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Walter Clark Teagle (May 1878 – January 9, 1962), was responsible for leading Standard Oil to the forefront of the oil industry and significantly expanding the company's presence in the petrochemical field.
Born in Ohio into a wealthy oil family, Teagle was the grandson of Maurice B. Clark, one of John D. Rockefeller's former partners in Standard Oil. Teagle's father, John Teagle, headed Scofield, Shurmer and Teagle, Standard Oil's competitor in Cleveland. Teagle entered Cornell University with the class of 1900, but graduated early in 1899 with a B.S. in chemistry. As a student, Teagle was said to have "managed everything," serving as manager for two publications, the football team, class politics, and as chair of the committees for class promenades and cotillions. He was a member of the Quill and Dagger society and Alpha Delta Phi.
After graduation, Teagle remained involved in Cornell University, serving as a trustee from 1924 to 1954 and donating funds for the Teagle Hall athletic building. In 1923, Cornell announced that Teagle was their highest salaried alumnus. He served as vice president of the Cornell Club of New York and on a variety of committees.
Teagle married twice, to Edith Murray on October 3, 1903, and after her death, to Rowena Lee in 1910. Following Standard Oil house counsel Virgil Kline, who had earlier won cases against Standard for his father's firm, Teagle built a summer house in Blue Hill, Maine. In 1962, he died at the age of 83 in Connecticut after a long illness.
In 1901, Standard Oil bought out the Teagle family refinery, and placed Teagle in charge. Two years later, he joined the export committee of Standard Oil of New Jersey, traveling around the world for the next seven and a half years. He became a director of Standard Oil in 1910, and a vice president shortly thereafter. During this time, he acquired operations in Venezuela and Iran. At the age of 39, Teagle became the youngest president of Standard Oil of New Jersey, then known as Esso, for S. O. of NJ, and since 1972, known as Exxon. He served as president (1917-1937) and chairman (1937-1942) of the company. Under his leadership, Standard Oil became the world's largest oil producer, increasing market share from 2% to 11.5%. He helped pioneer worker representation on refinery councils and the eight-hour workday.
Teagle was selected as one of 20th Century Great American Business Leaders by Harvard Business School and was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1974 for his work at Standard Oil in expanding research and development of petroleum-based products, leading to fuel refinements and diverse petrochemical uses such as in cosmetics and food preservatives. He appears on the cover of the December 9, 1929 issue of Time Magazine. He was also selected as one of the 100 Most Notable Cornellians and inducted into the Cornell University Athletic Hall of Fame.
Teagle was very active in labor, business, and trade organizations and councils. He served as head of President Hoover's job sharing movement and on the National Labor Board during its brief tenure from 1933 to 1934, helping handle labor disputes. He was appointed to President Roosevelt's National Defense Mediation Board and National War Labor Board. He was also on the national Business Advisory Council and a director of the National Foreign Trade Council and Federal Reserve Bank.
In 1944, he established The Teagle Foundation "to advance the well-being and general good of mankind throughout the world." At Teagle's request, the foundation's directors always include an individual appointed by Cornell University and an individual appointed by ExxonMobil.
Teagle has been accused of contributing to Nazi Germany during World War II through his involvement with German chemical company IG Farben. As a director of IG Farben's American subsidiary, he allied Standard Oil with the German company and conducted research jointly. Standard Oil supplied information to IG Farben on how to manufacture tetraethyl lead and synthetic rubber, both critical resources to the war effort. Because Teagle sold patent rights for synthetic rubber, Standard Oil delayed American industrial readiness by not producing rubber without German permission. Faced with a Justice Department investigation, Teagle convinced President Roosevelt that a suit would hurt the war effort, instead choosing to pay an out-of-court fine. The result was a fall in public favor for Standard Oil and the resignation of Teagle in 1942.