The takeover battle for Erie Railroad is legend. In 1868, Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad baron, began to build an undisclosed equity position in Erie. When the group controlling Erie discovered this, they quickly acted to their own advantage, issuing a substantial number of additional shares of Erie stock for Vanderbilt to purchase. One of the managers, James Fisk, purportedly said at the time that “if this printing press don’t break down, I’ll be damned if I don’t give the old hog all he wants of Erie.” The parties then arranged for their own bought judges to issue dueling injunctions prohibiting the other from taking action at Erie. The battle climaxed when Erie’s management fled to New Jersey with over $7 million in Erie’s funds. By the time the dust settled, they were still in control and Vanderbilt was out over $1 million (details from Gordon, 2004; Markham, 2002).
The Erie story is apocryphal, but informative for any attempt to measure the effect of takeover laws. Takeover laws are enacted to regulate takeover activity, and they often take the form of anti-takeover laws intended to thwart hostile takeovers. However, these laws can have the opposite effect of their intended purpose. Although they provide protection to targets, they also implicitly rule out certain defensive tactics and therefore provide protection and increased certainty for prospective hostile bidders. In the case of Erie, it is the bidder that may have benefited from more legal structure, not the target.