Standard Oil Company

Historical content: 
The Gilded Age
Historical skills: 
Contextualization, Sourcing



Use the source information, your knowledge of history, and the cartoon to answer the questions below.


This cartoon by Udo J. Keppler appeared in Puck magazine on September 7, 1904.  A Standard Oil storage tank is an octopus with tentacles wrapped around the steel, copper, and shipping industries, a state house, the U.S. Capitol, and has one tentacle reaching for the White House.  Its caption reads, "Next!"

"Next!" Puck magazine, 1904.

Question 1: In what year was this cartoon published?

Question 2: Which two of the facts below might help explain Keppler’s depiction of Standard Oil?

1.    In 1911, the Supreme Court ruled that Standard Oil had to be split into several smaller companies.
2.    By the 1880s, Standard Oil had become the largest oil refiner in the country, controlling access to 90 percent of the refined oil in the US.
3.    By the early 1890s, there were more than 4,000 millionaires in America, and most of them claimed to be self-made men.
4.    Throughout the year 1904, investigative journalist Ida Tarbell published her famous series of articles on Standard Oil, mostly critiquing the company's ruthless practices.

About the Assessment

Like the John Brown assessment, this question gauges students' ability to evaluate the relevance of contextual information for determining the motivations of an author. Students must select 2 facts and explain how they shed light on Keppler's depiction of Standard Oil in his 1904 cartoon.  Students with a strong understanding of contextualization will be able to explain how the company's growing control over the oil industry, and Tarbell's muckraking reports on Standard Oil, may have influenced Keppler's depiction.