The Gary Dinners and the Meaning of Concerted Action
SMU Law Review, Vol. 62, Forthcoming
24 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2009 Last revised: 12 Apr 2010
Date Written: February 25, 2009
Between 1907 and 1911, executives of American steel manufacturers gathered in a series of social events and meetings that became known as the Gary dinners. At the meetings, the participants announced the prices they intended to charge, but made no promises that they would adhere to those prices. The architect of the dinners, Judge Elbert H. Gary, chairman of the board of the United States Steel Corporation, saw them as a lawful way to stabilize steel prices by fostering information-sharing and an ethos of cooperation. The government agreed that the dinners stabilized prices, but took a different view of their legality: it brought suit in 1911, asking the court to dissolve U.S. Steel as an illegal monopoly. In 1915, the trial court held that the dinners amounted to price fixing, but that U.S. Steel's resort to them only proved that the firm could not control steel prices on its own and therefore could not have monopolized the industry. In 1920, the Supreme Court affirmed.
Commentators have long questioned the holding that U.S. Steel lacked monopoly power. In this essay, however, I focus on the intermediate conclusion that the dinners involved concerted action. I describe the legal and historical circumstances in which the dinners occurred and what happened at them. I then examine how the courts analyzed the dinners and extract some lessons that might help modern courts clarify the boundaries of the Sherman Act's agreement requirement.
Keywords: antitrust, cartel, price fixing, concerted action, monopolization, Gary dinners, United States Steel
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