Thoughts from Rotary: The four-way test is the club’s moral code


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Since 1943, Rotarians have embraced the four-way test when faced with a decision. It applies to the things we think, say and do.

Is this the truth? Is it fair to everyone involved? Will it create goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial for everyone involved?

These questions are the cornerstone of Rotary and a moral code for the personal and professional relationships of Rotarians. Where does it come from and why is it essential for Rotarians?

According to an article by Darrell Thompson (Rotary Club of Morro Bay, Calif.) In the 1920s and 1930s, Herbert J. Taylor was a man of action, faithful, and endowed with high moral standards. With a prosperous year behind him, Herb returned to Chicago in 1925 and began a rapid rise in the Jewel Tea Company. He quickly joined the Rotary Club of Chicago.

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Vying for Jewel’s presidency in 1932, Herb was asked to help revive the near-bankrupt Club Aluminum Company of Chicago. This kitchen utensil company owed $ 400,000 more than its total assets and was barely afloat. He resigned from Jewel Tea and suffered an 80 percent pay cut to become president of Club Aluminum. He even invested $ 6,100 of his own money in the business to give it working capital.

It was then that Herb began to draft an ethics 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 professional life. Deep in its simplicity, the four-way test has become the basis of all decisions at Club Aluminum.

Would that work in the real world? Could business people really live by his precepts? A lawyer told Herb: “If I took the test explicitly, I would starve. As far as 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, better, better, or better have been removed from advertisements and replaced with factual descriptions of the product. Negative comments about competitors have been removed from advertisements and company literature.

The test helped create a climate of trust and goodwill between dealers, customers and employees. The four-way test became an integral part of the corporate culture and ultimately helped improve the reputation of Club Aluminum and, consequently, its finances. In 1937 the debts of the company were paid off and over the next 15 years the company distributed over $ 1 million in dividends to its shareholders and its net worth soared to over $ 2 million.

How did this test become part of Rotary? Proposed by Richard Vernor of Chicago, Rotary International adopted the four-way test in January 1943. When Herb Taylor was president of Rotary International in 1954-55, he transferred the copyright to Rotary International.

This is the 44th of Rotary’s 52 Reflections published in 2021 to provide an overview of the impact Rotary has had in Kingston over the past century. Your comments are welcome at [email protected] For more information on 100 years of Rotary in Kingston, visit

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