Feds Give Up the Ghost on Standard Oil Breakup

Justice Department wants to drop century-old antitrust efforts
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2019 7:20 PM CDT
Oil magnate John D. Rockefeller gives a dime to a child in this undated picture.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – After more than a century, the Justice Department is dropping its effort to break up Standard Oil. A federal court was asked Tuesday to toss out the decree that required John D. Rockefeller to give up control of 37 subsidiaries that helped his company monopolize the oil industry, the Wall Street Journal reports. Standard Oil split into 34 companies that eventually resulted in Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips. The oil business has changed a bit, and the legal case famously advocated by Theodore Roosevelt seems less than relevant now. "To say it’s been overtaken by events," said Daniel Yergin, author of an oil-industry history, "is a vast understatement." At the time, Rockefeller gave Roosevelt political fits, which the United Press then said "seriously grated upon the nerves of President Roosevelt, to express it mildly."

As the Justice Department empties its desk, other dated antitrust efforts—some from the 1800s—are also being discarded. Some of the industries are extinct. The government is no longer concerned about whether to keep potential competitors out of the market for "drilled horseshoes, adjustable calks or rubber hoof pads," per the Journal. The Retail Music Roll Dealers Association of Philadelphia will no longer be barred from fixing the market for the paper rolls used in player pianos. And after 101 years, the American Cone & Wafer Co. will be unencumbered in trying to set retail prices for what a judge called "hollow cones of pastry for containing ice cream, commonly called ice cream cones." But new industries could face antitrust efforts: In her presidential campaign, Elizabeth Warren has proposed breaking up large tech companies such as Facebook, Google, and Amazon, per CNN. (Read more antitrust stories.)

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