Ida Minerva Tarbell (November 5 1857–January 6 1944) was a American teacher, author and journalist. She was known as one of the leading "muckrakers" of her day, work known in modern times as "investigative journalism." She wrote many notable magazine series and biographies. She is best-known for her 1904 book The History of the Standard Oil Company, which was listed as number five in a 1999 list by the New York Times of the top 100 works of twentieth-century American journalism. The inspiration for her book came from her father being put out of business by oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller, Sr.
Tarbell graduated at the head of her high school class in Titusville, Pennsylvania. When Tarbell started college in 1876, housing was not ready for the seven women who attended Allegheny College. The faculty wives opened their homes to them. She majored in biology and was the only woman in her class of 1880.
After graduating from college, Tarbell began her career as a teacher at Poland Union Seminary in Poland, Ohio. She taught two classes each of four languages, geology, botany, geometry and trigonometry. After two years she realized teaching was too much for her and she enjoyed writing better. She moved back to Pennsylvania and began writing for The Chautauquan, a teaching supplement for home study courses at Chautauqua, New York. She moved back to Pennsylvania where she met Theodore L. Flood, editor of The Chautauquan, and began writing for The Chautauquan. She was quick to accept because “I was glad to be useful, for I had grown up with what was called the Chautauqua movement.” In 1886 she became managing editor . Her duties included annotating parts of monthly text, answering reader questions, and provide proper pronunciation of certain words, translation of foreign phrases, identifying characters and defining words. “Doing this job I began to think about facts and reading proofs. It was an exacting job which never ceases to worry me. What if the accent was in the wrong place? What if I brought somebody into the world in the wrong year?”
In 1890 Tarbell moved to Paris to do post-graduate work and write a biography of Madame Roland, the leader of an influential salon during the French Revolution. While in France, she wrote articles for various magazines, catching the eye of publisher Samuel McClure, earning her the position of editor for the magazine. She went to work for McClure's Magazine and wrote a popular series on Napoleon Bonaparte. Her series on Abraham Lincoln doubled the magazine's circulation, and was published in a book. These gave her a national reputation as a leading writer.
In 1900, Tarbell began to research the Standard oil trust.
Beginning in 1902, she conducted detailed interviews with the Standard Oil magnate. Rogers, wily and normally guarded in matters related to business and finance, may have been under the impression her work was to be complimentary. He was apparently unusually forthcoming. However, Tarbell's interviews with Rogers formed the basis for her negative exposé of the ingenious business practices of industrialist John D. Rockefeller and the massive Standard Oil organization. Her work, which became known at the time as muckraking (now called investigative journalism), first ran as a series of articles in McClure's Magazine, which were later published together as a book, The History of the Standard Oil Company in 1904.
She didn’t like the label Muckraker and wrote an article “Muckraker or Historian” where she justified her efforts for exposing the oil trust. She referred to "this classification of muckraker, which I did not like. All the radical element, and I numbered many friends among them, were begging me to join their movements. I soon found that most of them wanted attacks. They had little interest in balanced findings. Now I was convinced that in the long run the public they were trying to stir would weary of vituperation, that if you were to secure permanent results the mind must be convinced."
She exposed Rockefeller's ruthless tactics and their destructive effect on smaller oil businesses. Her book failed to mention that her brother ran a competing oil company, the Pure Oil Company. Tarbell's exposé fueled negative public sentiment against Standard Oil and was a contributing factor in the U.S. government's antitrust actions against the Standard Oil Trust which eventually led to its breakup in 1911.
On September 14, 2002, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp honoring Tarbell as part of a series of four stamps honoring women journalists.