Report of the Special Committee on Railroads


In 1879 the New York State Assembly came out with its Report of the Special Committee on Railroads, the result of hearings conducted on the railroad industry in that state. Its report was one small chapter in the history of the alliance—some would have said unholy alliance—between the railroads and the oil-refining industry. Although the committee was nominally investigating the railroads, the real target of its investigation was the Standard Oil Company under the leadership of the industrial magnate John D. Rockefeller.

Beginning in 1870, the nation's rail system began to expand exponentially. In 1870 the nation had about 53,000 miles of track. By 1880 the figure would increase to about 93,000 miles. Technical improvements and a freebooting entrepreneurial spirit led to sharp declines in freight rates, enabling the markets for many products—meat, grain, cattle, flour, and oil—to become nationalized. That same spirit, though, led to corruption and abuses. In the East, such...

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John D. Rockefeller (Library of Congress)

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