the oil in Ohio had a strong sulfur content, but Rockefeller made it work as marketable fuel nonetheless). Ohio became the main source of petroleum for the SOT; not only had the SOT dominated refining, but by the mid-1890s the SOT became the dominant producer of oil in the industry.
Ida's father told her not to publish the first three parts of "The History of the Standard Oil Company", in that he feared that Rockefeller's retribution would be fierce (e.g. buying McClure's Magazine). Tarbell's search for documents was difficult, in that the SOT and the railroads (esp. NY Central, Erie, and PA) destroyed as many documents as possible relating to the South Improvement Company (SIC). But she persevered, and found that while most documents were destroyed, some remained in scattered locations. Tarbell proved that the SIC was Rockefeller's tool, using not only rebates, but "drawbacks" (a percentage of the freight rates that the independents paid the railroads went directly to the SIC). Rockefeller promised that he would ship all his refined oil with the NY Central, Erie, and Pennsylvania railroads in exchange for the rebates/drawbacks; it wasn't illegal, but it certainly wasn't ethical . . . and to Tarbell, it was grossly unfair, and more-than-worth investigating further.
(pictured below: Mark Twain with Henry Rogers, in front). Rogers admitted that the SIC was a mistake, and he even offered to arrange a meeting with Rockefeller. Ida visited Rogers at the SOT headquarters (26 Broadway in NYC) often for the next two years; she spent so much time there that some independents refused to talk with her, fearing that she was in league w/ Rockefeller. (Interesting fact: Tarbell earned $4000 per article, $107k today; by comparison, Rogers' secretary earned $10,000 per year at the SOT - $269,000 today). While Rogers cooperated most of the time, Tarbell still suspected that chicanery was afoot; she couldn't yet prove the espionage and criminal acts that she knew occurred due to the actions of the SOT.
The office boy took the documents to his Sunday School teacher, who had already read Tarbell's first three installments of "The History of the Standard Oil Company", and believed in Ida's integrity to the point where he gave her the documents. Those documents proved that the SOT was still engaged in unethical, and even illegal shenanigans, and in February 1904, McClure's published "Cutting to Kill" . . . Henry Rogers refused to meet with Ida Tarbell again.