By Paul Engleman, The Rotarian -- August 2009

It is a story so familiar to most Rotarians that it has evolved beyond lore and become assimilated into the genetic code of the organization. In 1932, Herbert J. Taylor, the newly appointed president of a nearly bankrupt Chicago cookware company, believing his employees were in need of an "ethical yardstick," wrote four questions on a small, white piece of paper:

Is it the TRUTH?

Is it FAIR to all concerned?


Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

When Taylor penned what came to be known as The Four-Way Test, the country was in the grip of the Great Depression, and there was widespread distrust of banks and corporations after the stock market crash three years earlier. At the Club Aluminum Products Company, a new and expensive type of cookware was being sold with rapidly declining success by door-to-door salesmen using high-pressure tactics. Although Taylor instituted additional measures, such as establishing distribution channels through retail stores and offering free trials and affordable payment plans, he came to believe that applying his test to Club's advertising and sales methods was the key factor that led to the company's remarkable return to profitability.

Before implementing the test as a company policy, Taylor consulted four managers – a Roman Catholic, a Christian Scientist, an Orthodox Jew, and a Presbyterian – to make sure nothing in it conflicted with "their religious or moral beliefs." He came to see the test as useful beyond business, writing in his autobiography, "Anyone who checks his thoughts, his words and deeds against The Four-Way Test before he expresses himself or takes action is almost certain to do the right thing."

In the 54 years since Taylor graced the cover of Newsweek magazine as president of Rotary International during its 50th anniversary year, The Four-Way Test is still front and center in Rotary circles, with most club members reciting it before meetings and applying it to personal and professional challenges. But in the midst of another economic crisis and a period marked by corporate greed and scandal, this seems an appropriate time to renew acquaintances with one of the key figures in the history of Rotary.