The Window Sticker Turns 50
By Larry Edsall
We missed a very significant anniversary a few weeks ago. September 1 was the 50th anniversary of the "Monroney."
As you know, the "Monroney" is the pricing sticker attached since September 1, 1958, to the window of every new car before it leaves the assembly plant.
Actually, the sticker has come to include much more than the price of the vehicle and each of its factory-installed options -- and the vehicle transport (delivery) charges that can be passed along to the buyer.
It lists such things as the vehicle's fuel economy estimates as established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, a Smog Index reporting the vehicle's potential to emit air polluting emissions, Government Safety Ratings from NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) for frontal and side crash and rollover, and even such things as the country of origin of the vehicle and its major components.
What I didn't realize until just the other day was that we somehow missed celebrating the Monroney's golden anniversary.
Celebrating? Well, in these days of sub-prime and foreclosures, of corporate greed and economic collapse, the anniversary of effective consumer protection legislation is an event worthy of celebration.
The automobile pricing label takes its name from Oklahoma Senator Almer Stillwell "Mike" Monroney, who worked as a newspaper reporter, then ran the family furniture store after his father died. He married into the Mellon banking family and served in the House of Representatives for 12 years, then served 18 more in the Senate.
Using today's political terms, Monroney was a maverick, working while in the House with Sen. Francis Maloney of Connecticut to create a joint committee that helped reorganize the way Congress worked. Monroney also battled Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his efforts to witch hunt for Communists.
In 1958, Sen. Monroney sponsored two significant pieces of legislation. One, the Automobile Information Disclosure Act, created what we know now as the Monroney sticker.
According to the website of Pontiac Historical Services:
"Prior to the proposal, there was often a large discrepancy between the showroom price and the actual price of the new vehicle. The fact was that existing price tags did not tell the full story. Most customer-quoted prices were for 'stripped-down' models and did not include additions for preparation charges, freight charges, federal, state, and local taxes, or optional factory-installed equipment requested by the purchaser.
"These hidden charges were used by some dealers to increase the selling price while giving the new vehicle buyer an inflated idea of their trade-in allowance. This price confusion led to a slump in auto sales during the early 1950's. Senator Monroney's bill was designed to prevent the abuse of the new vehicle list prices, but would not, however, prevent dealers and buyers from bargaining over vehicle prices.
"Senator Monroney received widespread support for this bill from both consumers and dealers. Dealers viewed the Monroney Label as an opportunity to restore the confidence of the new vehicle buyers, which they hoped would result in a more successful sales year...
"Once enacted, the law increased both dealer morale and auto sales. Customers grew more confident in their ability to make an informed decision and get the best deal possible. This law was instrumental in brightening industry-wide automobile sales during that time, by increasing consumer confidence."
Also in 1958, after several of his friends died in plane crashes, Monroney wrote the legislation that led to the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration to bring safety and order to the skies, again creating a level of confidence that led to significant expansion of a transportation industry.
In this presidential election year, we also should note that it was Monroney who sponsored legislation to assure free network television time so the entire nation could watch the first presidential candidate debates between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
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