In the main the Rockefeller group left the production of crude oil in the hands of the private drillers, but practically every other branch of the business passed ultimately into their hands. Both the New York Central and the Erie railroads surrendered to the Standard the large oil terminal stations which they had maintained for years in New York. As a consequence, the Standard obtained complete supervision of all oil sent by railroad into New York, and it also secured the machinery of a complete espionage system over the business of competitors. The Standard acquired companies which had built up a large business in marketing oil. Even more dramatic was its success in gathering up, one after another, these pipe lines which represented the circulatory system of the oil industry. In the early days these pipe lines were small and comparatively simple affairs. They merely carried the crude oil from the wells to railroad centers; from these stations the railroads transported it to the refineries at Cleveland, New York, and other places. At an early day the construction and management of these pipe lines became a separate industry. And now, in 1873, the Standard Oil Company secured possession of a one-third interest in the largest of these privately owned companies, the American Transfer Company. Soon afterward the United Pipe Line Company went under their control. In 1877 the Empire Transportation Company, a large pipe line and refining corporation which the Pennsylvania Railroad had controlled for many years, became a Standard subsidiary.
Meanwhile certain hardy spirits in the oil regions had conceived a much more ambitious plan. Why not build great underground mains directly from the oil regions to the seaboard, pump the crude oil directly to the city refineries, and thus free themselves from dependence on the railroads? At first the idea of pumping oil through pipes over the Alleghany Mountains seemed grotesque, but competent engineers gave their indorsement to the plan. A certain "Dr." Hostetter built for the Columbia Conduit Company a trunk pipe line that extended thirty miles from the oil regions to Pittsburgh. Hardly had Hostetter completed his splendid project when the Standard Oil capitalists quietly appeared and purchased it! For four years another group struggled with an even more ambitious scheme, the construction of a conduit, five hundred miles long, from the oil regions to Baltimore. The American people looked on admiringly at the splendid enterprise whose projectors, led by General Haupt, the builder of the Hoosac Tunnel, struggled against bankruptcy, strikes, railroad opposition, and hostile legislatures, in their attempts to push their pipe line to the sea. In 1879 the Tidewater Company first began to pump their oil, and the American press hailed their achievement as something that ranked with the laying of the Atlantic Cable and the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. But in less than two years the Rockefeller interest had entered into agreements with the Tidewater Company that practically placed this great seaboard pipe line in its hands.
Thus in less than ten years Rockefeller had realized his ambitious dream; he now controlled practically everything concerned in the manufacture and sale of petroleum. The change had come about so stealthily, so secretly, and even so remorselessly that it impressed the public almost as the work of some uncanny genius. What were the forces, personal and economic, that had produced this new phenomenon in our business life? In certain particulars the Standard Oil monopoly was the product of well-understood principles. From his earliest days John D. Rockefeller had struggled to eliminate the middleman. He established factories to build his own barrels, to make his own acids; he created his own selling firms, and, instead of paying large storage charges, he constructed his own warehouses in New York. From his earliest days as a refiner, he had adopted the principle of paying no man a profit, and of performing all the intermediate acts that had formerly resulted in large tribute to middlemen.