What did Americans mean when they spoke of "the trusts?'
"Trust" had a particular legal and institutional meaning. When two or more businesses turned over control of their investments and operations to a third party, a "trustee" or a "board of trustees," they were creating "a trust." For the most part, trusts of this sort were illegal in business according to common law and, after 1890, by statutory law.
The word trust, or the phrase "the trusts," also had a broader meaning in the early twentieth century. Americans applied this term to large business firms. They especially applied the term "trust" to firms that had grown large and displaced smaller firms as they grew.