The U.S. presidential election of 1912 was an important one for America. According to Wikipedia, it featured a rare four-way contest between sitting President Taft, a Republican; former President Teddy Roosevelt of the “Bull Moose Party”; Democrat Woodrow Wilson and socialist Eugene Debs. Wilson won, leading the country reluctantly into World War I and later forming the League of Nations, now the United Nations.
The year 1912 was an important one for the Better Business Bureau as well. That is when Minneapolis formed an advertising Vigilance Committee, which changed its name four years later to the Better Business Bureau. The Minneapolis/St. Paul BBB, first of what would grow to be 116 offices across the U.S. and Canada, lists on its timeline some of scams the BBB has battled.
From 1933: “Search is now being made for one L. Martin, who used the local classified newspapers to obtain suckers for the purchase of a ‘secret formula’ whereby two pounds of butter could be made from one quart of milk and a miscellaneous assortment of powders. A Minneapolis individual paid $50 for the formula after a demonstration, only to discover later that two pounds of butter had been inserted into the churn before the quart of milk and assorted powders were added. A warrant has been issued for Martin’s arrest.”
And from 1986: “‘A popular national promotion targeting Minnesotans is the offer of a “boat, complete with motor!” at a very low price. The boat turns out to be a small blowup raft with a tiny battery-powered motor, battery not included.’
Federal postal regulations at the time required all shipments of questionable products to be made Cash on Delivery (COD); in other words, consumers had to “pay before they could peek,” often leaving them with products unlike what they were promised. The BBB of Minnesota partners with KSTP-TV reporter Neil Murray who airs two news reports warning consumers about the offer. Murray uses the reports during his testimony before a congressional panel in Washington to repeal COD/Pay-to-peek. The law is repealed.
The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Montana was one of the first BBBs. A recent newspaper article by Jan Quintrall, our President and CEO, recalls advertising issues faced by the BBB Board back in 1926.
o Radio dealers misusing the claim “dynamic speakers”
o Fahey-Brockman ads in three local newspapers which prompted a men’s ready-to-wear group to meet and adopt standards for fair advertising
o Fuel dealers’ claims of what specific fuel products did for the life of your car
o Jewelry claims — this industry later became one of the strongest self-regulatory industries in the United States
o The Perpetual Encyclopedia Company and its door-to-door sales pitches
o Con men selling Spokanites shares in the “Ford Motor Company of England” – this alarmed the BBB Board enough to vote to write letters and send telegrams
As you head off to enjoy your advertising-filled President’s Day weekend, remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Investigate before you invest, and always Start with Trust by checking the track record of companies at www.bbb.org.
Did You Know?
Presidents Truman, Reagan, and Clinton all had something to say about the role of the BBB in the marketplace. View or listen to their quotes at our Centennial website.