Colston E. Warne

Professor Emeritus of Economics
Interviewed on November 8, 1978

Audio file

Subject coverage

  • Biographical data
  • Economists influential in shaping career
  • Economics Department on arrival at Amherst
  • Present departmental offerings compared to 30's
  • From jail to Amherst
  • Reasons for leaving Pittsburgh
  • Comments on department members and former economics students
  • Comments on Amherst College administrations
  • Brushes with House Unamerican Activities Committee
  • Vacation field trips to New York City and Washington
  • Origins of Consumers Union from strike at Consumers research and early days
  • Consumers Union's present activities
  • International Organization of Consumers Union formed
  • Additional Consumers Union publications and services
  • Growth of government interest in consumerism
  • Refusal to sign Loyalty Oath as member of Nourse Committee under President Truman
  • Present Expansion of Consumers Union


HWH: This is Horace Hewlett interviewing Professor Colston E. Warne at his home in Echo Hill on Wednesday, November 8, 1978. 

I might begin this by saying I looked into some of your biographical data and see that you were born in Romulus, New York on August 14, 1900; that you graduated from Cornell in 1920, took your masters there in ‘21 and your doctorate at Chicago in 1925. I think I’m right in saying you were only 19 years old when you graduated from college. 

WARNE: That’s right. 

HWH: And then 20 when you got your master’s. 

WARNE: And 20 when I was married. (Laughter) 

HWH: I have it, too, that you taught at Cornell-- and it must have been where you married-- at first as a teaching assistant as a senior, then as an instructor for a year. Then I believe you went to Pittsburgh from 1921 to ‘22; on to Chicago where you were studying, I am sure, as a teaching assistant and doctoral candidate from ‘22 to ‘25; then to the University of Denver as an associate professor for 1925 and ‘26; back to Pittsburgh in ‘26 for four years as an assistant professor; then on to Amherst in 1930. This is just for the record so we’ll get that in the transcript. 

WARNE: Yes, that’s all accurate. 

HWH: I was surprised to see, too, Colston-- and I seem to be doing all the talking so far-- that there were a number of members of the Amherst faculty who graduated from college in ‘20, ‘21, or ‘23 who are all emeriti along with you here, now. There’s George Bain, from McGill in ‘21; Ted Baird from Hobart, ‘21; Ralph Beebe from Amherst in ‘20; Oscar Schotté from Geneva ‘21; Ted Soller from Oberlin in ‘22; Lim Sprague from Amherst in ‘20; George Taylor from Chicago in ‘21; Willard Thorp from Amherst in ‘20; and one other, King Turgeon from Bowdoin in ‘23. I was curious as to whether you knew either George Taylor or Henry Steele Commager when you were studying in Chicago. 

WARNE: Well I knew of George, I couldn’t identify him. We over lapped. I think I came a little earlier than George and left before he got his degree-- I’m not quite sure what year. 

HWH: He got his in ‘24. [Wrong: it was 1929 - HWH] 

WARNE: Oh he got his in ‘24, so he’s a year ahead of me then. I thought it was the other way around. So I knew of George, but I didn’t know him and of course, again, in the case of Thorp I knew of him, but had never encountered him until I came up for the interview in ‘30, spring of ‘30. 

HWH: 1930, yes. Well I was interested, too that both you and George Taylor were students under Paul Douglas at Chicago. 

WARNE: That’s right. Douglas had just come in to Chicago when I came there as a student. A brilliant person. 

HWH: Did he have some influence, would you think, on your future career? 

WARNE: Oh, yes. Decidedly. I was in the field of banking before Douglas entered the picture. I had majored in finance at Cornell and had gone to the University of Chicago on the recommendation of Sumner Slichter, who was then a young person coming into Cornell. I was hoping to work with H. G. Moulton, but Moulton left the University of Chicago to found the Brookings Institution, and so I was left sort of stranded. Douglas had come on and I was much attracted to him. The upshot was that I worked under him on a project involving the cooperative movement in Illinois and kept that contact over a great many years. 

HWH: What persuaded you to leave banking and make economics a career? 

WARNE: It wasn’t too rapid a swing. Fundamentally this was a boom period, the financial world was quite frenzied. I was interested in the finance field. In fact, while at Chicago I worked in the summers on a survey of bank failures in the western states. I was interested in banking tribulations. But to answer your question directly, Douglas was concerned with labor legislation, social legislation, types of economic systems, the potentiality of new techniques of running the economy. Douglas was basically a reformer, as was John Maurice Clark, another person under whom I worked. Clark was a member of the Clark dynasty. His father had in the eighteen nineties been an originator of a new approach to economic theory in the field of prices and production and the allocation of costs. Clark carried this forward and it was the combination of Douglas and Clark that I was identified with in the Chicago days. 

HWH: It seems to me you had really influential people involved with your education. I know of Sumner Slichter at Cornell, and then I’ve known of H.G. Moulton, too, and Paul Douglas. Didn’t you come in contact at, was it Cornell, with Thorstein Veblen? 

WARNE: Well I met Veblen at Cornell. The person, the very dynamic person on the Cornell faculty, incidentally, when I was there-- he was president of the American Economic Association-- was Herbert J. Davenport. Davenport was the closest friend of Veblen, and Davenport was in his own way a heretic. 

