The Interstate Commerce Commission, created by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, was the first regulatory commission in U.S. history and was established due to mounting public indignation in the 1880s against railroad malpractices and abuses.
The ICC’s authority was expanded to cover all common carriers except airplanes by 1940, in addition to railroads. The ICC’s enforcement powers to set rates were also continuously strengthened through legislation and the Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Constitution’s commerce clause. The agency’s investigative powers were also expanded to determine fair rates of return, which served as the basis for setting rates.
The ICC was responsible for combining railroad systems and resolving labor conflicts in interstate transportation. During the 1950s and 1960s, the ICC enforced U.S. Supreme Court decisions to integrate passenger terminal facilities.
In 1966, the safety responsibilities of the ICC were moved to the Department of Transportation while the ICC kept its rate-making and regulatory tasks. However, in line with the trend towards deregulation, the Staggers Rail Act and Motor Carriers Act of 1980 reduced the ICC’s authority over rates and routes in the railroad and trucking industries.
In 1994, the majority of ICC’s regulation of interstate trucking was eliminated, leading to the agency’s termination in 1995. The Surface Transportation Board was established and took on some of the ICC’s remaining responsibilities.