History / United States / State & Local / Midwest (IA, IL, IN, KS, MI, MN, MO, ND, NE, OH, SD, WI)

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Refining Nature

Refining Nature

Standard Oil and the limits of Efficiency

The Standard Oil Company emerged out of obscurity in the 1860s to capture 90 percent of the petroleum refining industry in the United States during the Gilded Age. Economic success masked the dark side of efficiency as Standard Oil dumped oil waste into public waterways, filled the urban atmosphere with acrid smoke, and created a consumer safety crisis by selling kerosene below Congressional standards. Organized around the four classical elements at the core of Standard Oil’s success (earth, air, fire, and water), Refining Nature provides an ecological context for the rise of one of the most important corporations in American history.

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