Cornell was the jumping-off place for a great many people-- Allyn Young and Slichter who went to Harvard were at Cornell when I was there. I was assistant to Young. Cornell had quite a strong contingent, as did Chicago; in fact Chicago was quite competitive with Harvard at the time. 

HWH: Well, that is a rich background of people with whom you were associated as a young man. When you said that you started working for Mr. Douglas, in a way his student of cooperatives in Illinois-- is this what started your interest in consumerism? 

WARNE: Yes. Douglas was a graduate of Bowdoin and took his doctorate at Columbia. A brilliant person and a very dynamic soul-- strong views, effective presentation. Yes, he knew the people in the national cooperative movement. There was a political strain in Douglas which later brought him into local politics and to the U.S. Senate. Yes, around Douglas movements seemed very significant. 

HWH: I’ve heard him speak and have met him but certainly don’t know him and have that impression. When you came to Amherst the faculty at that time consisted of Willard Thorp, George Taylor, and you, and I think Jim Cusick came the same year you did. That was a faculty of four. Just for the heck of it I checked and found that in those days I believe the department offered about five or six courses in addition to the honors students that you had, but only one of those courses was open to sophomores. 

WARNE: That’s right. 

HWH: Is that because of the size of the department or... 

WARNE: No, that was a relic of the Meiklejohn era. Economics was under attack, sociology was abolished, there was even a College ruling that you had to get a pretty good grade-- I think a B-- to go from the elementary course into another course in economics, which seemed a strange way to weed people out. But antagonisms carried over from the Meiklejohn era. I don’t think economics then had a high standing among the colleagues in other fields. 

HWH: I think the Economics Department particularly was upset by Mr. Meiklejohn’s departure. It seems to me for several years the department filled in on part-time appointments. I believe Mr. Douglas was one of those. 

WARNE: That’s right. He came in very briefly and then went back to Chicago. 

HWH: But I think the College borrowed from Smith, and from Columbia on a one-class-a-week basis of several people. 

WARNE: Yes, they lost some powerful figures in Hamilton and Stewart, Stacy May and so on. In fact the economics contingent had something to do with the whole strain, the struggle over reappointment of Meiklejohn. 

HWH: Did you come to know Mr. Meiklejohn at any time? 

WARNE: Oh, very tangentially. When the peace pipe was smoked some years later, we all shook hands. But no, the battle had been joined five years before I came here. Some people had the scars of the battle. 

HWH: Then you spoke about the peace pipe being smoked, did you mean the time he came back and spoke in Chapel? 

WARNE: That’s right and had his picture placed on the wall. I’ve even forgotten who was responsible for that. 

HWH: I think Charlie Cole, mainly. 

WARNE: Principally Charlie? 

HWH: But do you recall on that occasion, it was a Trustee weekend and the Trustees cut their meeting short so that they could all come over and hear Meiklejohn speak in Chapel, and Jack McCloy introduced him and Meiklejohn’s first words were, “I’m glad to see I can still stir the Trustees from their lethargy.” (Laughter) I’ll never forget that. 

Now there are nine members of the Economics Department offering twenty courses, and comparing the titles of the courses today with those of the l930s there’s a tremendous difference. 

WARNE: Yes, although a little of this is a matter of packaging. We changed some of the verbiage. Course descriptions are notoriously out-of-date. I never figure that anyone pays too much attention to the roster of offerings. 

HWH: I was taken aback by titles such as “Micro-economics” and “Macro-economics,” considerable study of economics world wide that didn’t used to be. 

WARNE: Right. It’s shifted about; I presume the core of it is much the same. 

HWH: When you came here, have you any idea why you were the one that they invited to come back, rather than others? 

WARNE: Well, I don’t know. I think Douglas gave support. Walter Willcox [‘84] of Cornell, an Amherst graduate from the 1880s, was probably the initiator. He knew of my unhappiness at the University of Pittsburgh; and probably Davenport had a word to say. I don’t know, I was on the other side of the bargaining. The competitors for the job I didn’t know. I did know one thing: I suppose I’m the only Amherst faculty member ever hired a few days after he was in jail. 

HWH: What about that? 

WARNE: Well, I was chairman of the Civil Liberties Union at Pittsburgh and I got a call that a meeting had been broken up. This was a part of the strike situation in the coal fields. The speakers were in the Wyley Avenue jail; would I do something? Well I went down and was told by the sergeant on duty that they weren’t there. I became insistent that I see them so that I could bail them out. Instead of getting the response that I expected, I got a blow to the stomach and landed on my back in a jail cell along with the missing speakers. It was a bit difficult to navigate a couple of days later when I took the train to Amherst for this interview. 

HWH: Is that so? Were the speakers actually in the jail when you landed on your back? 

WARNE: Oh yes, they were there. They were there. This was just an attempt to deny bail. When I got here in Amherst, George Taylor and Gail Kennedy who were great hikers, insisted that I see the Connecticut Valley from the top of the Notch-- that was a trifle difficult. 

HWH: I think it would be. 

WARNE: Pittsburgh had a rough decade, following the steel strike of 1919 which left its mark. The coal disturbances were bitter. 

HWH: You mentioned earlier that you were happy to leave Pittsburgh. Was it for some particular reason? 

