Sugar, Standard Oil and Today’s Regulation of Corporate Mergers

In 1895, American Sugar was allowed to monopolize sugar manufacturing. The Supreme Court said manufacturing was out of federal government reach. It wasn’t the type of “commerce” that Congress could regulate.

Sixteen years later, the Court ordered the biggest breakup in corporate history. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil conglomerate of 65 affiliated companies owning 90 percent of the American oil industry had to dissociate with 33 of them. Some of them are names we all know: Exxon, Chevron, Amoco, Mobil. No surprise it was oil that led the Supreme Court to recognize a federal interest in regulating commerce.

From that point, federal regulation grew. And it grew some more, especially through the New Deal. Roosevelt, acting in response to the Great Depression, passed enough legislation to carry with it the modern day label “liberal” for supporters of regulation and social policies.

Today, the federal government has clear authority to control anticompetitive actions. Major federal antitrust laws now have over a century of history, and the federal agencies play a large role in overseeing corporate mergers.

And even after all that history, what goes around comes around. In 1998, the Federal Trade Commission approved the largest merger in world history, allowing Rockefeller’s once-separated offspring, Exxon and Mobil, to again be joined.

This week, we bring you the legal landscape of antitrust regulation related to corporate mergers.

View the report here.