The Lie


"Rebates and drawbacks were a common practice for years preceding and following this history. So much of the clamor against rebates and drawbacks came from people who knew nothing about business. Who can buy beef the cheaper — the housewife for her family, the steward for a club or hotel, or the quartermaster or commissary for an army? Who is entitled to better rebates from a railroad, those who give it for transportation 5,000 barrels a day, or those who give 500 barrels—or 50 barrels?" - John D. Rockefeller

The Truth

Cutthroat tactics helped John D. Rockefeller rise to the top of the oil business.

Through collusion with railroads and New York trading houses, the tycoon developed a chokehold on oil buying and delivery in the late 19th Century. Everyone in on his deals made a profit; anyone on the outside didn’t.

The Cleveland Massacre was Rockefeller’s death blow to dozens of Ohio and Pennsylvania oil producers who were given the option to sell to Rockefeller or go bankrupt. One of the businesses that was crushed was Ida Tarbell’s father’s. Thirty years later she set out to expose the sinister tactics used by robber barons.

Her book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, was revolutionary, and much of it was built on Tarbell going back to her father’s contemporaries for interviews.

She faced threat of destruction at the hands of the Standard Oil company once the tone of her investigation was felt in segments released in McClure’s, but she persevered to produce a devastating portrait of capitalism and one of its most ruthless practitioners, John D. Rockefeller.

This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c17943.

Read Ida Tarbell's book

The History of the Standard Oil Company by Ida Tarbell

The Process

It's not just governments that lie, corporations are notorious for spin and hiding the truth. Instead of taking CEOs at their word, independent journalists can uncover corruption by interviewing employees and people affected by corporate greed like Michael Moore did in Roger and Me.