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Rewriting History: the Early Sherman Act Monopolization Cases


  • William Comanor
  • F. M. Scherer


This paper reviews two early precedent-setting US antitrust decisions and asks a series of counter-factual questions. What if the Standard Oil Company had not been broken into 34 pieces? What if the United States Steel Corporation had been fragmented? It traces the qualitative evolution of the Standard Oil fragments, following the 1911 divestiture decision, and the corresponding history of United States Steel. It then undertakes quantitative analyses of the survivors' market share trends and the comparative productivity growth, average plant sizes, price — cost margins, and net exports for petroleum refining, blast furnaces and steel from 1899 through 1939. At first, the post-divestiture performance did not differ much between the two subject industries. However, by the 1930s, competition intensified in petroleum refining and the decline of the Standard Oil fragments' market shares came to a halt. In the steel industry, however, competition continued to be mild. A lethargic United States Steel held a price um brella over its rivals and steadily lost market share. Steel companies were ill-prepared for rising import competition during the 1960s and 1970s. The paper concludes that the 1911 break-up of Standard Oil had few deleterious short-run consequences and, by shaping a more competitive environment, it had a decidedly positive long-run effect.

Suggested Citation

  • William Comanor & F. M. Scherer, 1995. "Rewriting History: the Early Sherman Act Monopolization Cases," International Journal of the Economics of Business, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 2(2), pages 263-290.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:ijecbs:v:2:y:1995:i:2:p:263-290
    DOI: 10.1080/758519313

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    Cited by:

    1. Andrei Barbos, 2015. "Information Acquisition and Innovation under Competitive Pressure," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(2), pages 325-347, June.
    2. Török, Ádám, 2001. "Piacgazdasági érettség többféleképpen?. Néhány alapfogalom értelmezése és alkalmazása a világgazdaság három nagy régiójában
      [Several ways to market economic maturity?. Interpreting and applying som
      ," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(9), pages 707-725.
    3. Hart, David M., 2001. "Antitrust and technological innovation in the US: ideas, institutions, decisions, and impacts, 1890-2000," Research Policy, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 923-936, June.
    4. Harvey James & Derek Johnson, 2002. "Understanding Regulatory Environments and their Impact on Economic Change," Industrial Organization 0202001, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    5. Robert W. Crandall & Clifford Winston, 2005. "Does antitrust policy improve consumer welfare? Assessing the evidence," Chapters,in: Governments, Competition and Utility Regulation, chapter 2 Edward Elgar Publishing.

    More about this item


    antitrust; Sherman act; monopoly; divestiture; JEL classifications: L12; L41;

    JEL classification:

    • L12 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Monopoly; Monopolization Strategies
    • L41 - Industrial Organization - - Antitrust Issues and Policies - - - Monopolization; Horizontal Anticompetitive Practices


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