Ida Tarbell – A Snapshot Biography


“There is no man more dangerous, in a position of power, than he who refuses to accept as a working truth the idea that all a man does should make for rightness and soundness, that even the fixing of a tariff rate must be moral.”

Ida Tarbell didn’t shy away from exposing wrongdoings in society. How people treated others mattered, character mattered. She believed that progress happened from people making moral decisions.

So while an early desire to be a scientist didn’t lead to a career, it birthed her “quest for the truth.” She became a journalist. And it became her way of making the world a better place.  

Ida published many works, but arguably her most famous was an expose chronicling the corrupt practices of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, the largest company of the time.

“They had never played fair, and that ruined their greatness for me,” she wrote about the company.

The series was published in full over two years starting in 1905 and helped garner support for passing anti-trust legislation, which was used to break up the company.  

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  1. Ida M. Tarbell, ca. 1905-1945 – Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Harris & Ewing Collection,
  2. Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection (Library of Congress),,_1857-1944_LCCN2001704019.jpg
  3. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division,
  4. The Ida M. Tarbell Collection, Pelletier Library, Allegheny College, Meadville PA,
  5. Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division,
  6. All in the Day’s Work: An Autobiography by Ida Tarbell