Although J.P. Morgan didn't control the world, he certainly was one of its wealthiest residents by the early 20th century. Morgan had built his fortune on railroads, banking, and steel, often employing ruthless tactics to conquer rivals. He eventually controlled a number of major corporations, including the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway, American Telephone & Telegraph (AT&T), and General Electric.
Morgan was able to build a business empire because the federal government exercised almost no regulation over companies at this time. Unemployment insurance didn't exist, there was no social security, scarcely any protective laws for workers, and—happily, for Morgan and his fellows—no income tax.
Pressure for change came from the Midwest, particularly in Kansas, where a third political party triumphed in the 1890 elections. The Populists or People's Party called for a number of reforms, among them government regulation of railroads and other monopolies. Today it's hard to imagine the power once exercised by railroads, but in the 19th century they could break farmers through assessing high fees for shipment of agricultural products to market. Railroad magnates also indulged in widespread bribery of politicians. While an economic depression in the mid-1890s allowed Morgan and other financiers to consolidate railroads and other businesses, it also turned public opinion against them and in favor of reform.
Although the Populists' political influence lasted only a few years, a number of their ideas came to be adopted by other reformers who followed. Proponents of the Progressive Movement believed the federal government should regulate business and industry for the good of all society, and they had broad support across the country. Journalists known as "muckrakers" encouraged the spread of progressive ideals by exposing political corruption, reporting on the growth of monopolies, and divulging business activities that stifled competition.
Kansas artist Albert Reid was no muckraker, but he did work at a time of widespread support for the journalistic exposé and the progressive ideals it embodied. Reid was born in Concordia in 1873 and grew up in Clyde. He won a political cartoon contest sponsored by the Topeka Mail and Breeze in 1896, and this inspired publisher Arthur Capper to offer him a job. Reid quickly rose to fame in Kansas circles. His art eventually appeared in the Kansas City Star, Chicago Record, New York Herald, McClure's, Saturday Evening Post, and other national magazines.
Much of Reid's early work deals with antitrust subjects. This cartoon is undated, but it probably appeared in the Kansas City Journal during the first decade of the 20th century. Reid's other cartoons from this time reference trusts (monopolies) controlling the manufacture and distribution of oil, gas, beef, and even ice. This particular drawing may address J.P. Morgan's merger of Carnegie Steel and National Steel in 1901 to create the massive United States Steel Corporation, controlling over half the nation's production. It also might refer to the Panic of 1907 in which Morgan and other financiers pledged millions of their own dollars to save the nation's banking system after a colleague caused its collapse. Or it may reference any number of other mergers brokered by Morgan before his death in 1913.
The public outrage resulting from the attention given by Reid and other editorial cartoonists to the monopolists helped fuel change. By 1920, reforms enacted included a central banking system (the Federal Reserve), a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, and an act limiting work hours for children.
This cartoon is one of over 600 original sketches donated to the Kansas Historical Society in 1960 (two years after Reid's death) by the daughter of Charles Gleed, publisher of the Kansas City Journal. It is in the collections of the Society's Kansas Museum of History.
Entry: Antitrust Cartoon
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: September 2010
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.