WARNE: Yes. The Chancellor was an Iowa medical doctor, a bit of a poet with medical training. He had a dream of a great cathedral that was going to make Pitt into a new institution, a leader in the world. The spirit of Pittsburgh was going to be incorporated into this structure. Chancellor Bowman set himself on a course of limiting academic freedom. The students had a Liberal Club and their meetings were broken up. Harry Elmer Barnes wanted to speak there,and they ushered him off the campus with the police. Clarence Darrow and Arthur Garfield Hays and others were banned from the buildings. It was a struggle for those of us who joined with the Civil Liberties Union in trying to secure the most elementary academic freedom. We encountered troubles with the administration for stirring the waters. I was ordered not to write on the coal strike for the Pittsburgh Press. It was a place to get out of. And I must say that the Amherst invitation came at an opportune moment. 

HWH: You’re associated, your name and you are associated, with civil liberties for longer than I can remember. Is this where it may have started? 

WARNE: Yes. And I became chairman of the Civil Liberties Union branch here in the Valley for a period. We had certain issues in this region, i.e. the Belchertown Jehovah’s Witnesses case; where kids were kicked out of the school for refusing to salute the flag. This case was one that emerged. The Supreme Court subsequently knocked out these compulsory flag salutes. There was plenty going on here in the ‘50s, but certainly we had no such front-line sieges as Pittsburgh recorded. 

HWH: You were only in Denver for a year, but that was early in your career, too. Do you have any recollections of Denver? 

WARNE: It was a Methodist urban college with a lot of excellent students and a very good faculty. It had an interesting link with the labor movement, with cooperatives and that sort of thing. “The Rocky Mountain tradition.” I enjoyed it, but Pittsburgh gave me an offer to come back and there wasn’t much thought of staying in Denver. 

HWH: Did you ever run across Tommy Farrell? In Denver he was publisher of Rocky Mountain-- not News-- it was a weekly newspaper-- who was a liberal man. 

WARNE: Farrell? No, I knew a lot of the newspaper people. We had labor colleges in the hills. The editor of the Colorado Labor Advocate was an old friend of mine. No, I didn’t know Farrell. 

HWH: Charlie Cole was a member of your department here at Amherst on a couple of occasions. Do you have any recollection of him as a teacher? 

WARNE: Charlie turned the elementary course into a course on the history of economic thought, which wasn’t a bad idea. Some of us initially wondered a little when Stanley King brought Charlie in, without mentioning this to Charlie’s new colleagues, but we were all attracted by Charlie. The one element that stands out in this whole chronicle is that we had a basic understanding in the department that there never would be any friction-- and there never was. In fact, we rotated the chairmanship and some of the animosities that crop up in academia never overtook us. 

HWH: It seems to me you all worked together very well. 

WARNE: It worked, it worked very well. It’s almost a world record for amity. 

HWH: You had many distinguished members... 

WARNE: Beg pardon? 

HWH: You had many distinguished members of that department over the years. 

WARNE: A great many. Willard left us and then he’d come back. Charlie came back with a different hat. And we all enjoyed him. It’s a very fortunate association. 

HWH: You attracted such successful teachers, though, as Les Chandler, who was here when we came. Arnold Collery, who strikes me as a great loss, going down to Columbia. 

WARNE: Right. It was a very good group over the years. 

HWH: I guess Charlie would have been thought of as much as an historian as an economist in his first term on the faculty, or economic historian. 

WARNE: Yes, economic historian. 

HWH: Do you recall here at Amherst, Colston, some of the students that you had who later became either teachers or successful economists? 

WARNE: Oh yes, quite a few of them. Mel Segal who went to Illinois and Michigan State; Dick Gettell; I guess Dave Truman was more political science but we said hello to him at least; and yes... 

HWH: Chandler Morse? 

WARNE: Yes, I didn’t know him as well; I think he was one of Willard’s. 

HWH: Phil Coombs comes to my mind. 

WARNE: Oh yes, Phil. 

HWH: Did you have Jay Schmiedeskamp as a student? 

WARNE: Oh yes, Jay Schmiedeskamp. In fact, Jay participated in that send-off they gave me when I retired. Jay and Bob Guest and I don’t know who-all. 

HWH: I think Mel Segal did, too. 

WARNE: Mel, Mel, right. 

HWH: Well, I can tell you of a couple of members of my class who think of you as having an influence on their lives. That’s Bob Segal, a lawyer in Boston. 

WARNE: Oh yes, Bob has been a very good friend over many years. 

HWH: And I think a large part of his career was devoted to labor. 

WARNE: Yes it was. His son is carrying on in the same field. Terry. 

HWH: Terry, yes. Then there’s another classmate, Matt Kelly. 

WARNE: Yes, Matt’s been in the printing trades, union negotiations-- he’s an able fellow. 

HWH: Would you care to comment on your impressions of the different administrations you served under. 

WARNE: Yes. 

HWH: You came here under Pease. 

WARNE: Yes, Arthur Stanley Pease. He was an able Latin scholar who represented the classical tradition. There comes to mind the Lawrence strike over the introduction of new mechanization in textile plants in Lawrence. I took a group of students to see the strike in action, to work with people like Jerry Ingersoll (Jeremiah C. Ingersoll ‘32, died 1961). I think of Jerry especially. 

Arthur Stanley Pease got a letter from one of the business people in Lawrence objecting to our presence, but the treatment of the matter was entirely different from Pittsburgh. There was no thought of trying to handicap us in any way in our effort, but I could see that he had never run across anything quite like this. He didn’t admonish us not to, but he was curious. There was never any friction with any Deans or Presidents looking over a long stretch of years. 

