The Octopus Speaks

Icon Jun 5, 2010

The following is from: Los Angeles herald. (Los Angeles [Calif.]) October 27, 1910, p. 6

I am afraid there is no cartoon with this one. But, I thought it important for giving more context to who Standard Oil is, or was seen as, and why it was considered an octopus.

Can’t you just hear the indignation in the writer’s tone? Also, I think the title, and subtitle must have been written by the editor, or someone else at the paper, and not the author. 


Newly Organized Weekly in Los Angeles Tells of “Good” Done by the Standard Oil 

In these days of muckraking and general revolt against monopoly, says, the Oil and Mining Digest, it may be well to suggest mildly that there is something to say for large aggregations of capital such as Standard Oil. That corporations seems to stand in the eye of a large section of the public as the typical octopus in the ocean of national activities.

It is true that Standard Oil has, by the exercise of certain business methods, managed to acquire an amount of capital that gives it a tremendous advantage in any field of development. Yet it must be remembered that Standard Oil is a natural evolution of our national growth.

Twenty years ago the newspapers and magazines of the land joined in one unceasing and overwhelming chorus of laudation of Rockefeller and others of his kind who were occupied in the development of natural resources. No praise was too great to be bestowed on them. They were typical Americans— of whom the country had every reason to be proud and men whom other countries, trailing along in the wake of this country’s marvelous progress, looked on with awe and envy.

Schoolboys were taught about the wonderful things Rockefeller was doing with the added admonition, “Go thou and do likewise.” It did not occur to anyone at that period to condemn Standard Oil, although its Juggernaut car was crushing even then all who could not grapple to its wheels. The shouting and the tumult did not cease until certain of the wiser sort pointed out that under cover of all this praise and national self-gratulation the octopus had managed to get a strangle hold on much of the nation’s wealth.

As far as any national conscience existed on the matter in the early days of Standard Oil perhaps the majority of the people of the United States held that the attainment of wealth was the chief end of existence and admitted that placed in a similar position and given similar opportunities they would act in a similar manner. The man who got the coin was and is still to a great extent the one individual who merited the term “smart,” and deserved the united commendation of the nation.


In changing times with changing ideals; in an age of increased population and with natural resources tied up, the point of view seems to have altered and Standard Oil and its confreres now come in for as great a measure of execration and condemnation as they formerly received approval. Is this just?

Standard Oil is an evolution. Not even Rockefeller himself when he set out on his wonderful career had any conception of the extent to which his wealth would grow. It is not in the least degree possible that he contemplated the development of the full grown company which now holds so large a portion of the commercial field in the United States. The thing grew;could not help growing and cannot help growing still further. It is a Frankenstein – a monster called into existence by the hand of a master hand that conceived it; but grown now out of all its original proportions and master of its master.

Even at the worst Standard Oil has not done anything more than other corporations have done and are still doing. The very men who cry out most against it are actuated mainly by the fact that its gigantic power renders abortive their own attempts to follow out similar purposes.


The much condemned company has, too some good traits about it. It is well known that it treats its employes courteously and liberally. In cases where the sternest justice would be meted out to offending, negligent or foolish employes it has been lenient. It has never forgotten to reward faithful service and its servants have found certainty of tenure of office and generous consideration of their interests when superannuated. All that Is a great deal more than can be said for many of the interests and individuals who condemn the company and its methods.

In California Standard Oil has done nothing more than all the interests have been doing. It brought hither capital and at a time when capital was needed it struck out into the field of development.

If the company has enjoyed rebates so have other companies that self righteously accuse, the Standard. It engaged in legitimate business, under the laws of the United States and in California under the laws of the state. (Both of which are now questioned.—Ed.) It is giving employment to thousands, It has often gone into virgin fields and spent money there to no result; but has given the benefit of its experience in that way to other holders of similar property.


To the Standard Oil company is due in great part the development of the oil industry in California. It has erected huge reservoirs and bought and stored oil. (It has refined oil chiefly, leaving the development to others.— Ed.) In so far as its methods have been in accordance with the laws of the United States and of this state it has been acting in good faith and entirely within its rights.

If the people of the west are only now awaking to the sense of opportunities lost in the line of conservation of natural resources that is in every way their own fault and cannot be blamed on large aggregations of capital like standard Oil. The nation was in a hurry to grow and it is certain that without the aid of capital which pioneered the way and built the railroads and developed natural resources the west would not be today in its advanced stage of progress. Whatever changes may nome in the way of curbing the predatory instincts of corporations and of regulating the staking and acquirement of valuable natural resources ii should be remembered that in many ways companies like Standard by their early and skillful activities contributed much to the betterment of the nation. In conclusion it may be well to remember that caution conveyed in the old proverb and render, even to a certain personage not named in circles polite, that which is his due.