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Giving Consumers a Fair Chance: The Ideological Battle over Mandatory Grading in the 1930s and 1940s

Authors


  • Inger L. Stole (istole@illinois.edu) is an Associate Professor at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The author wishes to thank Larry Kirsch for his support and encouragement and two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this article.

Abstract

This article explores the more than decade-long fight to establish quality standards for consumer products. Drawing on archival collections, trade publications, congressional hearings, and relevant secondary literature, it traces the ongoing debates over grading standards for consumer commodities in the 1930s and 1940s. It explores the arguments behind the creation of a mandatory grading system that would have aided citizens in their role as consumers, helped fight monopolistic tendencies during a severe economic depression, and supported government economic policies during a time of national crisis. While consumer advocates and a majority of the American public applauded the idea, advertisers, believing that the system would undermine their advertising claims, fought the proposals tooth and nail.

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