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Kaufman, B. (Spring 1977). “Oil and Antitrust

In this article Burton Kaufman explores the history of the U. S. Department of Justice’s antitrust case against the American oil cartels/conglomerates of the 1950s and 1960s. The suit, originally brought to light in the 1950s, was to address these U. S. based companies foreign commerce practices which were in violation of the nation’s anti-trust laws. Oil cartels like the ones shaped by U. S. oil company interests had the effect of limiting trade and creating unfair advantages to certain countries.

In 1952, under the Truman administration, the Justice department began the process of filing criminal indictments against the major oil companies including Standard Oil of New Jersey, Socony Mobil, Standard Oil of California, Texaco, and Gulf Oil. They were accused of working with international oil interests to monopolize and dominate the oil market. There was little free trade opportunity as it was largely controlled by these companies alone. Unfortunately for the means of antitrust legislation, the investigation coincided with the building tension of the Cold War and the employment of oil as a tool for the expanse of influence.

Oil interests became national security interests as the U. S. saw the Soviet Union competing for oil distribution area and exploration in

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the Middle East. The Iranian oil crisis of 1951, when Iran nationalized its oil interests in response to the monopolistic practices of British Petroleum. With the Soviet threat the antitrust case floundered in the courts and carried through two administrations, to be settled eventually as individual civil cases rather than criminal cases. While the oil companies had to discontinue some of their practices, they were still allowed a certain measure of freedom from the normal control of antitrust laws.

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