What is the Mann Elkins Act of 1910?
The Mann Elkins act of 1910 was signed into law in June of 1910 by President William Howard Taft. The law, along with the Hepburn act of 1906, greatly strengthened the responsibilities, and authority, of the Interstate Commerce Commission to include the regulation of telephone, telegraph, and cable companies as well as railroad companies. The Mann Elkins Act, along with the Hepburn Act, gave the Interstate Commerce commission the authority to control interstate rail rates and practices.
Interstate Commerce Act
The history of the Mann Elkins Act begins with the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The Act also created a 5 member body called the Interstate Commerce Commission that had complete oversight of the railroad industry to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud and discrimination.
The Interstate Commerce Act was a direct result of the unscrupulous policies of the railroad industry. After the Civil War railroad industries were primarily unregulated and each company held a natural monopoly. They were regarded with distrust by much of the public, who felt that the railroad industry was forming a monopoly and accused them with corruption, stock manipulation and rate discrimination.
The railroad industry was controlled by only a small number of individuals like J. P. Morgan. These individuals took advantage of the natural monopolies given them and individual passengers for branch service rides while, at the same time, giving rebates and beneficial rates to large industry.
The states could do nothing about the actions of the railroad companies because, as the Supreme Court stated in a railroad case, the railroads constituted interstate commerce and could only be delegated Interstate Commerce Commission.
Hepburn Act of 1906
Despite the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission the federal government still had little enforcement over the railroad industry. In 1906 the Hepburn Act was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Theodore Roosevelt. It gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to set maximum railroad rates, institute "just and reasonable" maximum rates and abolished rebates and free rides to "loyal shippers." The Hepburn Act also authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to view the financial records of the railroad industry and covered bridges, terminals, ferries, sleeping cars, and oil pipelines.
The Mann Elkins Act of 1910
Section 7 of the Mann Elkins Act specifies that "the provisions of this Act shall apply to any corporation engaged in the transportation of oil or other commodity, except water and natural or artificial gas, by means of pipelines….and to telegraph, telephone and cable companies engaged in sending messages from one State, Territory, or District of the United States, to any other State, Territory, or District of the United States or to any foreign country."
By this provision of the Mann Elkins Act the federal government, through the Interstate Commerce Commission authorized the complete federal regulation of transport and communication between states, territories and the District of Columbia.
The Mann Elkins Act created a court to adjudicate matters involving disputes over interstate commercial activity. The court was designated to be the equivalent of a federal circuit court with disputes to be immediately appealable to the United States Supreme Court.
Other regulations in the Mann Elkins Act include that the rates shall be "just & reasonable" based on the determinations made from time to time by the Interstate Commerce Commission including different rate structures for different classes of communication and transport as well as requiring receipts describing the rates and tariffs charged. It outlawed free passes to all of those who are not "employees of the company or family members."
In 1934 President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Communications Act which essentially incorporated the Acts involving telephone service, the Mann-Elkins Act, with those of radio to create one Act that would encompass all forms of mass communication. The goal of the Communications Act was to have broadcasting and telecommunication governed by one regulatory agency. This Act officially created the Federal Communication Commission to regulate and police communication within the United States. The act did not allow for price regulation through the FCC.
With regard to the regulation f the railroad industry, that power was eventually swallowed up by the creation of the Department of Transportation in 1966.