Consumers' Research

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Consumers' Research, an early linchpin of the consumer movement, was established in 1929 by Frederick Schlink and Stuart Chase. Mr. Schlink had worked at the National Bureau of Standards and at the American Standards Association; Mr. Chase was a researcher and writer. In 1927, the two published "Your Money's Worth," a book that sounded an alarm about the unscrupulous, often manipulative selling tactics being used by some advertisers at the time.

"Your Money's Worth" became a best-seller, and Messrs. Schlink and Chase decided that the time had come to establish standards for manufacturers and advertisers and to conduct scientific tests of products for the benefit of consumers. With financial and editorial assistance from patrons and friends, they transformed the Consumer Club of White Plains, N.Y.—a group they had founded in 1927—into Consumers' Research Inc., with headquarters in New York.

Successful publications

Between 1930 and 1935, Consumers' Research published three separate periodicals. The Handbook of Buying (1930-35) appeared either annually or semiannually. The bimonthly Confidential Bulletin Service (1930-32) featured the results of tests conducted by or for Consumers' Research on products ranging from alarm clocks and automobiles to men's underwear and vacuum cleaners; it also published general articles on such topics of interest to consumers as food, fur coats, gardening and heating. Another bimonthly, the General Bulletin (1931-35), offered information on consumer and political issues.

Even in the midst of the Great Depression, those publications were successful. Indeed, the number of subscribers increased substantially during the first few years, reaching 33,000 by 1932.

In 1933, Consumers' Research moved from New York to Washington, N.J., and the following year it moved to Bowerstown, outside Washington. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected president, the organization increased its political activities, which included lobbying in Washington on behalf of consumers.

Mr. Schlink and Arthur Kallet, who served as executive secretary of the board of directors, published "100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs & Cosmetics" in 1933. The book examined the ingredients of certain popular products and called for legislation that would require companies to disclose ingredients and additives in food products. It became a best-seller and inspired other similar exposes. (In 1937, the book influenced Congress to revise the Food & Drug Act of 1906.)

The organization suffered a major setback in September 1935 as the result of a dispute between employees and the board of directors. The employees had formed a union and requested a meeting with the board. Some board members who agreed to meet with employees were dismissed.

More than 40 employees went on strike, but Mr. Schlink and other board members refused to compromise. Eventually a riot erupted, and physical violence ensued. The National Labor Relations Board heard arguments from representatives of both sides in the dispute and ruled in favor of the union. When Consumers' Research appealed the decision and again lost, it chose to ignore the NLRB ruling.

Rival organization

The strike finally ended in January 1936. Mr. Kallet and Dewey Palmer, members of the board who had gained the trust of the union, left Consumers' Research. Later that same year, they helped form a rival organization, Consumers Union.

After the strike, Consumers' Research maintained a smaller staff, while concentrating more on testing and rating products than on political activities. Consumers' Research published the Consumers' Research Bulletin from 1935 to 1957, the Consumers Bulletin Annual (1936-73), Consumers Digest (1937-42) and Consumers Bulletin (1957-73). In 1973, the organization changed the name of its primary periodical to Consumers' Research Magazine.

In 1981, partly because of Mr. Schlink's advancing age, Consumers' Research was sold to conservative radio commentator M. Stanton Evans, who moved the enterprise to Washington. The testing laboratories in New Jersey were closed two years later, by which time membership was declining.

Consumers' Research Magazine continued to be published, but because the parent organization no longer conducted product tests, the format changed. At the turn of the 21st century, the magazine, featuring articles based on government reports, had far fewer subscribers than Consumers Union's popular Consumer Reports.

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