The world's first dedicated consumer rights and protection organization.

A now-defunct organization created in the United States in 1929 by Stuart Chase (1888-1985)  and F. J. Schlink (1891-1995; image of Mr. Schlink inset below within image of Consumer Research lab).

Although the company, Consumers' Research, Inc. had a tumultuous history, it spawned the Consumers Union and will always have a claim to being the world's first consumer rights organization.

In an article on Chase, Harvard Magazine wrote of the:

"1927 bestseller Your Money’s Worth, written with fellow consumer-advocacy pioneer F.J. Schlink. In 1929 the two men founded Consumers Research, a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization, the precursor to Consumers Union and its publication Consumer Reports."

Rutgers University which holds the archives of the corporation, writes:

"Consumers' Research was incorporated in New York City in 1929 as a result of the success of F.J. Schlink's and Stuart Chase's book Your Money's Worth. (The book) represented a challenge to American consumers to begin questioning the claims of advertisers and private industry

100,000,0000 Guinea Pigs"The organization was first formed as the Consumers' Club in 1927.

"Consumers' Research, Inc., tested and rated consumer products and disseminated the results of those findings to subscribers."

Initially under the auspices of the Consumer Club, the first "commodity lists" were been issued with auspicious warnings to attempt to avoid legal action by deep-pocket manufacturers. A sample: Shredded Wheat was recommended but Cream of Wheat was not.

In 1933, Schlink co-published 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics bemoaning the lack of systematic testing of consumer products then released irresponsibly to the American public, population 100-million; thus, the title.

Your Money's Worth had called for the establishment of a Consumer Foundation. In 1927, Schlink began to turn his idea into reality by proposing a:

"... strictly impartial, scientific, non-profit making, goods-investigating body to be financed by private subscription and various other services."

A $10,000 cash gift from heiress Dorothy Elmhirst. In December of 1929, the Consumer Club folded and the Consumers' Research Inc. was incorporated.

The beginning of the end for Consumers Research Inc. was in 1935:

"Early alliances with liberal groups and publications ended with a violent and unsuccessful strike by Consumers' Research employees in 1935. Because Consumers' Research board members believed the strike was Communist led, the political focus of CR became stridently anti-Communist.

"In 1936, the dismissed strikers and their supporters formed Consumers Union which publishes Consumer Reports."

Consumers Research Inc.The successor organization, Consumers Union, add their version to the record of history:

"(In 1933), Schlink moves Consumers' Research to the rural village of Washington, N.J. Engineers and journalists from New York City become disenchanted with rural life, long hours, and low pay. Requests for raises are denied. In 1935, three employees form a union. Schlink fires them. In September, 40 Consumers' Research employees go on strike, demanding reinstatement of the fired workers and a minimum wage of $16 a week. Seeing an unholy alliance of strikers and capitalist advertisers against consumers, Schlink retaliates with strikebreakers and armed detectives and charges that the strikers are red."

The newly-formed Consumers Union flourished to become, today, the largest national consumer protection agency in the world, and publisher of the widely-read Consumer Reports.

In the long run, the parent did not fare so well.

Consumers' Research Inc.:

"... was a going concern certainly into the 1970's, with thousands of really loyal subscribers. It is true the magazine began slowly to fail following that period, as the subscriber base eroded. But post war and through the 1950's and 1960's literally thousands of items were tested in an active, ongoing manner."1

Consumers Research Inc. was slowly and completely replaced in the public eye by the Consumers Union. Their main product, a magazine, Consumers' Research Magazine, their only sail, eventually failed. The company was sold to a private interest and the magazine is no longer published.

Schlink died in 1995 at the grand old age of 103 but able to see the tremendous improvement to consumer rights he had fostered with his 1929 his colleague Stuart Chase.

REFERENCES:

  • Chase, Stuart and Schlink, F.J., "The Tragedy of waste", New Republic, December 1925 and January 1926
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection
  • Hodson, William and Carfora, John, "Stuart Chase: Brief Life of a Public Thinker", Harvard Magazine, Sept-Oct. 2004, p. 38
  • NOTE 1: email from Frank Walker, April 27, 2012 [d_810 (at) operamail.com] who added: "I met Mr. F.J. Schlink on a couple of occasions when he was younger, and even as recently as perhaps circa the mid 1980's. He was a remarkable man. My association with Consumer's Research spans the years between roughly 1946 through the demise of the enterprise Mr. Schlink founded. I had no contact with CR following closure of the lab and sale to Mr. Evans, whom I did not know.... Regarding the laboratory, a photo of which you show, I visited that laboratory any number of times and stood among the lab benches your photo depicts. And BTW, I am a graduate of Washington High School, in Washington, New Jersey, USA. You see, sir, I was there."
  • Rutgers University, Special Collections and University Archives, An Inventory to the Records of Consumers' Research, Inc., 1910-1983