The Texas Railroad Commission
Understanding Regulation in America to the Mid-twentieth Century
Business History - Texas History
6 x 9, 336 pp.
9 b&w photos., 1 map.
Pub Date: 09/01/2005
Kenneth E. Montague Series in Oil and Business History
  cloth
Price:        $35.00 s

978-1-58544-452-6
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Published by Texas A&M University Press
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The Texas Railroad Commission

Understanding Regulation in America to the Mid-twentieth Century

By William R. Childs

Before OPEC took center stage, one state agency in Texas was widely believed to set oil prices for the world. The Texas Railroad Commission (TRC) evolved from its founding in 1891 to a multi-divisional regulatory commission that oversaw not only railroads but also a number of other industries central to the modern American economy: petroleum production, natural gas utilities, and motor carriers (buses and trucks).

William R. Childs’s unprecedented study of the TRC from its founding until the mid-twentieth century extends our knowledge of commission-style regulation. It focuses on the interplay between business and regulators, between state and national regulatory commissions, and among the three branches of government through a process of “pragmatic federalism.”

Drawing on extensive primary research, Childs demonstrates that the alleged power of regulatory commissions has been more constrained than most observers have recognized. As he shows, the myth of power was devised by the agency itself as part of building a civil religion of Texas oil. Together, the myth and the civil religion enabled the TRC to convince Texas oil operators to follow production controls and thus stabilized the American oil industry by the 1940s.

The result of this fascinating study is a more nuanced understanding of federalism and of regulation, the forces shaping it, and its outcomes.

WILLIAM R. CHILDS is an associate professor of history at the Ohio State University. His earlier book Trucking and the Public Interest: The Emergence of Federal Regulation, 1914–1940 was listed by Choice magazine as an “Outstanding Academic Book.” He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin.

What Readers Are Saying:

“. . . the most in-depth study of Texas’ well-known regulatory commission through the 1930s. Professor Childs has done an impressive amount of research for this book [and] it will be an important contribution to the literature on Texas, regulation, and the TRC in particular.”--Christopher Castaneda, California State University–Sacramento

“. . . the most in-depth study of Texas’ well-known regulatory commission through the 1930s. Professor Childs has done an impressive amount of research for this book [and] it will be an important contribution to the literature on Texas, regulation, and the TRC in particular.” --Christopher Castaneda, California State University–Sacramento

“This is a superb history of the details of regulation and how they fit into the broader macro development of the American economy.” --EH.net

“Childs weaves the threads of biography, economics, and law to present a fascinating…account of the origins of administrative law…a striking narrative of the conditions that inexorably entwined big business with big government…Readers will come away with a candid picture of the extraordinary people and politics that shaped the ascendancy of transportation and petroleum production in Texas and a true understanding how oil and gas production is regulated to this day.” --The Antioch Review

“Childs’s study will be invaluable to scholars of both twentieth-century Texas and regulation.” --The Journal of American History

“Child’s has succeeded in ably chronicling and analyzing the complex history of Texas’s most important state agency of the twentieth century.” --Southwestern Historical Quarterly

“…an insightful study of the development of commission-style regulation…provides ample evidence of the solid influence that the TRC exercised…over the industries it regulated…his book provides a new and valuable framework for the study of the political economy of regulation…Childs has produced a book that is essential reading for anyone interested in the early history of commission-style regulation. Future studies in the field will no doubt reflect the influence of this work.” --Business History Review

“Childs’s sage analysis of the TRC is an important contribution to the developing history of the petroleum and natural gas business.” --Review of Texas Books

“In tracing the emergence of economic regulation from the perspective of Texas, Childs has produced a major book of institutional and policy history relevant to the larger study of economic development in the United States, the rise of governmental management of the economy between the 1880s and the 1950s and the movement toward deregulation since the 1970s. . . . In short, Childs has put some of the history back into ‘economic history.’” --American Historical Review

“…advances the study of American regulation by arguing forcefully for the importance of law, people, and culture in addition to the traditional focus on industry structure and ideology…provides a nuanced understanding of the TRC and its role in the development of the oil industry, highlighting its history, capabilities, and limitations…highly recommended for anyone interested in learning more about the history of American regulation. In particular, energy historians examining the role of regulation in energy markets as well as the history of the TRC will find this work very valuable.” --H-Net Reviews

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