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A Modern War for Independence

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A MODERN WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE one irreconcilable enemy in the oil business has always been the oil producer. There is no doubt that Mr. Rockefeller has sincerely deplored this. And well he might, for he learned in his first great raid on the industry in 1872 that the producers aroused and united made a powerful and dangerous foe.

No doubt, if it had been practical, Mr. Rockefeller would have begun at the start to take over oil production as he did oil refineries and pipe-lines, and thus would have gotten his enemy out of the way; but during the first fifteen years of his work it was not practical. The oil fields were too vast and undefined. It not being practical to own the oil, fields, and yet essential that those who did own them, and of whose oil he aspired to be the only buyer, should be kept sufficiently satisfied not to interfere with his domination or to attempt to handle the oil for themselves, Mr. Rockefeller, whenever he had the chance, sought to persuade the producers to do what he would have done had he owned the oil fields—that was, to keep the supply of crude oil short.

"The dear people," he said once when asked by an investi gating committee if his monopoly of oil refining and oil transportation had not prevented the producer from getting his full share of the profits—"the dear people," he said, "if they had produced less oil than they wanted, would have got their full price; no combination in the world could have pre vented that, if they had produced less oil than the world required." * It is quite possible that if Mr. Rockefeller had been able to convert the majority of the producing body to this theory, and the supply of crude oil had been kept scarce and prices consequently high, the oil producers would have forgotten their resentment at his early raids and would have relapsed into indifference toward his control. Material prosperity is usually benumbing in its effects. There always has been a factor in the great game playing in the Oil Regions, how ever, which not even Mr. Rockefeller could match. Nature has been in the oil game, and she has taken pains to prevent the only situation which would have enabled Mr. Rocke feller to reconcile the oil producers. Again and again when it seemed as if the limits of oil production were set, and when Mr. Rockefeller and his colleagues must have believed that they would soon have the industry sufficiently well in hand to pay the producers a satisfactory price for crude oil, their calculations have been upset by the discovery of a great de posit of oil which flooded the market and put down the prices.

This happened so often between Mr. Rockefeller's first pub lic appearance in the business and the time when he com pleted his control of transportation, refineries and markets, that the yearly production of crude oil had risen from five and a half million barrels to thirty million barrels, and instead of a half million barrels above ground in stocks there were in 1883 over thirty-five million barrels, in 1884 nearly thirty-seven million, in 1885 thirty-three and a half million. The low price for crude which these vast stocks caused, the high charges for gathering, transporting and storing, all services out of which the Standard was making big profits, the fact that the profit on refined oil steadily increased in these years—the result of the overthrow of independent refiners and pipe-lines—while the profit on crude steadily diminished, were facts which the oil producers brooded over incessantly, and the more bitterly because they felt they could do nothing to help themselves. Every enterprise looking to relief which they had undertaken had, for one reason or another, failed. They had no faith that relief was possible. The Standard would never allow any outside interest to get a foothold. It was the bitterness which this conviction caused which was at the bottom of the outburst over the Billingsley Bill described in Chapter XIII. The Billingsley Bill was defeated, as it deserved to be, but the work done was by no means lost. For the first time since 188o the Oil Regions were aroused to concerted action. The support of the Billingsley Bill had been a spontaneous movement, a passionate, unor ganised revolt against the tyranny of the Standard, but it served to bring into action men who for six long years had been saying it was no use to resist, that Mr. Rockefeller's grip was too strong to be loosened. It revived their confidence in united action and steeled them to a determination to take hold of the industry and force into it again a fair competition in handling oil.

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