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Interstate Commerce Act, 1887
By Congress
Aug 10, 2006, 3:50pm

Approved on February 4, 1887, the Interstate Commerce Act created an Interstate Commerce Commission to oversee the conduct of the railroad industry. With this act, the railroads became the first industry subject to Federal regulation.

In 1887 Congress passed the Interstate Commerce Act, making the railroads the first industry subject to Federal regulation. Congress passed the law largely in response to public demand that railroad operations be regulated. The act also established a five-member enforcement board known as the Interstate Commerce Commission. In the years following the Civil War, railroads were privately owned and entirely unregulated. The railroad companies held a natural monopoly in the areas that only they serviced.

The Interstate Commerce Act addressed the problem of railroad monopolies by setting guidelines for how the railroads could do business. The act became law with the support of both major political parties and pressure groups from all regions of the country. Applying only to railroads, the law required "just and reasonable" rate changes; prohibited special rates or rebates for individual shippers; prohibited "preference" in rates for any particular localities, shippers, or products; forbade long-haul/short-haul discrimination; prohibited pooling of traffic or markets; and most important, established a five-member Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC).

The las terms often contradicted one another. Some provisions were designed to stimulate competition and others to penalize it. In practice, the law was not very effective. The most successful provisions of the law were the requirement that railroads submit annual reports to the ICC and the ban on special rates the railroads would arrange among themselves, although determining which rates were discriminatory was technically and politically difficult. Years later the ICC would become the model for many other regulatory agencies, but in 1887 it was unique. The Interstate Commerce Act challenged the philosophy of laissez-faire economics by clearly providing the right of Congress to regulate private corporations engaged in interstate commerce. The act, with its provision for the ICC, remains one of Americs most important documents serving as a model for future government regulation of private business.

Read the transcript of the Interstate Commerce Act, 1887

Source: NARA - Our Documents
Citation: Act of February 4, 1887 (Interstate Commerce Act), Public Law 49-41, February 4, 1887; Enrolled Acts and Resolutions of Congress, 1789-; General Records of the United States Government, 1778 - 1992; Record Group 11; National Archives.

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