Minseok Jang

University at Albany, State University of New York

2023 to 2024
Research Fellow

Burning a Monopoly: Kerosene and Anti-monopoly Politics Against Standard Oil, 1848-1911

My dissertation attempts to place anti-monopoly politics against Standard Oil in the context of the energy transition from organic illuminants to kerosene, the company’s flagship product sold in the global artificial lighting market during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It focuses on the evolving relationships between kerosene and human actors, highlighting how these interactions affected people’s understanding of the political economy of oil. These interactions were mediated by science and technology. Under the auspices of modern chemistry and technological inventions, scientists, independent producers, merchants, inspectors, and ordinary users interacted with kerosene in multifaceted ways and wove this new material into their economic life and social thoughts. These experiences with kerosene, I argue, played crucial roles in determining actors’ stance on Standard Oil which not only monopolized the industry but also controlled the way of interacting with kerosene. As some actors thought Standard Oil infringed upon their rights to handle kerosene, it ignited anti-monopoly sentiments in North America and Europe, transforming the political economy of oil into an oligopoly serving competition and consumer interests.