Stanley King was very supportive. Now and then he wanted to ask a question or two as to what I was up to. But in some of his letters-- I have a curiosity to see the College files sometime to see how much tribulation I caused. But now and then Stanley King would send me a note from some outraged alumnus proclaiming that I ought to be fired the next day. He would write a straight-forward letter saying, “I didn’t hire this man, but he’s got a right to speak his piece.” 

HWH: I’ve always heard he was very supportive. 

WARNE: Oh he was. And Charlie, of course, and so on down through to Cal Plimpton. There was no friction to my knowledge that entered into the picture. 

HWH: I recall at one time when you were having difficulty with the House Unamerican Activities Committee, you were called down to Boston. You and I went down together, and went in the back door and avoided the press. 

WARNE: Oh yes. A Boston lawyer was very helpful, I’ve forgotten his name. 

HWH: Yes. I think maybe Rugg, Charlie Rugg 

WARNE: There were several of those incidents that came along. Finally we got cleared by the House Unamerican Activities Committee in ‘53, which changed the complexion. All we needed was a photocopy of this Certificate of purity. Our first listing was 1939-- that was when Martin Dies, himself, and J. B. Matthews initiated the crusade against “subversive activities.” The next outcropping was in the ‘forties and ‘fifties. 

HWH: That was Parnell Thomas, wasn’t it? 

WARNE: J. Parnell Thomas, that’s right. He got into trouble on his own. 

HWH: You mentioned earlier that you took some students to Lawrence when Stanley Pease was President. It seems to me that you were one of the first to take students on so-called field trips to observe business and other activities around the country. 

WARNE: Yes, I had a regular Christmas and Easter routine. Sometimes it extended into the spring term, became a kind of May Day activity, but we would get in a couple of cars-- sometimes it would be coeducational-- we’d have some of Dorothy Douglas’s students from Smith or Amy Hewes’s students from Mount Holyoke 

HWH: Whose? 

WARNE: Amy Hewes. H-E-W-E-S. 

HWH: Oh, yes. 

WARNE: Amy was quite a war horse. She was a very alive and effective teacher. We’d come out of the Connecticut Valley and the first stop was what was called Brookwood College. Brookwood College was located at Katonah, New York, up toward Brewster, and it was donated to the Labor Movement by a graduate of Amherst, whose name will come to me in a moment. He gave this as an educational endeavor and as a means to train organizers, to give accent to the history of the labor movement, to the problems that labor had over the years, the Ludlow massacre, and the textile strikes, the Rocky Mountain problems. His name was Fincke F-I-N-C-K, maybe with an e on the end [William M. Fincke ‘25] 

Well, some of the new, rather rebellious unions like the garment trades, the Amalgamated Clothing workers, sent their people to this labor school. The main phalanxes of the labor movement thought of this as heretical, left-wing propaganda. So Brookwood never was greeted by the orthodox. It was kind of an industrial union outpost, training people, hopefully, for the CIO when it emerged. 

My coterie of students would arrive at Brookwood in the early evening. They would set out to instruct the Brookwoodites on policies the labor movement should follow and by the end of the evening the impact was an impact of the Brookwoodites on the students. They would be challenged. From Brookwood we would go down to the New York Stock Exchange or to the Socialist Party or the Communist Party or some Peace organization. We’d go see General Foods, the American Liberty League, or something-- whatever I could conjure up. I made it different each time. 

HWH: Do you recall when you started to do that? 

WARNE: Oh, very early. 

HWH: Early ‘thirties? 

WARNE: I picked this idea up-- it was a trick that came out of Pittsburgh. We would take the group out to Homestead Steel works or downtown, we would get dates with the officials. We’d go out to the coal camps, and in fact in Pittsburgh, the groups that I’d take out would on occasion be beaten up. 

HWH: Really? 

WARNE: Oh at the height of the coal strike, you could be arrested for being present in these mine camps. The minecamp, the whole camp, and all the roads were owned by the steel companies and any person, as an intruder, would be arrested under some obscure clause. But we had quite a few episodes in carrying economics to the field at Pittsburgh. 

This circle trip of New York became an accustomed element in Amherst life. Students wandered in. I think they had a good time. Visiting the industrial democracy of Harry Laidler, and I would always make a stop at the NAM or the Chamber of Commerce. We had one of our alumni on the National Industrial Conference Board or the Air Reduction Corporation or something or other. 

HWH: That would probably be Jack Hill. 

WARNE: Eustace Seligman was most helpful. Well, they were all very accommodating, very helpful. 

HWH: Did you rely pretty much on alumni in the New York area to help you arrange it? 

WARNE: Very heavily, very heavily. Although I must say the alumni were prone to be the conservative element of the day’s activity. Some of our students got into the labor field-- take the case of Jerry Ingersoll. Did you ever encounter Jerry? 

HWH: No, I hadn’t. 

WARNE: Jerry’s father was Borough president of Brooklyn at the time. Jerry was here in the Class of ‘33. He was booted out of the College by the old Dean-- what was his name? 

HWH: Geoff Atkinson? 

WARNE: Atkinson. He had brought a car into Northampton against College rules and he had left this car along the street and some drunk hit said car at night. He was duly caught, but the presence of that car in Northampton was a breach that Geoff wouldn’t tolerate, so Jerry was expelled for a year. I had the problem of devising a course for Jerry when he came back the next year. It ended by his writing an honors thesis on the banking theory of Karl Marx. He wrote a rather good thesis and got his degree. 

