Part 4: How Did Corporate Social Responsibility Evolve? (1911)

Tyler Riddell and Michelle Riddell

By Tyler and Michelle Riddell

In part 4, we will continue moving through David Chandler’s timeline of CSR. Why David Chandler’s version? His textbook, “Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation,” provides a comprehensive understanding of CSR, which we have not discovered to this date. Moreover, since some of the events are too extensive, we will not be highlighting every event on Chandler’s timeline, but we will cover most! Let’s dive into the 1911. 


In 1870, John D. Rockefeller and his partners founded the Standard Oil company, and the growth strategy was to acquire small competitor firms. By 1882, they had grown large enough to create a trust called the Standard Oil Trust.


Interestingly, Standard Oil became so large that it ended up “control[ing] refining, distribution, marketing and other aspects of the oil industry [, and they] eventually gained control of nearly 90 percent of the country’s oil production” (The Learning Network, 2012).


The fact that Standard Oil was able to get even close to 90 percent market share is quite remarkable, especially since the Sherman Antitrust Act was established in 1890. However, it caught up with them by 1909 when “The Department of Justice filed a federal antitrust lawsuit against” them (The Learning Network, 2012).


During the trial, there were some serious allegations of illegal deals and business practices, such as “under the table deals, threats, and bribery with railroad companies in order to receive special rates that would give his companies an insurmountable advantage over [their] competitors…” (Jimison, Floyd, Hall, Robinson, & Thorne, 2016).


Moreover, in May of 1911, Standard Oil lost their case, and they were “ordered to be broken into 33 different companies” (Jimison, Floyd, Hall, Robinson, & Thorne, 2016). 


Now, why is this on the timeline?


Obviously, social responsibility was not on Standard Oil’s mind, so we can point out the issues of chasing only shareholders’ gains. However, we need to look at public opinion during that time.


Ida Tarbell, a few years before the 1911 dissolution, “published a series of articles in McClure’s magazine [that] portrayed Mr. Rockefeller and Standard Oil as ruthless and immoral” (The Learning Network, 2012).


Following the publication of these articles, there was additional unrest against Standard Oil. Thus, once major stakeholders (customers, communities, etc.) became extremely dissatisfied, the business suffered.


Additionally, this is a moment in time that businesses, especially large, really need to reflect upon. Short-term, growing market share quickly and ruthlessly may increase their bank accounts, but long-term, companies have to ask themselves, “Are we damaging the very infrastructure or support that gives us life?” 


Jimison, R., Floyd, K., Hall, C., Robinson, B., & Thorne, A. (2016). Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey v. United States (1911). Retrieved January 26, 2021, from


The Learning Network  (2012, May 15). May 15, 1911 | Supreme Court Orders Standard Oil to Be Broken Up. Retrieved January 26, 2021, from