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  • Paul Van Nest


Since 1943, Rotarians have embraced The Four-Way Test when faced with a decision. It is applied to the things we think, say, and do. “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

These questions are the cornerstone of Rotary and a moral code for Rotarians’ personal and business relationships. Where did this come from and why is it central to Rotarians?

According to an article by Darrell Thompson (Rotary Club of Morro Bay, California), in the 1920s and 30s, Herbert J. Taylor was a man of action, faithful, and of high moral principle. With some prosperous years behind him, Herb returned to Chicago, Illinois in 1925 and began a swift rise within the Jewel Tea Company. He soon joined the Rotary Club of Chicago.

In line for the presidency of Jewel in 1932, Herb was asked to help revive the near-bankrupt Club Aluminum Company of Chicago. This cookware manufacturing company owed $400,000 more than its total assets and was barely staying afloat. He resigned from Jewel Tea and took an 80 per cent pay cut to become Club Aluminum’s president. He even invested $6,100 of his own money in the company to give it some operating capital.

It was at this time that Herb started to draft an ethical guideline for the company, and he brought in his four department heads: a Roman Catholic, a Christian Scientist, an Orthodox Jew and a Presbyterian. They all agreed that these four principles coincided with their religious beliefs and provided an exemplary guide for personal and business life. Profound in its simplicity, the Four-Way Test became the basis for all decisions at Club Aluminum.

Would it work in the real world? Could people in business really live by its precepts? One lawyer told Herb: "If I followed the Test explicitly, I would starve to death. [Ed. This is not a lawyer joke, but it could be.] Where business is concerned, I think The Four-Way Test is absolutely impractical."

At Club Aluminum, all decisions and actions were measured against The Four-Way Test. Words like better, best, greatest, or finest were dropped from advertisements and replaced by factual descriptions of the product. Negative comments about competitors were removed from ads and company literature. The test helped create a climate of trust and goodwill among dealers, customers, and employees.

The Four-Way Test became part of the corporate culture and eventually helped improve Club Aluminum's reputation and consequently its finances. By 1937, the company’s debts were paid off and, during the next 15 years, the firm distributed more than $1-million in dividends to its stockholders and its net worth climbed to more than $2-million.

How did this test become a part of Rotary? Proposed by Richard Vernor of Chicago, Rotary International adopted The Four-Way Test in January 1943. When Herb Taylor was R.I.’s president in 1954-55, he transferred the copyright to Rotary International.

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