Jerry’s whole family was somewhat left of the center. He went off with the farm holiday movement in the West and he got caught up in radical party structures. 

We had at Amherst a number of these rebels. It would be surprising if you didn’t have rebels during the Great Depression. 

HWH: What did you say Jerry’s father was president of? 

WARNE: President of Brooklyn-- the Borough. 

HWH: Oh, President of the Borough of Brooklyn. Colston, this is about to run off. Can I just stop and turn it over? 


HWH: This is the second side of Tape 1, an interview with Professor Warne. 

You also took the group down to Washington on occasion. 

WARNE: Oh yes, once we’d done New York a couple of times we’d pick up a Christmas trip to Washington. And in Washington we had access to a lot of other people-- Ben Marsh for instance. Ben was a character. Did the lore of Ben Marsh ever reach you? Ben was head of what he called the People’s Lobby. Ben did the work. I lent my name to the People’s Lobby and testified for Ben a good many times. In brevity, Ben tried to champion obscure causes before Congress and he would make a very effective plea. To acquaint the students with the efforts of the Ben Marshes of the world was a kind of objective in getting the people down there. 

HWH: Did you ever come in contact with Izzy Stone? 

WARNE: Oh yes. In fact, on occasion I’ve taken groups of students to see Izzy. Oh yes, Izzy. Izzy Stone worked for Bernard Reis who was with Consumers Union for a period. We had a magazine on investments, “Know Your Investments.” Izzy Stone was editing that for a period. 

HWH: I think it was a great surprise when he was given an honorary degree by Amherst. Did you have something to do with that? 

WARNE: I don’t know. I attended, enjoyed it. 

HWH: It was a very pleasant visit. 

WARNE: It was. Delightful. 

HWH: Did you have Al Friendly as a student at Amherst? 

WARNE: I think so. 

HWH: Chal Roberts? 

WARNE: Yes. Willard had the closest link with those. We had an evening seminar course, against College rules-- we weren’t supposed to put students into classes in the evening-- but this went on for years, the Dean keeping his eyes closed. 

HWH: Laurence Packard used to do it, too. 

WARNE: I remember both Al and Chal were in that seminar. 

HWH: I asked because they became influential at the Washington Post and I wondered if you had contacts with them in your trips. 

WARNE: Yes I think I probably met with Chal-- no, no, it would be Al who would be the most probable one. Al is in London now. 

HWH: I believe that’s so and he’s bought or built a house over in Turkey where he spends a good deal of each year. And Chal wrote a delightful book-- his experiences as a newspaper reporter published about two years ago. 

WARNE: I haven’t gotten hold of it yet. 

HWH: You mentioned the rule about not having evening classes and the Dean kind of winking his eye, or shutting his eye to it. For the most part that would have been Scott Porter. I think he became Dean in ‘32. 

WARNE: Yes, and Scott was a better calibre Dean than Geoff. I don’t think Geoff was cut out for that post. Witness the Ingersoll incident. But Scott was not looking for trouble and he wasn’t trying to get it. 

HWH: I guess he was Dean longer than anyone else in the history of the College. 

WARNE: He did very well. 

HWH: Well, Colston, as I said to you earlier, you have made a name in labor economics and labor itself and in civil liberties and in consumerism. Could we talk some now about the beginnings of Consumers Union? 

WARNE: Yes. What do you want to know? 

HWH: Well it seems to me that you were responsible for breaking off from an organization known as Consumers Research, before Consumers Union. 

WARNE: I was one of a contingent of about, oh let’s say 25, 50, or 100 people who started out with the desire to mediate a strike which had cropped up in Consumers Research, one of the strangest strikes in American. history. Here was a strike in which among the strikers you had members of the Board of Directors of Consumers Research; you had officials, including the technical director of Consumers Research; and then you had the staff members. But you also had, I guess I’ve indicated, board members. So here was Fred Schlink, the head of Consumers Research, trying to keep the organization going with the pickets outside, with the bitterness that’s usually engendered, with Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas, and quite a group of others trying to mediate this proposition and get the workers back on the job. This effort failed completely because of the stubbornness of Fred Schlink and his immediate advisors who wanted no arbitrationer, any settlement. So in the summer of 1935 we were left as a kind of a committee of well-wishers. We were faced with a complete blockade, a complete unwillingness to do anything about it. 

HWH: What was your relationship with Consumers Research at that time? 

WARNE: I was a member of their Advisory Committee that sought to authenticate the undertaking and a member of this relief committee-- to give relief to Consumers Research strikers. 

HWH: Do you recall the issue on which they were striking? 

WARNE: Yes. Schlink, the founder, paid low wages-- very low-- he thought it was a great privilege to work for his organization. It started out as a straight wage proposition. The committee that went to greet Mr. Schlink was fired-- all the members. 

HWH: Really? 

WARNE: He did it right off. “If you don’t like it, get out.” Well, here we were, quite a lot of us, usually from academic circles, feeling that Schlink had hold of a new, dynamic idea-- testing and appraising products, making fools out of over-enthusiastic advertising agents. We thought this was a wonderful social invention. Well, when we got nowhere just giving relief to strikers, someone caine up with the idea: “Let’s start a competitive organization.” The person who headed the strikers was Arthur Kallet, who headed the group in planning this new approach. (Incidentally, Arthur’s son, Tony Kallet [Anthony Kallet ‘55] graduated from Amherst about ‘37, ‘38, ‘39. No, correction-- ‘57, ‘58, ‘59, not thirty.) 

