With the departures of Sage, Merrill and Mitchell, control of the company began to pass to a new group, headed by the Rockefeller-Standard Oil interests. In 1881, William Rockefeller joined the board of directors, with some associates. In the mid-1880’s, the Armour meat packing interests began to be represented on the board by Philip Armour. The Rockefeller and Armour interests were to be dominant until into the 20th Century.
Even with this ownership, the Milwaukee managed to keep to itself and to keep growing during the era when huge corporations were being formed and consolidated, and when great western railway systems were being built.
However, it couldn’t keep to itself through the whole period. In the late 1890’s, a fight developed. On one side were J. P. Morgan, the famous financier, and his ally, James Hill, who built the Great Northern and later also controlled the Northern Pacific. On the other side were E. H. Harriman, who controlled the Union Pacific, and his allies from the Rockefeller—Standard Oil interests. The Milwaukee was in the middle for a time, since the fight was by the Harriman group to keep Morgan/Hill out of Chicago—in fact, at one point Morgan offered to buy the Milwaukee. The battle ended when Morgan/Hill got control of the Burlington, and thereby entered Chicago.
The Rockefeller years...
...and the battle of titans