|

Timeline

1930s

Permanents, 1938
Getting a permanent wave is "almost a national pastime" and the price has dropped to a $1.

1933
Arthur Kallet, an engineer and director of Consumers' Research, and Frederick Schlink, an engineer, publish "100,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics." It is "intended not only to report dangerous and largely unsuspected conditions affecting food, drugs, and cosmetics, but also, so far as possible, to give the consumer some measure of defense against such conditions."

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.

1935
Three employees of Consumers' Research, with the assistance of the American Federation of Labor, 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."

1936
Amherst College economics professor Colston Warne delivers a speech titled "Protecting Consumers' Rights," in which he states, "There is in New York City now a consumers' laboratory which tests products, and rates them as to their quality. It is owned and controlled by organized consumers. This laboratory is called the Consumers' Union." Warne became one of the founders of Consumers Union and chaired its board from 1936 to 1979.

1936
Strikers from Consumers' Research start their own organization. In February, the State of New York grants a charter for Consumers Union, set up to provide consumers with "information and counsel on . . . goods and services" and "maintain laboratories . . . to supervise and conduct research and tests." Arthur Kallet is appointed director.

1936
In May, Consumers Union Reports appears, with articles on Grade A and Grade B milk, breakfast cereals, soap, and stockings. A three-tiered Ratings scheme--Best Buy, Also Acceptable, and Not Acceptable--is adopted to present the results of scientific tests of products. An article on credit unions explains why they're better than banks, and an article on the efficacy of Alka-Seltzer concludes that its claims, when analyzed, "vanish like the gas bubbles in the air." Circulation is a little more than 4000.

1936
Lawrence Crooks, independently wealthy and with a passion for cars, joins the Consumers Union staff and heads up its Auto Test Division until 1966. Because the organization at first can't afford to buy many new cars, he buys them himself or borrows them from friends. Early reports focus on taking care of cars or tires.

1937
In the midst of the Great Depression, CU has little money to buy products to test, so many early reports are on inexpensive items like electric fans, hot water bottles, and radios.

1939
An article in Reader's Digest, "Guinea Pigs, Left March!", attacks Consumers Union. "They are out to discredit, if not to destroy, the system." Good Housekeeping, whose Seal of Approval Consumer Reports calls a fraud, in turn accuses Consumer Reports of prolonging the Depression.


1940s

Small cars, 1948
The tiny Crosley, at about $1,000, is the least expensive American-made car.

1940
Consumers Union Reports starts asking its readers about their experiences with various products on its Annual Questionnaire. On the first questionnaire, there are nine questions, including one about whether the magazine should be sold on the newsstand.

1941
The organization builds a soundproof room to test radios. Today, an "anechoic" chamber designed so all sound is absorbed by the walls, is just one of seven special test environments and 50 laboratories in the National Testing and Research Center in Yonkers, N.Y.

1942
Consumers Union changes the name of its magazine to make it clearer that it serves all consumers, not just union members.

1946
Circulation of Consumer Reports: 100,000.

1950s

Electric dishwashers, 1952
The best models wash most dishes clean enough to please even a very fastidious consumer.

1950
Pent-up demand for consumer products explodes. Subscriptions to Consumer Reports reach nearly 400,000.

1951
The Newspaper Guild of New York begins representing Consumers Union's unionized staff.

1952
The first automobile Frequency-of-Repair tables appear in Consumer Reports, based on readers' responses to the Annual Questionnaire.

1953
Consumer Reports publishes the first in a
series of reports on the tar and nicotine content of cigarette smoke and health hazards of smoking. Information on exactly what cigarettes contained was available from no other source at the time.

1954
Consumers Union moves its headquarters from Union Square in New York City to a converted factory building in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

1954
Consumer Reports tests its first color TV sets, Westinghouse models that cost $1,295. They're rated excellent at showing stationary objects, but moving objects appeared blurred.

1954
The Senate "condemns" Joseph McCarthy, the Republican from Wisconsin, thus ending the so-called McCarthy Era. The same year, the House Un-American Activities Committee announces it's dropping Consumers Union from its list of subversive organizations. In 1940, Consumer Reports had laughed off such accusations. "If the condemnation of worthless, adulterated, and misrepresented products is a communistic activity, then the Federal Food & Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the American Medical Association must be paid direct from Moscow."

1959
Consumer Reports starts reporting on the strontium-90 content of the U.S. diet, particularly milk--contamination caused by fallout from the testing of nuclear weapons.

1960s

Portable electric hair dryers, 1961
This model is typical of dryers that constrain the user with a short, close-coupled hood.

1960
Consumers Union helps found the International Organization of Consumers Unions, which fosters the consumer movement and consumer magazines worldwide. (Now known as Consumers International, it is one of several consumer institutions founded or aided by CU.)

1962
Consumer Reports, in its first report on auto insurance, finds that rates vary by hundreds of dollars and calls for reforms.

1962
Rachel Carson writes "Silent Spring." Consumers Union helps bring the book to public attention by publishing a special edition.

1965
Toyota introduces the Corona in the U.S. It lists for less than $2000. Consumer Reports tests a Corona the next year and gives it a favorable review, particularly its "special virtues for long-distance driving." In the tests, it surpasses the Volkswagen "Beetle," but not the Opal Kadett.

1965
Ralph Nader writes "Unsafe at Any Speed." He joins CU's board in 1967 and serves eight years.

1970s

Household extension ladders, 1973
We judge rigidity by making side-by-side comparisons of ladders at fullest extensions.

