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John D. Rockefeller Essay

1395 words - 6 pages

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John D. RockefellerTHE businessman is a symbol of American culture the world around, and for many people that symbol was personified by John D. Rockefeller. No other time or place has produced his like. The architect of the first great American trust, Rockefeller was attacked and defended with violent passion by the struggling partisans of industrialism and of social reform in the years after the Civil War. Long before his death he had become a semilegendary character who appeared to the general public either as a demon of avarice and extortion, crushing without scruple those who stood in his way, or as a high-minded philanthropist, bestowing his bounty with charitable devotion to good works. The first selection here reprinted, an excerpt from John T. Flynn God's Gold, introduces Rockefeller in his dual role of a man loathed and loved and throws light upon his personal reaction to the attacks made upon him.A representative leader of the powerful group of businessmen who made their appearance with the revolution in industry after the Civil War, Rockefeller was singled out by critics of the emerging social order because of the spectacular way in which he created his oil empire. During the administrations of Theodore Roosevelt there appeared in print a series of attacks upon corruption in industry and politics. To their authors -- among whom Ida M. Tarbell was one of the first, and indeed one of the most painstaking and responsible -- Roosevelt gave the opprobrious name "muckrakers," after the Man with the Muckrake in Pilgrim's Progress, who was more preoccupied with filth than with future bliss. In her monumental investigation of The History of the Standard Oil Company, however, Miss Tarbell seemed more impressed by another text of Bunyan, The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, which says of extortion that it is "most commonly committed by men of trade, who without all conscience, when they have an advantage, will make a prey of their neighbor." The readings present a long excerpt from Miss Tarbell's account of the methods by which the Standard Oil monopoly of her day was created and the manner in which it functioned.Miss Tarbell's strictures are made largely from the point of view of personal ethics. Those expressed by Matthew Josephson in the selection from his book The Robber Barons show more specific concern with social and political values. Josephson is a critic of monopoly capitalism, and his account of the development of Standard Oil reflects his opinion that profits are the principal goal of enterprise and that technological progress and social service are only accidental byproducts. Not at all surprisingly, a contrary judgment is expressed by Rockefeller himself in the next selection, a chapter from his Random Reminiscences of Men and Events. Here the motivation of profits is represented as secondary to Rockefeller's ambition to create order, economy, and efficiency in the oil industry.Of particular interest to students of social and...

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