Classic Hate Mail to General Motors—Featuring Pig Crash-Test Dummies

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A letter so mean it ended up in the hands of the FBI documents a controversial chapter in the history of product design

GMcartoon.jpg

Illustration sent to General Motors as part of hate mail protesting use of pigs in crash tests. FBI


The FBI's new database The Vault—"more than 2,000 documents that have been scanned from paper into digital copies so you can read them in the comfort of your home or office"—has proven to be a treasure trove of unexpected finds, from details about the possessions found on the Notorious B.I.G. when he died to the organization's UFO files. Also among the declassified documents: animal rights-related hate mail sent to General Motors Corporation in 1991 and submitted to the Detroit bureau of the FBI because, according to the FBI, they were "viewed by GMC Personnel as being of a somewhat threatening nature."

To be sure, GM's practices at the time represent a dark chapter in the history of automobile R & D. In September of that year, The New York Times reported that a GM spokesman admitted that about 19,000 dogs, rabbits, pigs, ferrets, rats, and mice had been killed during the previous decade in automobile safety tests. Following pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other activist groups, the company put an end to its animal testing. And thanks to the FBI's The Vault, we have a much more detailed sense of what that pressure looked like.

Here's one of the letters GM received; the full declassified FBI file, including the illustration that appears above, is available here.

FBI pig test letter

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Daniel Fromson, a former associate editor at The Atlantic, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. He writes regularly for The Washington Post. His work has also appeared in Harper's Magazine, New York, and Slate.

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