1970
The National Commission on Product Safety, established in part because of all the products through the years that Consumer Reports had found to be unsafe and therefore Not Acceptable, recommends the creation of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

1972
CU establishes a consumer-advocacy office in Washington, D.C. Offices in San Francisco and Austin, Texas, follow.

1974
Consumer Reports publishes a three-part series on the contamination of America's water, describing the then-widespread pollution of community water systems, with recommendations for cleaning them up and setting up citizen-action programs around the country. The series wins the magazine's first National Magazine Award (it has now won four), along with other awards.

1980s

1980
Consumer Reports starts a TV department and a magazine for kids called Penny Power (later Zillions).

1983
Consumer Reports starts an auto price service.

1985
Consumer Reports starts a newsletter on travel, Consumer Reports Travel Letter.

1987
The Auto Test Department moves to a 327-acre state-of-the-art test track and auto-testing facility in East Haddam, Conn.

1987
Consumer Reports becomes available online through the Prodigy service. It becomes available on CompuServe later that year and on America Online in 1992.

1989
Consumer Reports starts a health newsletter, Consumer Reports Health Letter (now Consumer Reports on Health).

1990s

1991
Consumers Union moves its headquarters to Yonkers, N.Y. The Consumer Reports National Testing and Research Center holds 50 state-of-the-art laboratories in the 250,000 square-foot facility.

1992
Consumer Reports reaches 5 million paid circulation, making it one of the largest magazines in the U.S.

1995
Consumers Union produces its first multimedia CD-ROM, on automobiles.

1997
Consumer Reports Online (now ConsumerReports.org) is inaugurated. Paid subscriptions pass 800,000 in May 2002, making it one of the most successful subscription sites on the Web.

2000s

2001
Rhoda H. Karpatkin, who led CU as its President for 27 years, retires. James A. Guest, who chaired CU's Board of Directors between 1980 and 2000, becomes CU's sixth President.

2002

ConsumerReports.org hits the one-million paid subscriber mark. Today, ConsumerReports.org has more paid subscribers than any other publication-based Web site.

2003

Consumers Union celebrates the 50th Anniversary of its Annual April Auto Issue with a special bigger-than-ever commemorative edition that takes a look back at the evolving role of its test program and safety efforts, while helping consumers get the right vehicle at the right price today. The very first auto issue in 1953 covered 50 cars compared to the 2003 edition, which covered a 210-vehicle mix of cars, pickups, minivans, and SUVs.

For the first time, Consumers Union offers its readers and all consumers the opportunity to make their voices heard in the marketplace through interactive online campaigning. The organization transitions its advocacy offices to cover the entire United States, and one of its first campaigns—the reduction of hospital acquired infections—takes immediate hold, mobilizing thousands of activists and eventually leading to laws in more than half the states in the country.

2004
The "Pets & Vets" cover story in the first issue of a redesigned Consumer Reports magazine wins a National Magazine Award.

The Consumer Reports Money Adviser, the CR New Car Buying Kit, and the online version of Consumer Reports on Health are launched as new tools for 21st century consumers.

2006
ShopSmart, a shopping magazine geared at women aged 30 to 45, launches as a quarterly magazine with the credo "No Hype + No Ads + Just Great Buys!"

Consumers Union received a National Press Club award for consumer journalism for "New Concerns About Ionizing Air Cleaners" and "Air Cleaners: Some Do Little Cleaning."

2007
ConsumerReportsHealth.org Web site and the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center are launched to meet consumers' demand for health information from a trusted source.

2008
ConsumerRerports.org surpasses 3 million subscribers, the most of any Web site of its kind.

Consumer Reports on Health newsletter reaches 640,000 subscribers, up almost 30 percent over three years.

Consumers Union plays a critical role in the passage of a law to overhaul the Consumer Product Safety Commission and make children's products safer.

We launch the Cover America Tour to document consumers' experiences as part of our larger effort to improve the quality, safety, and accessibility, of health care. We visit 80 cities in an RV, log 17,620 miles, connect with thousands of people at events, and collect 100 stories on video.

2009
On January 1, 2009, Consumers Union acquires The Consumerist, a popular, edgy, and irreverent consumer news and advice Web site. The acquisition brings with it a young, tech-savvy audience. While its tone is different, The Consumerist is perfectly aligned with Consumers Union's mission of marketplace empowerment.

Consumers Union publishes a guide in both English and Spanish on the transition to digital television to help analog television owners understand the switch. The Federal Communications Commission pays for and distributes more than 1 million copies.

Consumers Union forms a coalition of regulators and educators to distribute critical safety and recall information to millions of parents and caregivers at www.clickcheckandprotect.org.

2010s

2010
To be available anytime and anywhere consumers need us, Consumers Union makes a big leap to the really small screen with Consumer Reports Mobile, which delivers ratings of popular product categories instantly to cell phones. Consumers can compare performance and price, view test scores, and get details of the products.We also launch the Consumer Reports Mobile Shopper, which allows consumers to scan product barcodes right in the store and access all current Ratings and recommendations.

Thanks to legislation Consumers Union helped pass, the number of Americans with comprehensive health insurance will dramatically rise—by an estimated 32 million—by 2014.

CU helps secure sweeping regulatory reforms, including the creation of a new financial watchdog to oversee the many money products offered to consumers. We also successfully advocate for a new Federal Reserve rule that requires banks to get customers' permission first before enrolling them in costly debit-card overdraft loan programs.

2011

Consumer Reports celebrates its 75th anniversary with a celebration at New York City's Grand Central Terminal. Read more about the organization's history and visit our 75th-anniversary event page.