In 1890, the United States government passed into law the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. This legislation was an anti-trust act, authorizing the federal government to break up any businesses that prohibited competition. Its author was John Sherman, a United States Senator from Ohio. The federal government utilized this legislation throughout the late 1800s and the 1900s to break up monopolies, including that of the Standard Oil Company in 1911.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act resulted from the increased unhappiness of many United States citizens. Numerous Americans feared the growing number of companies, like Standard Oil, that dominated the marketplace, preventing competitors from organizing. These same people also often objected to the poor treatment of workers by these various businesses. Many Americans believed that businessmen had created virtual monopolies off of the hard work of their workers. While the businessmen became wealthy, workers, due to poor working conditions and limited pay, struggled to survive financially.
Interestingly, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the federal government utilized the Sherman Anti-Trust Act against unions, organizations created to assist workers against their employers. Federal courts ruled that unions were essentially trusts, limiting competition within businesses. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was created to help workers and smaller businessmen by encouraging competition. While it did assist these two groups, the act eventually hindered workers in attaining better working conditions.