Rockefeller

Historical content: 
The Gilded Age
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing, Use of evidence

Assessment

Directions: 

Use the documents and your knowledge of history to answer the questions that follow.

Source text: 

Document A: By 1900, John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in America, and his Standard Oil Company was the most powerful. Published in 1904, investigative journalist Ida Tarbell’s influential book, The History of the Standard Oil Company, critiqued Rockefeller’s business practices. This excerpt from Tarbell’s work explains the oligopoly that Rockefeller created in order to control the price of oil. 

“[Rockefeller and some other oil refiners developed] a remarkable scheme, the gist of which was to bring together secretly a large enough body of refiners and shippers to persuade all the railroads handling oil to give to the company ... special rebates on its oil . . . If they could get such rates it was evident that [others] could not compete with them long and that they would become eventually the only refiners. They could then limit their output to actual demand, and so keep up prices  .... The control of the refining interests would also enable them to fix their own price on crude [oil]. As they would be the only buyers and sellers, the speculative character of the business would be done away with.”

Document B: This passage is from a newspaper article on the incorporation of the Rockefeller Foundation. The article appeared in The Honolulu Times, on April 1, 1910. 

“Behind the incorporation of the Rockefeller Foundation, the bill for which has been introduced in the United States senate, is hidden the greatest plan for the systemization of charity in the history of the world. The vast wealth of the oil king, amassed through the many years of his active life, is to be devoted to charity in the broadest sense .... The plans for the charity are vast. They will take in every field of human endeavor, and so sweeping arc they that the benefactions from the money will continue for years, possibly for centuries. In order to devote all of his time to the work planned by his father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., whose bent has been more toward philanthropy than toward business, is to retire from all of the big corporations in which, as his father's representative, he has been active in the past.”

Question 1: In the early 1900s there was public concern about the growing power of a small number of wealthy businessmen. How does Document A provide evidence of this?

Question 2: How does Document B also provide evidence of public concern about the growing power of wealthy businessmen?

About the Assessment

Like Opposition to the Philippine-American War, this assessment gauges students’ ability to reason about how evidence supports a historical argument.  Students must explain how Tarbell's critique about the company's practices and the newspaper's positive take on the Rockefeller Foundation both support the conclusion that many Americans were concerned about the growing power of a small number of wealthy businessmen at the turn of the century.