The oil industry has been ruthless in its pursuit of markets. But a combination of state backing and corruption were at the heart of the industry’s dominance.
While the US railroads were built through private investment, the roads were built for free by federal, state and local governments, massively aiding the rise of the oil and car companies.
Public money paid for the huge network of highways that was built and for the widening of the roads. Billions more dollars in public money came in 1956 with the Federal-Aid Highway Act funded the construction of 41,000 miles of highway.
The bill passed under the pretext that the US needed a freeway network in case of a possible invasion from Russia.
The post-war boom saw the rise of the “automobile-industrial complex” – the car, oil, steel, glass, rubber, highway construction, trucking and real estate industries connected to urban sprawl.
One consequence of this vested interest was the systematic smashing of the US public transport system.
General Motors, Standard Oil of California (Chevron), Phillips Petroleum and Firestone formed National City Lines.
This was part of an organised campaign to buy up and destroy electric rail systems operating in US towns and cities.
After buses replaced trams and trains the bus systems were often wound down too.
From 1936 to 1950 the National City Lines bought out and dismantled more than 100 systems in 45 cities – including New York, Detroit, Baltimore, Philadelphia, St Louis, Salt Lake City, Tulsa, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
Officials were frequently given Cadillacs for aiding the company plans. In 1949 the corporations were acquitted of conspiring to monopolise transportation services.
The companies behind National City Lines were each fined just $5,000, while each of their directors paid a $1 fine.