Daniel Yergin: The Prize Chapter 5 Synopsis
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Daniel Yergin: The Prize Chapter 5 Synopsis

A brief synopsis of chapter 5 of Daniel Yergin\\\'s book 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 5.

Standard Oil was rapidly losing ground at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the spirit of “free trade,” the American public cried out against Rockefeller’s monopolistic practices and called for the end of the oil giant. In the wake of numerous pieces of anti-trust legislation, Standard Oil’s separation was only a matter of time. Where Rockefeller saw stability, the United States saw unfair competition. Where Standard Oil saw profit, the American people shook their fists at ruthless undercutting.

Despite numerous attempts to split the Standard Oil trust apart, the company managed to hold together, and even strengthened themselves by constructing a holding company entitled “Standard Oil of New Jersey”; this was courtesy, of course, of some new leniencies in corporate law in the state of New Jersey.

One little spider came along and spoiled Standard Oil’s great game. Ida “Tar Barrel” Tarbell, an aspiring journalist and enthusiastic “muckraker”, set about to expose the financial misdeeds of Rockefeller’s company. But with the vast empire stretching over much of the world, Standard was far too ubiquitous to avoid attention for long. In may 1911, Chief Justice Edward White ordered the trust dissolved.

“In the aftermath of the decision, the directors of Standard faced an immediate and momentous question. It was one thing for a court to order a dissolution. But how exactly was this vast, interconnected empire to be broken up? The scale was simply enormous. The company transported more than four-fifths of all oil produced in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. It refined more than three-fourths of all United States crude oil; it owned more than half of all tank cars; it marketed more than four-fifths of domestic kerosene.” (Yergin, 110)

In the end, very little of the company’s structure changed; different divisions simply became their own companies. Standard Oil of New Jersey was renamed Exxon, a company familiar in today’s business world. Others changed their names to a laundry list of titles seen in an average day’s trip through town: Mobil, Chevron, BP, Amoco, ARCO, and Sunoco.


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


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