Truth-in-Fabric Legislation

In 1924, during the 68th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate held hearings on legislation collectively titled "Truth-in-Fabric and Misbranding Bills." The issues covered by these bills had been debated in a bill initially introduced in the House in 1920, but no law had been enacted. The goal of the truth-in-fabric bills was to create a law requiring that garments be marked with a label specifying content, so that consumers would know what they were buying. Supporters of the legislation likened its consumer-protection value to that of the Pure Food and Drug law enacted in 1906. (DETAIL NOTE Dr. Harvey Wiley)

Truth-in-fabric legislation was considered a necessity by those who felt that the woolen industry should be regulated, specifically, those interested in identifying "virgin wool." It had become an increasingly common practice to fabricate garments from "shoddy" or reworked wool, wool recycled from old or used garments, and either claim or allow the consumer to assume that they were made of the highest quality fiber. (The word "shoddy" originally drew its meaning from the woolen industry and signified wool of inferior quality, evolving over time to signify, more broadly, anything of inferior quality.)

Truth in Fabric and Misbranding Bills (1924) is a record of the hearings on the wool issue held before the subcommittee of the Senate's Committee on Interstate Commerce. Present at the hearing were Senator Arthur Capper, Republican from Kansas and publisher of Household Magazine, sponsor of the French-Capper bill, a different "truth-in-fabric" bill; and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Republican from Massachusetts, sponsor of more comprehensive misbranding legislation, who felt, as did the hearing witness Lew Hahn, Managing Director of the National Retail Dry Goods Association, that "misbranding or misrepresentation is just as bad for the consumer of one article as it is for the consumer of every other article. I do not think wool is the only one. . . . Whatever bill we adopt should apply to misbranding and misrepresentation of all articles in interstate commerce" (p. 19). (DETAIL NOTE Dry Goods)

Also present at the hearing was Senator James Couzens of Michigan, formerly Henry Ford's right-hand man in the auto business, whose repartee with witnesses highlights a different aspect of his character than is in evidence in the selections from his papers included in the collection. (DIRECTORY NOTE James Couzens Papers) Couzens sparked some pretty lively exchanges over the issue of consumer protection. To one witness' account of having bought an expensive wool overcoat that wore like "shoddy," Senator Couzens replied, "You are not a good buyer." The witness, a man from the National Board of Farm Organizations, countered, "A man who buys one overcoat every two years can not [sic] pick out shoddy" (p. 12).

The Honest Cloth file in the National Consumers League Papers bears on this effort to pass truth-in-fabric legislation.

None of the fabric bills debated in 1924 became law during the 68th Congress.


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