One hundred and five years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court forced the Standard Oil Trust to dissolve after it was found to be in violation of anti-monopoly laws.
The decision, handed down on May 16, 1911, gave the company six months to break up its mammoth corporate holdings that included stakes in 40 companies and ownership of 14 companies.
The dissolution was part of a broader trust busting effort led by President William Howard Taft.
Standard Oil was founded by John D. Rockefeller, Maurice B. Clark and Samuel Andrews in 1863.
Through a series of mergers and consolidations, Standard went on to control about 90 percent of the U.S. refining market before the turn of the century, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
Although the trust was dissolved, several of its companies retained the Standard Oil name and would eventually become the largest oil firms in the world.
One of the trust’s most well-known companies, Standard Oil of New York, merged with Vacuum Oil Company following the dissolution of the trust.
The combined firm became known as Mobil in 1966.
Standard Oil of New Jersey changed its name to Exxon in 1977 an eventually acquired Mobil in 1999.
Standard Oil of California acquired Standard Oil of Kentucky in 1961 and renamed itself Chevron.
The success of Standard Oil made Rockefeller one of the wealthiest men in the United States.
According to Forbes, Rockefeller’s assets were equivalent to 1.5 percent of the total economic output of the United States at the time of his death in 1937, a feat that would require a net worth of more than $340 billion today.
Although Rockefeller made his name and fortune in the oil industry his descendants have begun turning away from the energy sector.
Earlier this year, the board of the Rockefeller Family Fund directed its advisers to eliminate holdings of ExxonMobil along with all holdings in coal and tar sands-based companies outside the portions of its portfolio managed by third parties.
The board also directed its advisers to keep exposures for those three investment categories to below 1 percent across the fund’s entire portfolio.
The fund intends to complete the divestment “as quickly as possible.”
The fund’s board had harsh words for ExxonMobil, alluding to media reports that the company used climate data to make operational decisions while working to downplay the science on global warming.
“We would be remiss if we failed to focus on what we believe to be the morally reprehensible conduct on the part of ExxonMobil,” the fund said.
Exxon has denied any wrongdoing and defended its record on climate change, noting that it has included information about the business risks posed by climate change for many years in its 10-K, Corporate Citizenship Report and in other reports to shareholders.
Media reports concerning Exxon’s use of climate change data prompted calls from California legislators for a federal investigation into whether the company violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, commonly known as RICO.
The U.S. Department of Justice has passed on the request to the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division so that the FBI can determine “whether an investigation is warranted.”
No official investigation has been ordered yet and the FBI is not obligated to begin a probe.
“Needless to say, the Rockefeller family has had a long and profitable history investing in the oil industry, including ExxonMobil….But history moves on, as it must,” the Rockefeller Family Fund said in March.