Teddy Roosevelt, the Trustbuster
When coal miners in Pennsylvania went on strike for higher wages in 1902, President Roosevelt threatened to seize the mines if owners would not agree to arbitration. Similar actions earned him the moniker of “Trustbuster” when he acted to stop unfair practices in the big businesses of tobacco, oil, steel, and the railroads. These industries had established trusts, working together to limit competition. The most famous was the Standard Oil trust run by John D. Rockefeller.
The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 regulated the operations of corporate trusts and declared that every contract, combination in the form of trust, or other act in restraint of trade was illegal. In the late 1990s, the Sherman Antitrust Act was used by the federal government to prosecute the Microsoft Corporation for abusing its monopoly power by combining its Internet Explorer Web browser software with its Windows operating system.
Of course, Roosevelt's reform efforts sparked great political opposition and made for interesting times. In February 1902, Roosevelt brought suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act against the railroad trust of the Northern Securities Company. The people loved him for it, and when the case went before the Supreme Court, the decision came in five to four against the trust. Actually, the president did not want to disband all of these trusts — just the most flagrant ones. He called his moderate approach the “Square Deal.”