In speaking of the real beginning of the Standard Oil Company, it should be remembered that it was not so much the consolidation of the firms in which we had a personal interest, but the coming together of the men who had the combined brain power to do the work, which was the actual starting-point. Perhaps it is worth while to emphasize again the fact that it is not merely capital and “plants” and the strictly material things which make up a business, but the character of the men behind these things, their personalities, and their abilities; these are the essentials to be reckoned with.
Late in 1871, we began the purchase of some of the more important of the refinery interests of Cleveland. The conditions were so chaotic and uncertain that most of the refiners were very desirous to get out of the business. We invariably offered those who wanted to sell the option of taking cash or stock in the company. We very much preferred to have them take the stock, because a dollar in those days looked as large as a cart-wheel, but as a matter of business policy we found it desirable to offer them the option, and in most cases they were even precipitate in their choice of the cash. They knew what a dollar would buy, but they were very sceptical in regard to the possibilities of resurrecting the oil business and giving any permanent value to these shares.
These purchases continued over a period of years, during which many of the more important refineries at Cleveland were bought by the Standard Oil Company. Some of the smaller concerns, however, continued in the business for many years, although they had the same opportunity as others to sell. There were always, at other refining points which were regarded as more favourably located than Cleveland, many refineries in successful operation.
All these purchases of refineries were conducted with the utmost fairness and good faith on our part, yet in many quarters the stories of certain of these transactions have been told in such form as to give the impression that the sales were made most unwillingly and only because the sellers were forced to make them by the most ruthless exertion of superior power. There was one transaction, viz., the purchase of the property of the Backus Oil Company, which has been variously exploited, and I am made to appear as having personally robbed a defenceless widow of an extremely valuable property, paying her therefor only a mere fraction of its worth. The story as told is one which makes the strongest appeal to the sympathy and, if it were true, would represent a shocking instance of cruelty in crushing a defenceless woman. It is probable that its wide circulation and its acceptance as true by those who know nothing of the facts has awakened more hostility against the Standard Oil Company and against me personally than any charge which has been made.