Ida Tarbell (1857 - 1944)

Feb 23, 2007 | Posted in Essays, People

Ida Tarbell

Ida Tarbell

Many people are not aware that one of the country's most noted female journalists spent her early years near Rouseville and Titusville. When Ida Tarbell was three, her father moved the family from Erie to the Rouseville area where he took a job building wooden tanks to hold oil.

Ida was a bright young girl and after finishing school in Titusville, she attended Allegheny College. After graduation, she taught school in Ohio, but she did not enjoy teaching so she returned home after one year. Soon she found work in Meadville for a magazine called "The Chautauquan." After a few years, she went to Paris where she hoped to study. To pay her expenses, Ida wrote articles for different newspapers in America.

While her fame was growing as a writer, Ida was asked to write for "McClure's Magazine." She soon returned to live in New York. During her many years with the magazine, Ida's success grew. Probably one of her most famous works was The History of the Standard Oil Company. This series of articles exposed illegal as well as unethical practices that Standard Oil Company used in business dealings. At the top of Ida's list for exposure was the head of Standard Oil—John D. Rockefeller who was well known for his ruthless tactics to force independent oil producers out of business.

Ida certainly knew of these problems first hand, since her father and brother were both independent oil producers and had fought Rockefeller for years.

Her articles on Standard Oil and Rockefeller stunned the world. Tarbell's writings helped start a movement which culminated in 1911 with the U.S. Supreme Court breaking up the Standard Oil Company Trust.
Ida worked for "McClure's Magazine" until 1906 and then for "The American Magazine." Later years saw her writing articles for many different publications. Ida died in January, 1944. She never married, although she had many suitors. Some might say she was married 'though—to her work.

Brady, Kathleen,Ida Tarbell: Portrait of a Muckracker. Seaview/Putnam, New York, 1984

Reprinted Courtesy of the Venango Museum of Art, Science and Industry