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Waters-Pierce Case

Bob C. Holcomb General Entry

The Waters-Pierce Case was perhaps the best-known suit brought by the state of Texas against a corporation for violation of its antitrust law. The case began in 1897 when Attorney General Martin M. Crane brought suit in state district court in Austin against Waters-Pierce Oil Company, charging that Waters-Pierce was a party to the Standard Oil of New Jersey trust agreement. The state court's ruling for the state, carrying a penalty of revocation of the company's charter and cancellation of its permit to do business in Texas, was upheld by the state's appeal courts. Early in 1900 the United States Supreme Court upheld the state courts' rulings.

Waters-Pierce was a Missouri corporation operated by its founder and president, Henry Clay Pierce, who immediately began to consider methods to circumvent the decision so that he could continue to operate his company in Texas; the technicalities of the court decision gave him the opportunity he needed. By the trust agreement Waters-Pierce was Standard Oil's marketing agent in Texas, and the court decided against the company because Waters-Pierce was a party to a trust agreement and not because it was a trust operating in Texas. In 1900 Pierce enlisted the support of Joseph W. Bailey, soon to be a United States senator, who spoke to state officials, including the governor, the attorney general, and the secretary of state, most of whom were Bailey's political allies. Pierce then reorganized the company under the same name by purchasing from Standard Oil the shares that had been placed in the trust. Since the reorganized company was an independent corporation in compliance with the laws of the state, Waters-Pierce was given a new permit to do business without ever having been expelled. Public reaction to the 1900 Waters-Pierce reentry was not favorable, and Bailey's pending election to the Senate by the legislature was delayed while an investigating committee explored his connection to the case. The committee's recommendation in 1901 that Bailey be exonerated on the grounds that he had not acted improperly was approved with virtually no opposition. Bailey did not receive a fee for his efforts on behalf of Waters-Pierce; however, he failed to mention to the investigating committee that he received a personal loan of $13,300 from Pierce, a fact that eventually forced him out of office.

No direct activity regarding Waters-Pierce and Bailey flared up again until 1906, when the state of Missouri brought suit against Waters-Pierce, claiming that it was part of the Standard Oil trust. When Pierce admitted the charge while testifying in Missouri, public reaction in Texas was immediate. Bailey ran unopposed in the July 1906 Democratic primary for reelection to the Senate. The legislature voted to return him to the United States Senate on January 20, 1907, but also determined to investigate his relationship with Waters-Pierce in light of the Missouri disclosures. The investigation not only revealed Pierce's loan to Bailey but also that Bailey had received some very large fees working as an attorney for several companies and wealthy individuals. Although the legislature adopted a report in February 1907 which again exonerated him of all charges of wrongdoing, his political integrity was impaired, and he did not run again for the Senate in 1912.

While Bailey's difficulties continued, Attorney General Robert V. Davidson's antitrust suit, initiated in 1906 against Waters-Pierce, was successful. The company was found guilty of violating the antitrust laws through its relationship to Standard Oil, its permit to do business in Texas was cancelled, and penalties of $1,623,000 were assessed. The decision was ultimately sustained by the United States Supreme Court, and in April 1909 Waters-Pierce paid more than $1,718,000 in fines and interest to the state of Texas. On December 7, 1909, the company's property in the state was sold for $1,431,741.78. The Waters-Pierce Case and the companion Bailey controversy symbolized for many Texas progressives the need for stronger regulation of corporations in the state and prepared the way for the reforms that occurred in Texas from 1906 to 1920.

Sam Hanna Acheson, Joe Bailey: The Last Democrat (New York: Macmillan, 1932; rpt., Freeport, New York: Book for Libraries Press, 1970). Frederick Upham Adams, The Waters-Pierce Case in Texas (St. Louis: Skinner and Kennedy, 1908). Joseph Weldon Bailey Papers, Dallas Historical Society. Alwyn Barr, Reconstruction to Reform: Texas Politics, 1876–1906 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971). Dallas Morning News, April 25, December 8, 1909. Lewis L. Gould, Progressives and Prohibitionists: Texas Democrats in the Wilson Era (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973; rpt., Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1992).


  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Politics and Government
  • Court Cases, Controversies, and Scandals
  • Oil and Gas Industry
  • Labor
  • Government and Labor

Time Periods:

  • Progressive Era

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Bob C. Holcomb, “Waters-Pierce Case,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 31, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

February 16, 2019