Interstate Commerce Act

From Ohio History Central
Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad Locomotive.jpg
Reproduction of a photograph depicting a Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad locomotive passing the Ohio and Erie Canal bed near Zoar, Ohio, ca. 1885-1900. The Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad came to Zoar in the mid-1880s and connected the village to near by cities such as Akron, Canton and Cleveland, Ohio.

As the United States continued to industrialize in the second half of the nineteenth century, the U.S. public became more and more concerned about the unfair competition created by monopolies. In particular, railroads were able to control their markets and manipulate rates to their own advantage. A number of states, including Ohio, had unsuccessfully attempted to regulate railroads before 1887. Ohio had created a state commission to report on railroad and telegraph rates as early as 1867, but this commission did not have any authority to change rates or to order the railroad companies to change their policies.

As a result of the failure of states to regulate railroads, the United States Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887. The Interstate Commerce Act required that railroads charge fair rates to their customers and make those rates public. This legislation also created the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC), which had the authority to investigate and prosecute companies who violated the law. Unfortunately, the Interstate Commerce Commission also faced limitations during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The commission was only authorized to investigate companies whose business crossed over state lines. If the railroad only operated within one state, the Interstate Commerce Commission did not have any authority over it. The commission also found that the courts usually ruled in favor of the companies when cases were prosecuted. A total of sixteen cases made their way before the United States Supreme Court between 1887 and 1906, and the court only upheld the commission's decision in one of those cases.

See Also


  1. Cashman, Sean. America in the Gilded Age. N.p.: NYU Press, 1993.
  2. Chandler, Alfred D., Jr. The Visible Hand: The Managerial Revolution in American Business. N.p.: Belknap Press, 1993.
  3. Murdock, Eugene. Buckeye Empire: An Illustrated History of Ohio Enterprise. N.p.: Windsol, 1988.
  4. Painter, Nell Irwin. Standing at Armageddon: A Grassroots History of the Progressive Era. N.p.: W.W. Norton, 2008.
  5. Porter, Glenn. The Rise of Big Business, 1860-1920. N.p.: Harlan Davidson, 2006.