Readings on the Relation of Government to Property and Industry

By Samuel P. Orth | Go to book overview

INTERLOCKING CORPORATIONS

BY HAROLD M. BOWMAN OF THE NEW YORK BAR

(From the Michigan Law Review, February, 1913)

Once more a striking phrase has suddenly become a part of our everyday speech and with it a cause, though it is as yet a more or less indefinite cause, has found a measure of prosperity. It is an effective phrase, one in which an advertising agent or a seeker of political catch words must take a pure delight. "Interlocking directorates." You do not have to hear it often to find yourself thinking of the boards of directors of many of the big corporations in the land as mortised and fitted to work in perfect unison -- an interlocking, interchangeable, intercorporate marvel of the joiner's art. Nor does the imagination far outstrip the facts. In every city of any size how many interlocking corporations are there? How many are there in the big cities; some of state-wide importance, some of national or even international influence?

The Steel Corporation, for example, is a morsel to roll under any man's tongue. Here is the way it impresses one militant journalist:

The Steel Trust's advantage over competitors of three dollars a ton in cost of production, due not to superior efficiency but to the ownership of certain strategic railroads and steamship lines, is greatly enhanced by its relations to many other carriers. The few men who control the Steel Corporation are directors also in twenty-nine other railroad systems, with 126,000 miles of line -- more than half the railroad mileage of the United States -- and in steamship companies. These men are also directors in twelve steel-using street railroad systems, including some of the largest in the world; they are directors in forty machinery and similar steel-using companies; in many gas, oil, and water companies, extensive users of iron products; and in the great wire-using telephone and telegraph companies. The aggregate assets of these different corporations exceed sixteen billion dollars. Sixteen billion dollars is more than twice the assessed value of all the property of New England. It is more than one and one-half times the assessed value of all the property in the thirteen Southern States. It is larger than the assessed value of all the property in the twenty-two States, North and South, lying west of the Mississippi River, except only Texas.1

Interesting, even startling, but in a measure misleading, if these great properties are considered as being under a common control. The common control extends to a considerable part of them; with the others this relation means little more than ease of intercommunication

____________________
1
Collier's Weekly. Oct. 5, 1912. Compare the testimony taken by the Pujo investigating committee of the House of Representatives, especially that taken on Dec. 18, 1912.

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