A Brief History of Monopolies in Colorado

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Gaps in federal and state monopoly laws alike have led to a variety of local statutes addressing shortfalls since the late 1800s. / Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash.

In the early 1900s, monopolies towered over a significant portion of American industries, prompting anti-trust legislation first at the federal level with state laws that followed. But the gaps in federal and state laws alike have led to a variety of local statutes addressing shortfalls since the late 1800s.

In April 1903, the Herald Democrat reported the Supreme Court would settle the question of whether or not one man should have a monopoly on all the liquor business in a railroad camp at Rollinsville, Colorado, an unincorporated town just outside of Black Hawk. The newspaper reported the camp, which held “over 1,000 men, most of whom take a drink now and then,” may have been subject to a statute of Gilpin County that limited the number of liquor licenses the county commissioners could grant to railroad camps. 

“The law provides that county commissioners shall not grant licenses for saloons in railroad camps where more than [25] men are employed, except to dealers who have been in business at the location of the camp six months prior to the employment of [25] men,” the Herald Democrat reported. The Gilpin County law would have made the single saloon operating with a license in the area a monopoly based on the number of men employed in the camp. 

Trust busting was fully underway in the U.S. by this time too. Between 1900 and 1920, antitrust and monopoly reforms were sweeping across the nation and the Clayton Antitrust Act passed in 1914, which picked up on the shortfalls of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The newly established Federal Trade Commission enforced the Clayton Antitrust Act, which banned price discrimination and anticompetitive mergers and made strikes, boycotts and labor unions legal federally. States have also taken up the mantle since then to address unfair business practices.

The Colorado Antitrust Act of 1992 took aim at a myriad of issues that had plagued the state since the late 1880s including illegal restraints on trade and commerce. But the issue of monopolies continues to have a heavy impact on the state’s business diversity, particularly in public utilities. 

Xcel Energy, for example, continues to tread a tightrope as a regulated monopoly in Colorado, a complex area in the law that allows monopolies to operate under certain constraints. The “regulated utility” model has garnered criticism from consumer advocates, according to CPR News, which last month covered a ballot initiative aimed at Xcel’s profits and rate increases.

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