John D. Rockefeller

Essay by salman1981 February 2011

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John D. Rockefeller

THE 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...