Arthur was an M.I.T. engineer who had written a book cooperatively with Fred Schlink and was embarked on another when this strike broke. So you had Arthur Kallet and the technical director of Consumers Research, Dewey Palmer, both going on strike with the other strikers. Dewey Palmer too, was an engineer, an exceptional fellow. Well, the net of it was that this small contingent, drawn fairly heavily from journalism or from the academic world, set about in February of 1936 to form a competing organization, which we successfully did. The first issue of Consumers Union Reports came out in May of ‘36, going to 5,000 people. 

HWH: You said going to 5,000 people? 

WARNE: That’s right. And we’ve been on a climb ever since. 

HWH: How did you get your original 5,000? 

WARNE: Oh, The Nation and The New Republic printed articles and ads-- I wrote a certain amount for them-- printed articles and this was a great cause célebre. We got advertising, we paid for the advertising rather tardily. 

HWH: You’ll pardon me for smiling. 

WARNE: The Nation gave us a lot of help and Arthur Kallet was a pretty good promoter. The upshot was that the foundations came into the picture, the Willard Straight Foundation, (the Elmhurst Foundation) helped us. We got over the hump through a miscellaneous assortment of benevolences. Fundamentally, I think, because the idea was so powerful that even our poor efforts couldn’t kill it off. We made every mistake you can imagine. 

HWH: Well I gather Consumers Research never recovered. 

WARNE: Never recovered. 

HWH: Did you take on quite a few of their associates or employees? 

WARNE: Quite a few of those who were on strike came over and worked for Consumers Union for ten dollars a week. That was all we could pay them, but we did attract a lot of free service from people-- well just to give one illustration: Have you ever heard of Laurence Crooks? Laurence Crooks was a graduate of Amherst [1920] who majored in English. His father ran the Belden-Hemingway factory in Northampton as manager. That was a textile outfit. Well, Laurence Crooks attended a meeting held in the White Eagle Hall across from the railway station in Northampton and I was the speaker. This was in 1936, I got up and said, “Here is a new, powerful idea of consumer testing. We need all the help we can get.” 

Well, Crooks came out of the audience and we made a date for the next day. It turned out that he was then marking papers, he was an assistant at Smith, marking papers in English literature. But here’s the strange feature of the story. Pete was a graduate of Sheffield Engineering School. 

HWH: At Yale. 

WARNE: At Yale. And his specialty was auto testing. He agreed to come on the CU staff as our auto tester and my own feeling is that the survival of the organization over all its troubles and tribulations was due to Pete Crooks. 

HWH: Is that so? 

WARNE: Pete had beautiful literary style. His copy stood up. He did a seat-of-the-pants kind of testing-- the modern techniques were unknovm to him, but he could catch the essence of the problems that the engineers were wrestling with and he wasn’t craving very much money, so that we could, for little or nothing, fill the issue with excellent automotive materials. And we had several other people, including a botanist on the Smith faculty, who came with us and rendered very economical effective service, so that the organization did gain momentum, thanks to these people who came out of the woodwork. 

HWH: These were fairly personal relationships that developed into technical... 

WARNE: Exactly. We had a New York doctor named Harold Aaron who became a genius for ferreting out the findings in the medical field of the impact of different types of drugs, so that he would take a couple of hours off and throw a bit of copy our direction. And you could trust the copy to be crisp and accurate. He helped make the organization. He continued for many, many years, in fact, he’s still living and he’s running a specialized Medical Letter which is still doing the same job that he did forty years ago. 

HWH: Well, I would assume that back in 1936 when this began you had no headquarters. 

WARNE: We had two rooms, two little rooms on Broadway and 17th Street, right there by Union Square. That was where it all started. We moved three or four times and landed finally in Mount Vernon, New York. 

HWH: You built down there, didn’t you? 

WARNE: No, Mount Vernon is a reconstructed optical factory. 

HWH: I didn’t realize that. 

WARNE: We do have an annex for our mechanical section over in Orangeburg, New York, on the other side of the river. We’ve got 70,000 square feet over there. But that’s just part of the subscription handling. 

HWH: When did you move to Mount Vernon? 

WARNE: In 1953. And it was advantageous in a way. It was also a bit of a mistake: our quarters weren’t modern, up to snuff, but we’ve always been measurably handicapped. I think we’d have been better off if we’d gotten in the backyard of the University of Michigan or something like that. 

HWH: Had you ever intended to be non-profit? 

WARNE: Well, we were non-profit from the start. Our charter is a non-profit charter. 

HWH: I believe it took you several years to break even, didn’t it? 

WARNE: Oh, I see what you mean. 

HWH: Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so cute. 

WARNE: Yes, we were near the verge of bankruptcy for many years, if that’s what you mean. And we had such vicissitudes as came on from the war, that is the stopping of all production of all motor cars and household appliances during the war threw us for a real loss. Our main stock in trade, product testing, disappeared. So we had to change the nature of the publication in view of techniques of economizing in the food field or some other field. We’ve been forced through a number of these changes of course due to the shifting circumstances of the market. 

