Hand to Hand with the Coal Kings
If the big story of American politics in 1901 had been the ascent of Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency, the big story of American business was the creation of the United States Steel Corporation. The steel trust--the first American corporation capitalized at over one billion dollars--represented a marriage of the greatest names in American industry and finance: Andrew Carnegie, the strongman of steel, and John D. Rockefeller, the oil magnate whose holdings had long since spilled across the natural resources line into iron. J. P. Morgan, the banking Croesus, officiated; his blessing made the match possible.
The steel trust was the largest and most visible of the corporate combinations that increasingly controlled American economic life. Rockefeller's Standard Oil overspread a sophisticated system that brought petroleum out of the ground and refined it into kerosene for the lamps of that large majority not yet connected to the growing electrical grids, as well as into gasoline for the automobiles of that as yet very much smaller group that had traded horse power for horsepower. The American Sugar Refining Company had the country by the sweet tooth, while the hand of the National Biscuit Company was in cracker barrels from coast to coast. The leather trust shod America; the life insurance trust consoled survivors with cash; the concrete trust put the country on a firmer foundation than ever before.
In 1890 Congress had passed an antitrust act. But the Sherman Act, especially as it soon found its way into practice, struck many as less an honest attempt to corral corporations than a prophylactic against real