“To be pro-consumer militantly doesn’t mean to be militantly anti-business.”
Virginia Knauer, 1970
Consumer advocates used information, legal action, and political influence to protect and empower consumers. Consumer protection began with the formation of the National Consumers League in 1899 and gained strength in the 1930s. After World War II, advocates focused on food safety, product design, clear labeling, lending practices, and environmental regulation. Backed by consumer frustration, they achieved significant legislative victories, but they fell short of creating a federal agency dedicated to consumer affairs.
Safety has been the focus of much consumer advocacy. In a series of high-profile cases, industrial designer Byron Bloch and activist Ralph Nader challenged Ford to redesign the Pinto and better protect drivers from rear- impact crashes.
Consumer laws safeguarded children by eliminating poisonous chemicals, small and sharp parts, and other unforeseen hazards from toys, clothing, and furniture. Much of the legislation came from grassroots efforts by parents.
An Agency to Protect Consumers?
Advocates urged Congress to create an agency dedicated to consumer affairs. In 1977, Ralph Nader asked taxpayers to shower Congress with nickels demonstrating that the agency would cost each American only five cents a year. The Office of Consumer Affairs was established, but only in an advisory capacity.