Warren G. Magnuson and consumer protection
Senator Warren G. Magnuson, a Democrat from Washington, contributed to the passage of virtually every major piece of federal consumer protection legislation enacted in the United States between 1960 and 1975. Before this period Magnuson, who gained the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee in 1955, was generally considered a friend of business. His participation in consumer protection has usually been explained as the product of two forces: his desire to change his image after a particularly close election victory in 1962 and the influence of his staff, which was composed of pro-consumer activists. This study presents Magnuson's involvement in consumer protection differently, as much less a change than observers have thought. Magnuson's consumerism is depicted rather as something of a continuation of his policy of serving his constituents. His apparent pro-business stance following World War II is portrayed as a desire to develop the state of Washington not so much to enrich business as to provide jobs, income, and a higher standard of living for working people. As real income increased in the United States following the war and the economy became more complex, consumer protection offered another opportunity for him to assist in improving people's standard of living. As background to Magnuson's work in the field, earlier periods of consumer protection are briefly discussed. The first period, or 'wave,' occurred early in the twentieth century and reached its climax with the passage of the Food and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act, both enacted in 1906. The second period began in the late 1920s and was marked by the 1938 passage of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Wheeler-Lea Act. Biographical material is included to provide a better understanding of Magnuson himself. Born in 1905 in South Dakota, he came to Washington State in the 1920s and earned a degree from the University of Washington Law School in 1929. He was elected to the state legislature in 1932 and remained in public office until 1980, by which time he had become one of the most powerful---yet unknown outside of Washington, D.C., and Washington State---political figures in the country.**Originally published in DAI Vol. 55, No. 8. Reprinted here with corrected title.
- History