HWH: I recall in the late ‘forties, it must have been, when you and Frances and others had rented space where the College Drug Store now is-- it was in between the Globe Market leaving, and College Drug going in. You had a group there testing... 

WARNE: Yes, we had-- we were testing can openers. And I went down to Holyoke and bought some unsaleable baked beans or something from... 

HWH: I had tomato juice. 

WARNE: A wholesaler in Holyoke and we opened these cans and gave them to the people who strayed in to help us. In fact we’ve had quite a little of this home-use testing over the years. Frances did some for the organization. The University, one of the University faculty members, Bill Colby, was on our board... 

HWH: Oh yes. 

WARNE: for a stretch, quite a long while. And we had the food technology people there who were very helpful both at the University of Massachusetts and at the University of Connecticut. 

HWH: I’m trying to think of the name of the man in food technology at UMass. 

WARNE: I’ve lost his name, too. 

HWH: Well, maybe it will come. How many subscribers does Consumers Union have now? 

WARNE: A little over two million. 

HWH: Amazing. 

WARNE: Yes, we peaked at two and a half million three or four years ago, and then went down a bit and now it’s come back up. We’ve launched a second publication now, a sort of a newsletter which deals with the technical changes in various fields and what the Food and Drug Administration is doing. It’s an interesting publication, intended really for the specialist who wants to get a look at what lies behind the stories. 

HWH: Is this a separate organization? 

WARNE: No, it’s a news digest, published by Consumers Union. And then we’ve gotten a book series. Let me just break off for a second and show you the... 

(Gets up to look for a book) 

HWH: (This was interrupted while Professor Warne went to get a number of publications that represent a new program in Consumers Union.) They look very useful and very attractive. 

WARNE: Yes. This book angle has a real future. We make an offer with our annual questionnaire and membership for people who are voting, we offer them a half a dozen books and quite a number of them seem attracted. 

HWH: It shows that I’m not a member of Consumers Union or a subscriber. I always think I will be, but then I... I certainly think I shall. So that your Newsletter that you mentioned is also available to subscribers? 

WARNE: It’s, as I recollect, $36.00 a year. That is highly technical. Then on the international front, we publish the proceedings of international conferences. We have numerous affiliates across the world. 

HWH: I believe you started in The Hague. 

WARNE: In The Hague in 1960, and we’ve gone through quite a series of biennial conferences at the Hague, in Brussels, and Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Vienna, Tel Aviv-- the last one was held in London. We have something like a hundred affiliates now in the International Organization of Consumer Unions. 

HWH: And you began with five, I believe. 

WARNE: That’s right, exactly. And the next one will be, next meeting will be in Bombay. 

HWH: When will that be? 

WARNE: 1980. 

HWH: Oh. But you’re going to Bombay to arrange and plan for that 1980 meeting. 

WARNE: Yes, in part. We have annual gatherings of the Executive group in different sections of the world. Last year it was in Bangkok and this year, Bombay. It may be Vienna, it may be Helsinki. 

HWH: Are you still president of the organization? 

WARNE: No, no. No, I’m just a member of the executive. I was president for a decade and that was long enough. 

HWH: I think you must have resigned from that then when you retired from Amherst. 

WARNE: Yes, as a matter of fact that’s about right. 

HWH: I recall, too, Colston, when you were saying that you chose Iceland as a meeting place on occasion because of its proximity to member organizations. 

WARNE: Yes, we went in there once and it worked out very well. Iceland has a limited but vigorous movement. You see this takes many new forms. Bob Krughoff [Robert M. Krughoff ‘64] is championing a consumer product and service testing procedure for local products, as for instance, banking-- which banker should you deal with, medicine, auto repair? 

HWH: He’s the Amherst graduate? 

WARNE: Amherst graduate. He’s doing this in the District of Columbia area. Services—-- services-- whereas in the past it’s always been an accent on product. Then there are lots of people who are interested in politics, getting the consumer ticket elected following our efforts with a strong accent on what the local community can do. I’m just leafing through here. We’ve got some very good links with the United Nations, now, with a consumer program for the UN. Here is our national publication of the Consumer Federation of America. 

HWH: This is the... 

WARNE: This is Washington. 

HWH: I see. 

WARNE: This is a lobbying group. 

HWH: Well is Bob Krughoff connected with this? 

WARNE: He is indirectly, in that his organization, which publishes a magazine called Checkbook-- his organization is affiliated with this group, and Bob is also a member of the board of directors of Consumers Union. 

HWH: I didn’t know that. 

WARNE: He’s been for two years. Here’s a directory of this type of organization that is now getting under way. 

HWH: Published by the government. 

WARNE: Oh yes. The Government is taking note of us in recent years. 

HWH: Do you have a feeling that there is a surge of interest in recent years? 

WARNE: Oh distinctly. Look at what Nader’s stirred up. There are more organizations. If you published this today-- I think that’s an old...

HWH: 1974 

WARNE: If you published this today you’d have double the pages. There are a lot of groups that are getting under way. This United Nations effort is intended really to stir up countries to update their protective techniques-- for example, food, additives and preservatives for food. Countries haven’t gotten on top of that problem and we are devising our international conferences to deal with techniques of, new techniques of, consumer protection in a variety of fields. Here we’re dealing with foods. 

