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History of the Railroad Commission of Texas

Hey Everyone! I'm glad you want to learn more about how the Railroad Commission got started.

Well, it all began back in 1889, when Attorney General James S. Hogg was fighting with supporters of the railroads. Mr. Hogg had actually sued a number of railroad companies, as well as the Texas Traffic Association (the organization that decided how much people should pay to ride the trains or ship goods on them) because he thought some of the railroads were trying to take over the entire industry and keep other railroad companies from having a fair shot at competing with them for customers. Mr. Hogg decided to run for Governor of Texas, and he promised people that if they elected him, he would create a commission to regulate the railroads and make sure they didn't do anything illegal. Well, you can imagine that some of the railroads weren't too happy about that, especially when he won the election and became Governor in 1890.

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Governor Hogg
Governor James Hogg
Railroad Commission Secretary E.R. McLean
Railroad Commission Secretary E. R. McLean with staff members in Capitol office in early 1900's

 

 

Texas Capitol in 1892
Texas Capitol in 1892

The people, though, were happy that Governor Hogg was going to do something about the problem. At first they had supported the railroads. Forty years earlier, in 1850, Bexar County had been the first of many counties to issue bonds to railroad companies to encourage them to lay tracks in the area. Two years later, in 1852, the state government even began giving railroad companies land for every mile of track completed.

In the Eastern United States, railroads usually followed the people. As people began leaving big cities to move out west, they built railroads to connect their new small towns with the big cities they came from. For Texas, though, it was the other way around. Texas didn't have many big cities, so the state government wanted to get more people to move out to Texas. One way to encourage this was to build railroads to make it easy for people to move here and travel back and forth to the East. However, it takes a lot of money to get a railroad up and running, and some of the companies were afraid that they would spend too much money to build the railroad lines and then not make enough back in profit. That explains why the state offered free land (and even loaned money) to the railroads-they had to get them out to Texas somehow.

Some railroads were given extra sections of land that ran near the railroad, so as soon as the companies had finished building railway lines in that spot, they sold their extra land to settlers from the East and from Europe. Sometimes the railroad companies even helped the new community build courthouses, jails, and schools, because the more people they could get to move to Texas, the more people would use the railroad, and the more money the railroad companies would make.

After the Civil War, two major railway lines were completed. The Texas and Pacific Railway Company finished building its railway line from Texarkana to Sherman and from Longview to Eagle Ford-a total of 251 miles-in 1873. Then, in 1881, the line moved from Fort Worth toward El Paso, using a land grant from the State for 5,338,528 acres! Not surprisingly, by 1882 the State didn't have any more public land left to give to the railroads.

John H. Reagan, 1st Chairman of the Commission
John H. Reagan, first Chairman of the Railroad Commission

 

Railroad Commission office in early 1900's
Railroad Commission office on the fourth floor of the Capitol in the early 1900's

 

Engineering Division of RRC in 1900's
Engineering Division of the Railroad Commission office in early 1900's

 

 

R. A. Thompson, Chief Engineer, 1902
R. A. Thompson, Railroad Commission Chief Engineer in 1902

About that time, people began to realize how much power the railroad companies held. Dirt roads for wagons were rough and short, and there weren't even any waterways to use for shipping goods in and out of Texas. Railroads were the only way people could ship materials and products, and believe me, the railroads realized how important they were. Some of the major railway companies formed an organization, the Texas Traffic Association, which set prices for using the railroads at whatever they felt people would pay. In some cases, it was cheaper to ship something from Texas all the way to another state than it was just to ship it to another Texas city. M. M. Crane, a prominent Texas political leader of the time, described the situation like this: "The owners of the railroads were like many other people," he said. "Having the power to charge what they pleased, they were never overly modest in fixing their compensation." Basically, the railroads knew that people depended on them, and they wanted to use that to make as much money as possible.(next page)

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