The Interstate Commerce Commission, established in 1887, was the United States' first regulatory agency. Its purpose was to regulate transportation industries and affairs that involved crossing state borders. The need for the agency grew out of problems with the railroad industry in the late 19th century, and it survived through the late 20th century.
In the latter decades of the 19th century, many Americans grew unhappy with the way railroads did business. The companies were reputed for manipulating rates and otherwise making commerce difficult. For years, the federal government did not actively address these concerns. Some state governments tried to establish regulations in the absence of apparent federal concern, but the U.S. Supreme Court did not allow these decisions to stand.
The federal government eventually took action. In 1887, the Interstate Commerce Commission was established by the Interstate Commerce Act, which was signed into law by President Grover Cleveland. The agency aimed to help Americans by requiring that shipping rates be fair and by requiring that those rates be published. It was also given powers to investigate abuses and prosecute violators within the railroad industry.
For many years, however, the agency had limited abilities and was deemed ineffective. One problem was that its prosecution powers were limited to interstate railroads. It was also found that, despite the agency’s existence, court cases tended to favor the railroad companies.
The powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission grew during the 20th century, and eventually, it was given authority over all surface transportation, including buses, trucking companies, and water carriers. The agency also played a role in the Civil Rights Movement. As a regulator of surface transportation, it was responsible for helping to implement desegregation and eliminate discrimination.
The agency was widely criticized during its time, and it was accused of being ineffective and riddled with problems. A person could point to 1966 as the beginning of the agency’s demise. In this year, it was stripped of its authority over safety functions, which were given to the newly established Department of Transportation (DOT). Its power over rates was limited by the Staggers Rail Act and Motor Carriers Act in 1990. In 1994, the agency was officially eliminated.
Articles addressing the Interstate Commerce Commission often use the abbreviation ICC. General use of this abbreviation to represent this agency could, however, be problematic and perhaps should be avoided. ICC is widely used for popular and existing organizations, such as the International Chamber of Commerce.