I don’t know how much of this would directly concern you. The essence of it is that the IOCU is trying to shape a program for developing countries which tend to get the worst products pawned off on them. For instance, the U.S. can shield itself because our laws won’t let dubious products in, but that only means that, in practice, pharmaceutical companies can use some other country for a dumping ground. 

HWH: Well the questions I have jotted down have to do with what effect IOCU might have had on the quality of let’s say Japanese exports, electronics particularly, and cars. 

WARNE: Yes, I think very measurable in that the Japanese have been sending us delegations. They’ve been really just flooding the country with these teams sent over here usually on idle space in their own airlines, so it doesn’t cost them anything-- and they land on our doorstep. Well, the difference between the Japanese production pre-war and post-war has been astonishing. 

HWH: Yes. When one thinks of products coming from Sweden or Norway, I, anyway, think that there is some quality-- I didn’t think that way about Japan even just after the war. 

WARNE: It’s been a remarkable resurgence. 

HWH: And I would guess in West Germany, too, which had collapsed. But your activities and those of the IOCU are really an effort to try to raise standards of production and marketing? 

WARNE: Raise standards of production. Give hope and sustenance to countries with low consumption standards. Establish some kind of international code to maintain qualities. 

HWH: But creation or adherence to a code must vary greatly around the world. 

WARNE: In fact that’s one of our great troubles. The people who have the lowest standards don’t have the staff, the personnel, the power to alter their course. 

HWH: Colston, there’s another area that could be an entire session in itself, I’m sure. I know, perhaps not the most recent, but one that I remember, difficulty that you had was declining to sign the loyalty oath when you were a member of the Council of, the Advisory Council to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. I think that Mr. Nourse... 

WARNE: Oh yes, E. G. Nourse-- 

HWH: was the Chairman. You declined to sign. That received quite a bit of notice. Have you had any repercussions or other thoughts about that since it happened? 

WARNE: No, no. That was at the peak of the frenzy. I got a good letter from Nourse after the incident. It was one of those cases where the newspapers had been playing up this kind of thing. Harry Truman had in fact been ill-advised in conjuring up federal participation in this whole loyalty check. He was trying to get the Democratic Party out from under. In fact that’s often the case. The political forces come to focus in such a way that the liberals run for shelter and you very often discover that some of your best allies are the conservatives. Certainly, in that incident, it’s not any great tribute to Harry Truman and Company that they let this get going. 

HWH: Well that was resolved, at least settled, as I recall, and you remained as a member of the committee but paid your own way to Washington. 

WARNE: That’s right. Which was probably the best thing one could have gotten out of that. 

HWH: Was that interesting work? 

WARNE: Oh, yes. But it was a minor episode in life. I’ve, before and after this, joined dozens of these federal committees to give advice, in fact, one approach was made here last week on the trend of auditing the energy program, having an advisory committee to create an audit of energy. Well, that’ll be a good pursuit-- but you meet maybe three times, three days a year, four days a year, and by the time you get your duties learned, the committee will be abolished. And they’ll have a new committee. 

HWH: I was interested to see that the committee we’re talking about had as one of its members the now Vice-President Mondale. 

WARNE: Yes. 

HWH: Was he active in this? 

WARNE: Oh he was very active. I think in a couple of these pictures here you see Mondale standing, in fact he’s sitting right next to the president, President Kennedy. 

HWH: I think he was Attorney General of Minnesota at that time. 

WARNE: Yes. Helen Canoyer was the Chairman of this, of one of these, this is a group that dates from 1960-61. Some of these dated earlier. 

HWH: I’ve not seen this award. 

WARNE: There are a few of those stray things about. 

HWH: Well, Colston, I gather you still spend quite a bit of time in consumerism. 

WARNE: Yes, I’m still going. I was just elected once again president of the CU Board and will go along until next fall. I was also re-elected as a member of the board at the last election. Three hundred thousand people voted. 

HWH: And you’ve been president of that for... 

WARNE: Since the beginning. 

HWH: Since ‘36. 

WARNE: Since ‘thirty-six. 

HWH: That’s 42 years. 

WARNE: The Board composition has changed very drastically. We’ve gone a little more academic and we’re a little more activist than we used to be. We’ve opened up a branch office in San Francisco now, and one in Dallas, and one in Washington. We’re going to open one up in New York-- this is to get legal cases moving. 

HWH: You must have been subject to suit on some occasions. 

WARNE: Oh, occasionally. 

HWH: Have you ever lost any? 

WARNE: Never lost and never paid a cent. Never paid a cent in damages to anybody. We’ve had, yes we have had legal cases, not as numerous as we had thought would be the case. 

HWH: It’s a highly sensitive area in which you operate. 

WARNE: That’s right. 

HWH: Amazing. 

WARNE: Very sensitive and... I think, though, we were a little overly frightened in the beginning. There was no precedent and we were scared to death that somebody would be on our neck, and hence we put “confidential” all over the magazine. We worried-- well the same thing is true of Australia or Japan-- these new organizations when they open up, they’re at first frightened out of their wits for fear somebody is going to pounce. 

HWH: Colston I believe this is the end of this tape. There’s much more we could talk about but I think this length of time is probably enough at one sitting. And perhaps, if there’s time before you go away, we could have another brief session. I’d like to talk to you on the whole question of advertising. Your position is very clear on that. 

WARNE: Well we’ve had occasion to cover a lot of ground on that. 


Final transcript made January 10, 1979