Daniel Yergin: The Prize Chapter 4 Synopsis
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Daniel Yergin: The Prize Chapter 4 Synopsis

The synopsis of the fourth chapter of Daniel Yergin\\\'s The Prize.

In 1990, Daniel Yergin composed the epic work, “The Prize.” The most concise summary of this masterpiece would be to call it “The Oil Bible.” Indeed, with 784 pages of text and almost 100 more of source material, “The Prize” is easily as thick as a Bible. But with such a long, twisting tale of international, personal, and geopolitical will grappling for the control of a single commodity, Yergin has done an excellent job of summarizing the tale. The following is a brief synopsis of chapter 4.

Chapter 4 concerns a massive shift in the pattern of oil production and consumption. Yergin mentions the popularity of Thomas Edison’s light bulb invention: He developed the first successful electric illumination devices by 1879. “By 1885, 250,000 light bulbs were in use; by 1902, 18 million.” (Yergin, 79) Thus, Standard Oil’s massive investment in oil production and distribution infrastructure, a cost that continues to prevent meaningful competition against the major oil players today, was in immediate danger of being rendered useless by being replaced by light bulbs. In perfect time, however, another invention rescued the industry. Yergin tells the tale below.

“Yet just as one market was about to slip away, another was opening—that of the ‘horseless carriage,’ otherwise known as the automobile. Some of those vehicles were powered by the internal combustion engine, which harnessed a channeled explosion of gasoline for propulsion. It was a noisy, anxious, and none too reliable means of transportation, but vehicles powered by internal combustion gained credibility in Europe after a Paris-Bordeaux-Paris race in 1895, in which the remarkable speed of fifteen miles per hour was achieved. The next year, the first auto track race was held in Narrangansett, Rhode Island. It was so slow and boring that there was first heard the cry, ‘Get a horse!’” (Yergin, 79)

Thus, while one market was taken away from major American oil producers, another was added in the blink of an eye. The connection was so direct that it inspires thoughts of conspiracy: Henry Ford quit a position as a chief engineer with Edison Company in order to manufacture and market automobiles. (Yergin, 80) It was around the turn of the century that Standard Oil’s hold on the American market began to grow even more slippery than the world one, because oil began being found all over the nation: Colorado, Kansas, California, and finally on a little hill called Spindletop in a big place called Texas.


Yergin, Daniel. The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991.


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