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S. 1, An Act to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies (Sherman Antitrust Act), May 13, 1890

In the late nineteenth century, corporate monopolies and trusts consolidated enormous wealth and power into the hands of a few individuals. Senator John Sherman of Ohio, an expert on finance and commerce, introduced pioneering antitrust legislation in 1890. Sherman looked to Congress’s constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce as a basis for prohibiting trusts that suppressed competition.

Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration

S. 1, An Act to protect trade and commerce against unlawful restraints and monopolies (Sherman Antitrust Act), May 13, 1890

Ida M. Tarbell: Exposing Standard Oil

The rise of corporate trusts and monopolies in the Progressive Era spurred Congress to legislate regulations on business practices. The first such law, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, met its greatest test in a case against the Standard Oil Company. Journalist Ida M. Tarbell brought the company’s shady dealings to light, and the federal government sued Standard Oil. The Supreme Court ordered Standard Oil’s breakup in 1911, but only after more narrowly defining illegal monopoly. Congress strengthened antitrust laws with the Federal Trade Commission Act and Clayton Antitrust Act.

We, the people of the United States, and nobody else, must cure whatever is wrong in the industrial situation, typified by this narrative of the growth of the Standard Oil Company.

Ida M. Tarbell, The History of the Standard Oil Company, 1904