Durward W. Long


The purchase of four million acres of land from the State of Florida by Hamilton Disston at the rate of $.25 an acre brought with it several important developments. Funds received by the state from this purchase enabled the trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund to free state land from litigation which had prevented the sale of land under their control. After the sale, the trustees were free once more to extend land grants to railroad companies. The practical effect was a great increase in railroad construction in the years following. Between 1880 and 1888 the mileage of track increased more than four times over, from 519 to 2,326 miles. Many railroad companies, small and weak initially, overextended themselves and were forced into bankruptcy or consolidation. Struggling to prevent financial ruin, the railroads charged high rates on seasonal products in areas where there was no competition and low rates in towns where other carriers fought for a share of the trade. Certain larger shippers were given rebates or lower rates than the small customer. Intrastate rates were raised to a nearly prohibitive level in order to balance the low interstate charges where competition was sharpest. In addition to grievances over these practices, farmers and businessmen alike complained that the services of the carriers were irregular and poor. Other states had responded to similar problems in the post Civil War era by creating a regulatory body called in most states a railroad commission. By 1886 at least twenty-five states had such an agency; five others regulated by legislation. The federal government followed suit in 1887 by establishing the Interstate Commerce Commission, authorized to regulate railroad traffic and practices.