The Evolution of Standard Oil
Rockefeller’s juggernaut was split into 34 companies
The Chart of the Week is a weekly Visual Capitalist feature on Fridays.
A couple of weeks ago, we published an infographic showing how the list of the most valuable companies in the U.S. has changed drastically over the last 100 years.
Near the top of that list in 1917 is The Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, which is just one of the 34 forced spin-offs from the original Standard Oil juggernaut that was split up in 1911.
In today’s chart, we look at the “fragments” of Standard Oil, and who owns these assets today.
At the turn of the 20th century, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was a force to be reckoned with. In the year 1904, it controlled 91% of oil production and 85% of final sales in the United States.
As a result, an antitrust case was filed against the company in 1906 under the Sherman Antitrust Act, arguing that the company used tactics such as raising prices in areas where it had a monopoly, while price gouging in areas where it still faced competition.
By the time the Standard Oil was broken up in 1911, its market share had eroded to 64%, and there were at least 147 refining companies competing with it in the United States. Meanwhile, John D. Rockefeller had left the company, yet the value of his stock doubled as a result of the split. This made him the world’s richest person at the time.
The company was split into 34 separate entities, mainly based on geographical area.
Today, the biggest of these companies form the core of the U.S. oil industry:
- Standard Oil of New Jersey: Merged with Humble Oil and eventually became Exxon
- Standard Oil of New York: Merged with Vacuum Oil, and eventually became Mobil
- Standard Oil of California: Acquired Standard Oil of Kentucky, Texaco, and Unocal, and is now Chevron
- Standard Oil of Indiana: Renamed Amoco, and was acquired by BP
- Standard Oil of Ohio: Acquired by BP
- The Ohio Oil Company: Became Marathon Oil, which eventually also spun-off Marathon Petroleum
But that’s not all – the Standard Oil asset portfolio also carried some other interesting brands that you’d recognize today:
Yes, even Vaseline was originally a part of Standard Oil. Inventor Robert Chesebrough derived the product from petroleum residue, and the spun-off company (Chesebrough Manufacturing Company) was purchased by Unilever in 1987.
Meanwhile, the Union Tank Car Company is a part of Berkshire Hathaway today – and Pennzoil is owned by Royal Dutch Shell.
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
What are the safest energy sources? This graphic shows both GHG emissions and accidental deaths caused by different energy sources.
Charted: The Safest and Deadliest Energy Sources
Recent conversations about climate change, emissions, and health have put a spotlight on the world’s energy sources.
As of 2021, nearly 90% of global CO₂ emissions came from fossil fuels. But energy production doesn’t just lead to carbon emissions, it can also cause accidents and air pollution that has a significant toll on human life.
This graphic by Ruben Mathisen uses data from Our World in Data to help visualize exactly how safe or deadly these energy sources are.
Fossil Fuels are the Highest Emitters
All energy sources today produce greenhouse gases either directly or indirectly. However, the top three GHG-emitting energy sources are all fossil fuels.
|Energy||GHG Emissions (CO₂e/gigawatt-hour)|
|Natural Gas||490 tonnes|
Coal produces 820 tonnes of CO₂ equivalent (CO₂e) per gigawatt-hour. Not far behind is oil, which produces 720 tonnes CO₂e per gigawatt-hour. Meanwhile, natural gas produces 490 tonnes of CO₂e per gigawatt-hour.
These three sources contribute to over 60% of the world’s energy production.
Generating energy at a massive scale can have other side effects, like air pollution or accidents that take human lives.
|Energy Sources||Death rate (deaths/terawatt-hour)|
According to Our World in Data, air pollution and accidents from mining and burning coal fuels account for around 25 deaths per terawatt-hour of electricity—roughly the amount consumed by about 150,000 EU citizens in one year. The same measurement sees oil responsible for 18 annual deaths, and natural gas causing three annual deaths.
Meanwhile, hydropower, which is the most widely used renewable energy source, causes one annual death per 150,000 people. The safest energy sources by far are wind, solar, and nuclear energy at fewer than 0.1 annual deaths per terawatt-hour.
Nuclear energy, because of the sheer volume of electricity generated and low amount of associated deaths, is one of the world’s safest energy sources, despite common perceptions.
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