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July 2, 1884: During America's 'Gilded Age,' Congress Passes the Sherman Antitrust Act

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The Gilded Age saw the development of America's first giant corporations amid political scandals and the growth of railroad, oil and electric industry.

The Sherman Antitrust Act is born against this backdrop of increasing monopolies and abuses of power by large corporations.

This legislation was named for U.S. Sen. John Sherman of Ohio, who was an expert on the regulation of commerce.

The primary language of the Act outlaws all combinations that restrain trade between states or with foreign nations. A second key provision makes illegal all attempts to monopolize any part of trade or commerce in the United States.

For more than a decade after its passage, its only use was against trade unions, which were held by the courts to be illegal combinations. The first real enforcement of the Sherman Act occurred during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt.

In 1911, the Standard Oil company was ordered to break apart its major holdings—33 companies in all.

In 1914 Congress created the Federal Trade Commission, providing the government with an agency that had the power to investigate possible violations of antitrust legislation and issue orders forbidding unfair competition practices.

One notable example late in the 20th century was the 1984 breakup of the American Telephone & Telegraph Company, which left the parent company, AT&T, as a provider of long-distance service while seven regional “Baby Bell” companies provided local telephone service.

One of the largest antitrust suits since that time was brought against Microsoft Corporation.

In 2019 the Supreme Court allowed a large class action lawsuit alleging violations of antitrust law to proceed against Apple Inc.

In the same year, the Justice Department began a broad review of potentially anticompetitive behavior by “market-leading online platforms,” presumably including Google and Facebook, and a coalition of attorneys general from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico announced coordinated antitrust investigations into alleged monopolistic practices by Google.

The word 'Antitrust' will be in full force will be in full force as Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple prepare to appear before Congress later in July. 

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